Incoming Masked Rider Lauren Bloss is ready for her run as the iconic Texas Tech mascot.
Dirt and getting dirty is clearly one of Texas Tech University mascot Centennial Champion's absolute favorite things.
There is humidity in the air after a spring rain the night before. Perfect conditions for Centennial to part take in one of his notably favorite pastimes.
“There he goes,” said new Masked Rider Lauren Bloss.
And with that, Centennial begins his descent towards the ground. Nose first, dropping to his knees then lowering his hindquarters and finally to his back with a side-to-side roll. A cloud of dust rises into the air. The nearly 30-second roll abruptly ends with Centennial back on his feet walking toward Bloss who promptly scratches his forelock kisses him just above the muzzle.
Bloss knew a little bit about his affinity for dirt last year as former Masked Rider Caroline Hobbs assistant. Now she gets to witness Centennial in all his glory, make this identical dirt dive every day – especially after being brushed and cleaned up. It's all part of the whole “getting-to-know-you” process.
“Everyone's like, ‘Oh, he's so clean all the time.' I've realized he likes to get really dirty in a stall,” laughed Bloss. “When I clean his stall in the morning, he definitely gives me a workout because he does not like to keep wood shavings all in one spot. I've learned he likes to be messy. It's his personality.”
Bloss embraced the advice of her predecessors and is taking in every moment as she begins her run as the 62nd Masked Rider of Texas Tech.
“Before I was in the program, I really didn't know how much goes into the time with him,” said Bloss. “It takes some time to get him ready for appearances, football games, parades and all the things he does. He's a special horse and the job he does is not like any other.”
Bloss is the second Masked Rider from El Paso to don the cape, hat and mask – the first being Kathleen Campbell from 1980-1981 riding Happy VI-VII.
“It is the symbol of Texas Tech,” said Spirit Program Director Stephanie Rhode. I think besides the Double T, the Masked Rider is the most recognizable and the most tied to a university that it could be.”
A History with Horses
To take on a responsibility as significant as the Masked Rider, a person must have a passion for horses. Bloss' affinity for all things equine began early on.
“I been around the horse industry since I was a baby, she said. “My grandmother bred and owned racehorses, so I was introduced to the equine industry from a really young age.
“I was the only one of the three kids in my family who actually pursued horses, so I quickly took on lessons when I was about 5 years old, western, you know, learning the basics.”
It's an amazing thing to see how people come into their own as a person. Sometimes it's an event or an activity. For Bloss, it was sitting on top of a close to 2,000-pound animal.
“Growing up, I was a shy kid, very anxious,” she said. “As soon as I got into horses, that's where my personality came out. I was a lot less shy – I was comfortable in my own skin when I was on a horse. Being able to be on a horse was just my sense of peace.”
Bloss grew from those basics by leaps and bounds, getting her own horse at the age of 12. She showed in hunter/jumper, also known as show jumping, equitation and specialized in the English riding style where she consistently received top marks.
“When I came to college, I joined the Equestrian Team where I continued to do English and also got into the Western style,” said Bloss. “I knew coming in I wanted to try out to be the Masked Rider, so I needed some Western experience.”
For those not familiar with the nuances of English style riding verses Western style riding, it all beings with the saddle. English features a smaller saddle, less bulk and no saddle horn and a lot less padding. There are notable differences in bridles, bits and reins.
The two styles also include different gaits or movements for the horses, variations in clothing styles for the riders, horse breeds and the overall history of the two styles as the name of each indicate its origins.
Regardless of style, Bloss was focused on the task at hand and ready to do what was necessary to do to reach her ultimate goal.
“I've done whatever I can to get on any kind of horse I can. My main background is English, but I think Western is definitely my happy place.”
Surreal at First Sight
It was back when Bloss was midway through her high school career when she saw the Masked Rider run for the first time at Jones AT&T Stadium. Her brother Justin was playing tennis at Texas Tech and her family was in town for Family Weekend of his first year.
“I came out with my parents and went to the football game, and I was sitting up pretty high in the stands,” recalled Bloss. “I knew there was a horse that ran, but I didn't really know what else they did. I thought maybe the horse just stood there.
“The first time I heard the song and saw the horse run down the field, I could just see this horse just dart across the field. And I was like, ‘Oh, I want to do that one day. This is pretty darn cool.'”
Talk about a recruiting tool. Bloss was sold on Texas Tech and more than anything, what she wanted to do once she arrived.
“It was a surreal experience,” Bloss said. “I was like, ‘Yep, that's where I'm applying. I don't think I need to go anywhere else.'
“After that game, I quickly looked up ‘What does the Masked Rider do? How do you become the Masked Rider and what are the traditions behind it?' It's so iconic because it's the red cape, the hat, the mask – it's all darting across the field and it's so exciting just to see how the crowd responds.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
The past several weeks have been a blur for Bloss. She knew that would be the case.
“I don't think it hit me I was the Masked Rider until I looked in the mirror in the tack room of the trailer after the ceremony,” said Bloss. “I looked in the mirror and was like, ‘Wow. This is real.'”
Since the April 21 Transfer of Reins ceremony, Bloss either with Centennial Champion or by herself participated in 26 events leading up to May 26. Those events include a parade in San Antonio, sporting events, Ranch Day at the National Ranching Heritage Center and a Centennial Celebration in downtown Dallas.
The gala in Dallas was a high point thus far for Bloss. She told Rhode she said it was “an experience I will never forget.”
“She got to experience a little bit of the centennial going through the trip down to Houston and to Austin,” Rhode said. “She went with Caroline, and it's one of the reasons I think it is so important for our riders to have some experience with the Masked Rider program.”
The experience also is important for Centennial in his ever-growing role. It's something Bloss plays a vital role in preparing him for.
“He knows once we get somewhere and we stand, he just gets to be loved on and gets pictures taken,” Bloss said. “He loves the attention for sure. So, it's been cool to learn his personality through all those different appearances as well.”
As Centennial's personality continues to develop through appearances, there is a large degree of reassurance Rhode has in Bloss playing a role in that development as well as being such a part of the nearly seven decades long program.
“I feel very comforted in the fact that she understands this program,” said Rhode. “She worked with Ashley Adams, our 60th Masked Rider. She also was an assistant last year for Caroline, so she knows the ropes.”
The Coming Year
A few weeks after Bloss took the reins of Centennial Champion, the adjustment to the new role was very much in full force.
“We're both learning at the same time,” Bloss said. “I'm learning how to be the Masked Rider and do all my chores – get all my schoolwork done while going to appearances as well as taking care of him and all our equipment.
“But also, he's learning how to get used to me as a new rider. We all do things differently and so he's learning more about me and more about his job every day.”
The expectations and events are significant in size and scope for the rest of the year and Bloss recognizes the opportunity in front of her.
“I am so excited to be a part of the Centennial Celebration. I mean, I couldn't have asked for a better year,” Bloss said. “I already have a good list of appearances for the end of the year, which is exciting. Everyone was like, ‘Oh, are you just going to relax? Are you going to go home?'
I'm like, ‘No, I'm here.' We're going to be doing orientation. We're going to parades. We're going to this and that.”
Regardless of the demands of a very busy schedule, Bloss has goals for Centennial Champion as their connection grows throughout the year.
“I have a list of things I want to accomplish,” Bloss said. “There's so many, I have to sort through them all. But really it comes down to making an impact in the community and maintaining the amazing and positive name on Texas Tech in the Spirit program.”
As soon as it begins, it will end. Every Masked Rider since has said as much. Rhode has seen it for the past two-plus decades. She is confident in what lies ahead for Bloss and the life changing experience the Masked Rider program will be for both Bloss and Centennial Champion.
“They're a real team and consequently, at the end of the year, you see that bond,” said Rhode. “You see it is so hard for riders to walk away from that horse because they have done everything together.”