Emily Brodbeck, a graduate student in the College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources, will serve as the Texas Tech University mascot for 2019-20 academic year.
Emily Brodbeck had her first horse-riding lesson with Danica Jorgensen when she was just five years old. Emily was quiet, Jorgensen recalls, and it wasn't clear if she had enjoyed the experience and would want to continue lessons.
"I turned to her dad and said, 'OK, is she going to come back for a lesson next week?'" Jorgensen said.
Todd Brodbeck looked at his daughter and then replied, yes, they would be back. But that wasn't the answer Emily wanted.
"She said, 'I want to ride again," Todd remembered. "I said, 'Well, we'll have to wait until the next lesson,' and she said, 'No, I want to ride now.' She was very upset. She just wanted to keep riding and riding."
From that moment on, horses and riding were everything for Emily. Now, the Wildlife, Aquatic and Wildlands Science and Management graduate student from Lubbock will have a chance to share that passion with the Texas Tech University community. Today, at the annual Transfer of Reins ceremony, she became the university's 58th Masked Rider.
"The Masked Rider is a pure representation of the spirit and the drive every single Red Raider has, whether they are alumni, fans, students, faculty, staff, anybody," Emily said. "Having the honor of representing my university as the Masked Rider is something I've dreamed of since before I can remember, and being able to take the dream and make it a reality, and having this privilege, is something I know I will cherish for a lifetime."
An accomplished equestrian
After that first memorable lesson, Emily began visiting the stables weekly. That soon turned into daily visits until she was seven, when her parents bought her first horse.
"She was always out there," Todd said. "When she played with friends it was always about horses, setting up an imaginary barn, what you feed horses, what their names were, what they did. She had some other things she was interested in, but it never was near as strong as what the horses have always been."
When she turned nine, Emily said her interest in competing led her parents to purchase a show horse named Basic Transportation. Soon, she was riding in local shows with her 4-H Club and the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA). As a junior in high school, she began riding and showing her third horse, Protect My Chips, and traveled all over the country, continuing to compete even as she graduated from Lubbock High School in 2013 and began her undergraduate degree in biology at Texas Tech.
In all, Emily has earned 15 AQHA all-around awards, nine top-5 and top-10 placements at the Texas State 4-H Horse Show and a top-15 placement at the All-American Quarter Horse Congress in Youth Western Riding. She qualified for the AQHA Youth, Amateur and Open World Shows the past nine years, and in 2017 she and Protect My Chips placed sixth at the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) Alumni Horsemanship semifinals and seventh at the Lucas Oil Amateur World Show, Level 2.
"I joke and say he's the love of my life," Emily said of the horse. "That's the first time I've placed in an event like that and Protect My Chips was the one there with me. He's definitely taught me a lot. My first show horse was a very straightforward, easygoing horse. Protect My Chips is the one who's been a little more of a handful. But he's definitely taught me how to ride, and he's a really cool and neat horse."
During her time at Texas Tech, Emily has held several leadership roles with the Texas Tech Equestrian Team, the Red Raider 4-H Club and the Texas Quarter Horse Youth Association. She served as an assistant and as part of the Field Safety Crew for previous Masked Riders, is the current on-site resident at the Texas Tech Equestrian Center and serves as a volunteer teaching assistant for the Texas Tech's horsemanship courses and the Equestrian Team. She also continues to show with AQHA, IHSA and the National Snaffle Bit Association and is a member of the Panhandle Spread Quarter Horse Association.
"She's always been super focused and dedicated to riding, getting better and becoming a better showman and a really tough competitor in the horse show world, including mentally tough," said Jorgensen, who is currently the coach of the Texas Tech Equestrian Team and a professor in animal science. "She's never gotten nervous anytime she's been in a competition. She's always had nerves of steel and is cool, calm and collected."
Becoming a Red Raider
Though she wasn't born in Lubbock, the Brodbecks moved to the city when she was just 18 months old, her mother, Deneshia said.
"My husband became a pediatric resident at Texas Tech, so we moved here and we started going to football games and that kind of thing," Deneshia said.
Soon, Emily had taken an interest in the Masked Rider.
"The only things I remember about games were the Masked Rider running down the football field and then the first down, when everyone does a big wave," Emily said. "Those stick out in my mind really, really well."
Her interest in the mascot went far past the football games.
"We have pictures of her with the Masked Rider at several events we went to," Deneshia said. "One year, when she was around eight or nine, she went to a fall festival at her school as the Masked Rider, with the cape and hat and everything."
Todd said though it wasn't a plan they had discussed, Emily eventually becoming the mascot had been an occasional thought for him throughout her life.
"The Masked Rider's always been a fascination for her," he said. "So that's always kind of in the back of your mind, but I don't know that I went as far as to think she would go to school at Texas Tech."
In fact, before she enrolled at Texas Tech, Emily had already decided to attend another university outside of Lubbock. She said like many high school students, she wanted to venture out on her own. Aside from football games, Emily hadn't even been on campus.
"My mom was like, 'Well, I know you don't really want to stay in Lubbock. But why don't we just go look at it?'" Emily recalled. "Once I went and took a tour, it was just mind-blowing. It was so beautiful and welcoming. The campus is just absolutely stunning, and the people were amazing. It stopped me in my tracks. I was like, 'Wow, I definitely want to come here. There's no other option. I haven't had any desire to leave since."
The Masked Rider program also played a role in her decision.
"It was one of the main reasons I wanted to come to Texas Tech," Emily said. "I remember going to games when I was little, and it being this electric atmosphere that I just absolutely loved. The Texas Tech fan base brings such an incredible atmosphere to every single event we're a part of, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, football, anything and everything, there's just that atmosphere. And I think the Masked Rider is a pure representation of that spirit."
Becoming the Masked Rider
After enrolling at Texas Tech, Emily became involved in the Spirit Program, serving in various capacities under Masked Riders Rachel McLelland (2015-16), Charlie Snider (2016-17), Laurie Tolboom (2017-18) and Lyndi Starr (2018-19).
"I think it has helped a lot in seeing the different aspects of the Masked Rider," Deneshia said. "They do a lot of football games, which is what most people associate the Masked Rider with, but I don't know that a lot of people realize all the other things they do, all the other events. Being an assistant was very helpful for her so she could see that side of it, as well as the different places they travel to, dealing with the public and the organizational part to get it done successfully."
Deciding to try out this year wasn't an unfamiliar decision – Emily had tried out previously as an undergraduate. This year – her final year before receiving her master's degree – she knew she wanted to try out one more time.
"I decided this past year that I just really wanted to give it a last shot," Emily said. "I've been here since 2013 and have been blessed enough to represent my university as an Equestrian Team member. Now, I'm an alumni member, I was the teaching assistant for the horsemanship class and I really wanted to continue to represent my university in the best way I know how – as the Masked Rider."
Trying out for the Masked Rider is a multi-step process that begins early each spring semester. Prospective riders must first pass a written exam and complete an application, in addition to meeting several other requirements. Candidates are then evaluated on their riding and driving abilities. The final step is a formal interview with the Spirit Committee.
"It is a lot more than what the public probably knows," Deneshia said. "It's very stressful, so each hurdle you make it through, the closer you get to it and the more excited you are that you might be the one that's chosen. I think that made it very big for her. And it was exciting for us as a family, because she finally achieved what she was after."
Getting the call
Emily's final interview took place on March 28, a Thursday. Then the waiting began.
"I intended to go out of town Friday to visit friends and see a concert," Emily said. "I thought, 'Well, I'll just stay and work until I either get a phone call or an email. I was just hanging around at work, trying to keep myself busy. My mom was texting me the whole time, asking 'Have you heard anything yet?' I kept getting dings for email. Then I got a sales call. I was so frustrated. The anticipation was killing me."
The call finally came at 12:36 p.m. Bruce Bills, head cheer and mascot coach, was on the other end of the line, welcoming her as the 58th Masked Rider.
"I was with my boss when I got the call," Emily said. "After I finished talking with Mr. Bills, I started crying and I said, 'I was selected as Masked Rider this year.' She gave me a hug and we started getting really excited and cheering, then I finally had the mental capacity to go ahead and call my mom. She started crying and my dad started crying. I was in pure disbelief. I had been hoping and praying for that phone call for a very long time and after it kind of set in, I was just beyond excited."
Her parents said they know Emily will be an awesome representative for Texas Tech.
"She really has a passion for the university," Todd said. "She has a passion for the program. She is good with people, and really good with kids. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and she'll do an incredible job."
Jorgensen also expressed her pride in Emily's journey so far and excitement for what's to come for her in the future.
"It's an awesome accomplishment," Jorgensen said. "She's gained a lot of maturity over the years. I've seen her grow up from a little girl to an intelligent young woman, and I think she's going to step into this role and really serve Texas Tech to the best of her abilities. My advice to her is to enjoy the journey, enjoy everything that comes with it because it goes by so quickly, and to make sure that you stop and take a deep breath and to enjoy the tradition you've become a part of."
Emily will graduate with her master's degree in spring 2020, just after her time as Masked Rider ends. She said she hopes to work for the government or a private company as a wildlife biologist. She also has an interest in following in her dad's and grandmother's footsteps, working for the National Park Service.
"I think it'd be really neat to try and do something like that, just to kind of keep up with, like a little family tradition," she said. "I'd like to stay in Texas or the nearby areas. I'm not tied to any particular park, but all of my family is from Texas, so I'd kind of like to say in this vicinity."
For now, she's looking forward to what she'll accomplish representing the university she loves.
"Texas Tech, in all honesty, has been a second home to me," Emily said. "I consider the people I've met here as my family and I genuinely cannot wait to represent them and everything we love about the school in the best way I know how. I'm really looking forward to meeting the supporters who make the Texas Tech fan base the powerhouse that it is. And, of course, I'm looking forward to the football games where the Masked Rider gets to make the most iconic entrance in college football, or any football, event."
She also hopes to continue strengthening the bond between the university and the surrounding area.
"As a high school student in Lubbock, I didn't think about Texas Tech being its own entity," Emily said. "I'd like to talk to high school students who may not have had any kind of interaction with the university and bridge that gap to pull more local students into Texas Tech and show them all the opportunities that are here.
"I to want thank everyone who helped me make this dream a reality, including Stephanie, Dr. Sam Jackson and all the previous riders I've been privileged enough to work with. I am incredibly blessed, I am incredibly humbled, and I can't wait for the year to start. Wreck 'em and Guns up!"