Laurie Tolboom will serve as the 56th mascot for the upcoming academic calendar.
Laurie Tolboom was just 5 years old when she took the reins of her first horse.
Her family didn't have much experience with horses, so her mom enrolled her two daughters in lessons, horse camps and 4-H to help them learn as much as they could, starting Tolboom on a path that would last the rest of her life and include numerous awards and honors for her hard work and dedication to the lifestyle.
On Friday, she accepted the reins to another horse, Texas Tech University's Fearless Champion, and became the university's 56th Masked Rider at the annual Transfer of Reins ceremony.
Tolboom, a graduate student from Dublin, Texas, completed her bachelor's degree in agricultural communications in December 2016 and now is pursuing her master's degree in mass communications. She will spend the upcoming academic year promoting the spirit of Texas Tech and serving as an ambassador for the university and the local community.
"I love promoting Texas Tech and the Lubbock area," Tolboom said. "It's an indescribable feeling, joining the ranks of all these amazing people that love Texas Tech as much as I do. To have my name on that list – that's pretty exciting."
The road to Texas Tech
After receiving her first horse, Tolboom's knowledge continued to grow as she and her older sister, Suzanna Hinzman, learned alongside each other. As they grew older, Hinzman's interest turned to other areas, but Tolboom's continued to grow throughout high school, where she competed in English and Western show events.
"Laurie was able to have a really great experience," Hinzman said. "She's always loved horses more than I have. It's been really cool for me to watch her dream come to life."
As part of 4-H, Tolboom learned about horse and tack care, riding and horse judging. She held several leadership positions in the organization, including president, and led lessons and discussions on horses with younger members.
Her mother, Peggy Tolboom, said the skills her daughter learned then and continues to cultivate at Texas Tech – leadership, public speaking and a strong work ethic – made her a perfect candidate for Masked Rider.
"To become the Masked Rider, it's not just riding the horse; there are other skills involved," Peggy Tolboom said. "She's used to talking to people and explaining things in common language, to be understood. She's got a lot of horse knowledge. I think it all ties together. She's been preparing for it her whole life."
For her 4-H high school futurity project, Tolboom bred her own horse, Charli, and completed several events from hunter hack to cow work, developing her own riding and training style along the way. She was named 2012 Youth World Champion and 2015 Reserve World Champion by the American Paint Horse Association.
Tolboom said she never felt pressure to go to a specific university, even in high school. Her father, TJ Tolboom, is from the Netherlands and her mother is from Wisconsin, so there wasn't an established loyalty at home to any of the schools in Texas. It wasn't until Tolboom visited Texas Tech that she said she fell in love with the entire Lubbock area.
"This was the only school where I felt at home," Tolboom said. "Then, when I went back home, one of my teachers, who'd attended Texas Tech and knew my background with horses said, " You could be the Masked Rider.' I looked it up and knew it was something I could potentially be involved in."
After four years of showing in the Texas 4-H Horse Show, Tolboom and Charli made the trip together to Texas Tech, where Tolboom joined the Texas Tech Equestrian Team as a freshman and served as Western Team Captain her sophomore year. She earned multiple awards and top-five placings as part of the team and went on to serve on the Masked Rider Field Safety Crew in 2014.
The following year, Tolboom began her service as one of the Masked Rider assistants, serving under the 54th and 55th riders, Rachel McLelland and Charlie Snider. This year, she decided to take a shot at becoming the 56th.
The call of a lifetime
The process to become the Masked Rider is not easy – there's the initial application and recommendation process, followed by written tests, riding tryouts and selection committee interviews. Tolboom said the day after getting through the final interview, she was sitting in her office waiting for a call she knew would come before noon.
"I looked down at my phone and there was a call from an 806 number. I was like, " Oh my gosh, here it is.' My hands were shaking," Tolboom said. "I composed myself and answered. It was probably one of my most favorite phone calls."
After learning she would be the new Masked Rider, Tolboom called her family, starting with the person who first rode alongside her as a child – her sister.
"I could just hear the excitement in her voice," Hinzman said. "I was sitting in my car and just screamed my head off. I was so excited for her. I just knew how hard she had worked for it. She really earned it."
Her parents were just as excited.
"I'm just so happy that she has gotten this far," her mother said. "She'll get to meet a lot of people and people from the horse industry will have a way of greeting her and vice versa because they have that common ground of loving horses. You never know what kind of opportunities might open up."
Hinzman said she knows her sister will do an amazing job.
"I know how hard she works, but it's not just how hard – she makes sure the job is done 100 percent," Hinzman said. "That's something I've always really admired about her. I just know that she'll take this job very seriously, she won't cut corners and she'll do everything she can to make sure she is being the best Masked Rider for Texas Tech University."
Tolboom said her time in the Spirit program at Texas Tech has taught her the Masked Rider is a living, talking symbol of Texas Tech who represents the ideals of the university. As the 56th Masked Rider, she hopes to uphold the long-standing traditions of the program, represent the university to the best of her ability and share her love of Texas Tech while also increasing the Masked Rider's presence on campus and among students.
Transfer of Reins Ceremony
"I'm approaching this year with so much excitement. It's so incredible to be a part of this amazing tradition that has been so important to everybody," Tolboom said. "I've heard a lot of people say that the Masked Rider is their favorite part of Texas Tech. It's a big reason why people come to games and why people love Texas Tech so much."
After serving as mascot, Tolboom plans to use the communication, photography and design skills she's cultivated while completing her communications degrees to share her love of horses and agriculture with others. She plans to work in the equine or agriculture industry as a graphic designer, photographer or videographer.
Snider, the 2016-17 Masked Rider, had a record-breaking year, covering more than 15,000 miles with 312 appearances at schools, sporting events, parades and horse shows. McLelland was the last rider to hold the record, with 300 appearances over the 2015-16 year.
"It's been amazing and an experience I wouldn't trade for anything," Snider said. "There is nothing I could say that would completely describe the feelings and everything that goes on throughout the year as Masked Rider."