Balancing life in college can be challenging. Along with school, many students have jobs, a variety of extracurricular activities and a social life; however, one student adds additional duties each year by representing Oklahoma State University as the OSU Spirit Rider.

Meriruth Cohenour, an agricultural communications senior, is that student. Last spring, she was chosen as the 2003-04 Spirit Rider. Cohenour served as a member of the ground crew in the 2002-03 season and is now the fifth female to ride as the Spirit Rider.

Cohenour began riding horses at a young age at her home in Claremore, Okla.

"I was on a horse before I could walk," she said.

Her mother and grandfather went on horseback trail rides and toted Cohenour with them.
When she was 7 years old, Cohenour received her first horse. Shortly after, she began taking riding lessons. She is trained in western, English, dressage and jumping.

Cohenour also showed with the Pinto Horse Association of America and the Paint HorseAssociation, as well as in 4-H.

"I grew up active in the Rogers County 4-H," Cohenour said. "I also held national officer positions in the PtHA and the APHA. College has slowed down my show schedule tremendously, but I still find time to ride and train my own horses."

Cohenour's passion for riding has grown with time, and she hopes to pursue a career that relates to horses.

"It has already been an amazing experience," she said. "I wanted to be the Spirit Rider because I had such a great experience last year on the ground crew."

"It's exciting to be able to combine my passion for riding and the school I love by representing it as a mascot," Cohenour said.

The OSU Spirit Rider first appeared in 1984. The late Eddy Finley, who was asked to come up with a mascot for the band, started the Spirit Rider program. Finley, an agricultural education professor, wanted a mascot who could carry the OSU flag down the field after each touchdown.

Finley's idea originated from Texas Tech University's Masked Rider. Finley and his wife, Nancy, were both Texas Tech graduates who wanted to see a similar tradition brought to OSU.
 
John Beall Jr. was the first OSU Spirit Rider. Beall was a member of the OSU Rodeo Team and rode his own horse, a black mare named Della.

Ellis and Mary Grace Hostmeyer donated a 5-year-old gelding named Stars Parr Money four years after the program's initiation. This horse would be used as the official spirit horse for the OSU Athletic Department in return for season tickets and decoration credit. The horse's common name, Bullet, was chosen after a campus-wide contest was held.

Approximately 65 students have participated in the program as either the Spirit Rider or a Spirit Team ground crew member. The Spirit Rider and crew are responsible for the care and maintenance of Bullet. The crew also is required to make appearances at parades, schools, rodeos, Special Olympics and other university-related functions.

Many times the spirit crew travels without the horse to put on promotional programs at elementary schools across the state. These programs are designed to get elementary students thinking about OSU at a young age.
These appearances, however, put a certain pressure on the rider. The chosen Spirit Rider must be able to balance class work, appearances and other duties expected by most college students.

Being an OSU mascot can have its perks; however, there also are challenges that arise. Cohenour balances a 15-hour class schedule, a job in the animal science department and fulfilling the duties of being the Spirit Rider. Cohenour also usually tries to spend eight to 10 hours per week riding Bullet.

"Appearances are what have made people love Bullet," Cohenour said.

The horse is famous nationwide.

"Bullet has become a tradition," said Harry Birdwell, OSU athletic director. "He is an ongoing symbol that is part of OSU fan fare. He is fun, beautiful and a reflection of Oklahoma life."

Football games are the most important appearance the Spirit Rider makes. The Spirit Rider leads the Spirit Walk, marches to the field with the OSU Marching Band and runs to the 30-yard line after a touchdown.

Game days for the Spirit Rider start at least three hours before kickoff. The rider and the ground crew meet at the horse barn to brush and dress the horse. They then travel to the Seretean Center for the Spirit Walk.

After the walk, the rider and horse return to the Edmon Low Library to lead the band to the field. Forty-five minutes before game time, the Spirit Rider and the band march to Lewis Field at Boone Pickens Stadium to make their grand entrance.

The band marches on the field and splits into two groups. As the crowd goes wild, the announcer yells, "Here … comes … Bullet with Spirit Rider Meriruth Cohenour."

"One of the most exhilarating experiences I ever had was the first time I came down the tunnel of Lewis Field and heard my name over the loudspeaker as I ran through the middle of the band," Cohenour said. "It was just awesome."

Throughout the game the Spirit Rider waits for each touchdown, so the OSU flag can be flown high across Lewis Field.

"As I make my entrance onto the field, I always say, 'Bullet, I hope we run your legs off,'" Birdwell said.

The Spirit Rider is popular among the fans. Cohenour said during halftime fans are allowed to pet Bullet and she signs Bullet trading cards, footballs, shirts, caps, calendars and game tickets.

"It is amazing how much of an impact a live animal has on people," Cohenour said. "Everyone likes the cheerleaders, the band and Pistol Pete, but when you get down to it, everyone wants to see Bullet."

The appearances expected of the Spirit Rider also are time-consuming. Bullet and the rider must be at each home game, all
Stillwater parades and approximately 10 other appearances around the state.

Cohenour said she would not trade this experience for anything.

"I am always amazed at what a profound effect Bullet has on the fans at the game, especially children," she said. "Every time we go somewhere with the horse, hundreds of people tell us Bullet is their favorite part of the whole game."

"I love knowing I am carrying out such a beloved tradition," Cohenour said.

After each game Bullet is taken back to the horse barn, where he lives and is cared for by the Spirit Rider and the ground crew.

This year a change was made to the program – Stars Parr Money was retired.

"Stars Parr Money was just getting too old," said Steven Cooper, OSU animal science assistant professor. "He was a great horse for OSU, and he played his part well. We felt he just needed to be retired."

The new horse, Morgos Smokin Man, is a 5-year-old gelding purchased by the OSU Athletic Department.

The new horse posed an additional challenge Cohenour has faced.

"The biggest challenge was just not knowing what to expect," she said. "We had no idea how he would react on game day. It is hard to simulate 44,000 screaming fans."

When the athletic department purchased the horse, he was already broke to ride. Last year's Spirit Rider, Jason Wright, also worked with him when he could, just to try to get him ready. Cohenour spent the summer working with him.

The OSU Athletic Department supplies the rider and each member of the ground crew with their uniforms. The uniform consists of an orange shirt, black jeans, a black vest and black boots.

The Spirit Rider is an important tradition to OSU, said Birdwell. There is a statue of the Spirit Rider in front of Gallagher-Iba Arena on the OSU campus.

"Every morning when I drive up to work and see that statue, I feel a sense of pride overwhelm me," said Birdwell.

Tryouts for the Spirit Rider are held each spring. The tryout consists of a written application, an analysis of horsemanship
using OSU's geldings and an interview.

"Although it is a time-consuming task, the sense of pride I feel every time I put on that uniform and get Bullet ready for the game makes up for all the hours I spend working with him," Cohenour said. "I will never forget this experience." By Afton Jameson, Geary, Okla.

One rider and four ground-crew members are selected each year. For more information about the Spirit Rider or trying out, call Cooper at (405) 744-6065.
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