It was about 7:30 am when I pulled into the field where all the trailers were parking. I put on my chinks and spurs and grabbed my get down and bridle off the tack hook in the trailer (I shamelessly borrowed Zeb’s Kerry Kelley Bit & Bridle for this trip). Breezy was alert when he stepped off the trailer, neighing at the other horses and prancing around. I lunged him around for a minute, until he started paying more attention to me. My hands were shaking as I tied the bowline knot in the horsehair rope around his neck and put his bridle on. I made myself take a few deep, square breaths (in for the count of 4, hold for 4, out for the count of 4, hold for 4). I was here. It was Roundup day. This was it!
I stepped into the saddle, and we trotted off towards the buffalo corrals. Along the way, we came up my camp neighbor, Beau, who was walking on foot up to the corrals. It simply wouldn’t do to let a friend walk when I had a perfectly good horse, so I asked if she wanted a ride. Breezy doesn’t mind riding double. The sight of two cowgirls riding double on a horse must have been pretty interesting, we had a bunch of people taking our photo.
We made it up to the corrals in time for the morning briefing and last minute instructions for the Roundup riders. After a heartfelt prayer for the safety of all riders, horses, and buffalo, we were sent off to our teams.
It was quite the sight to see the three teams trotting up the hill, hearing the steady sound of hoof beats, the occasional whinny, and the voices of excited riders.
We made it up the hill, went across the Wildlife Loop Road, then through a creek, and then we could see our first glimpse of the buffalo herd. When crested the top of the hill at Hay Flats, there was a group of 300-400 buffalo resting and grazing. When you looked down the way we came, you could see the rest of the herd spread out across the hill and valley. Everywhere you looked there was buffalo!
At the top of Hay Flats, Chad, the Herd Manager, was waiting. I rode up next to him, and looked down at the amazing view below us. “Bet this view never gets old, does it?” I asked him.
“Nope, it never does.” He replied.
Since we had time before we could begin the Roundup, we were able to rest our horses, take photos, and chat with each other. A few media and chase trucks came in through the back gate while we were waiting. These were the SUVs and trucks that would be supporting the Roundup Riders. A plan was made that the Blue team would push the group of 300-400 along the ridge at the top of hay flats, then down the hill to join the rest of the herd, where we would meet with the Red and White Teams. I was assigned a position on the far right flank, next to Jen (the core rider I was paired with). With a crackle of radios, we were informed that it was getting closer to go time, so we all moved into our positions, awaiting the signal to begin.
Then with shouts and waving of arms, we were off! Jen cracked her bullwhip, the chase vehicles honked their horns, riders hollered, and horses jumped into a lope. From the sound of the bullwhips, the herd of buffalo was instantly on the move. We hadn’t made it very far when a big, old bull turned his head, and his right eye was bright red. Another rider yelled at the same time I did, “That bull has pinkeye!” Jen saw it, and shouted back, “Leave him behind!” With a case of pinkeye that bad, he wouldn’t have been able to see at all out of that eye, and it would have been dangerous for the bull and for us Roundup riders to try and take him with the herd. It took a little bit of maneuvering and great teamwork, but we got the old bull sorted away from the rest of the herd. Then we were off again, the Blue Team Riders all working together to push the buffalo across Hay Flats.
It was quite the experience. Breezy was galloping freely, I had my rein hand up high on his neck, urging him faster. The ground thundered with the sound of hundreds of galloping buffalo, the dust rising from beneath their hooves. The wind was blowing in my hair (thank goodness I bought that stampede string!). I felt like I was in a different time, surrounded by other Roundup Riders (the trucks at this point all behind us). I looked over at Liesa, another one of the blue team riders. “This is amazing!” she yelled to me, galloping alongside on her red dun gelding, his red mane flying in the wind. It truly was!
We made it across the flat, and were now approaching the downhill slope. We slowed to a trot, as the terrain became more steep and rocky. Cries of “Keep them together!” and “Push ‘em!” from Core Riders kept us working. A few times a Core Rider would shout “Watch her!” as a cow started giving riders an eye and making the deep “woof” sound, and a few cows even bluffed and ran out at riders, who were all able to angle away and avoid being trampled. When two bulls started fighting we all steered clear-you definitely do not want to get in the middle of that! With a few sharp cracks from a bull whip, we got the herd moving again.
We pushed the buffalo across a gravel road, then we merged our group of buffalo with the bigger herd at the Prairie Dog town. The next part was kinda tricky. Riding across the Prairie Dog town is treacherous as is, before adding the challenging task of keeping a herd of buffalo moving in the direction we wanted. After we made it across the Prairie Dog Town, then we needed to get the buffalo herd to cross the creek. The banks of the creek were pretty steep, and the creek itself wasn’t very wide. The buffalo really wanted to take option B, going around the creek. Blue team had fanned out on the right side, and a few buffalo tested our line, but our group of riders held steady, yelling and cracking bullwhips, and the buffalo turned, deciding to cross the creek rather than ride through such an amazing bunch of #SuperPunchers
I found a mostly flatish spot to cross the creek, which Breezy decided to just jump anyways. Luckily, I expected his wild jump, since he had done it the day before on the orientation ride, so I had grabbed my nightlatch. I hadn’t quite expected the playful buck after the jump, but it wasn’t a big enough buck to unseat me, so I just laughed and yelled “Yee Haw!”, then sent Breezy into a faster lope, much to the amusement of the laughing riders behind me.
After the creek, Jen and I cut to the east, to make our way to a gravel road that the buffalo had in the past turned and tried to go down. As we trotted up the gravel road, we saw that the herd was moving to the gates to the big pasture below the North Viewing area. I followed Jen as she moved up closer to the gate. Other Blue Team members spread out, and a few calves turned towards us along the fenceline rather than going through the gate with their mamas, so we pushed them back to the gate.
After the entire herd, all of the Roundup riders, the color guard riders carrying flags (this was super cool to see!!!), and the media and chase trucks made it through and the gate to the pasture was closed, we had a few minutes to rest and air up our horses before the final push. By this time I was pretty warm, so I pulled off my jacket and stuffed it in my saddle bag, and took a drink of water. The Roundup Riders lined up behind the herd, the chase and media trucks lined up behind the riders, then together we all pushed the herd to the final gates to the corrals. This part was pretty easy, it felt like a leisurely walk after all of the galloping we had just done! The herd made their way through the gates into the buffalo corrals, and we were done! It wasn’t until that point that I noticed the cheering of the crowd-I think I knew the crowd was cheering, but I was so focused on riding and the job at hand that I didn’t even pay attention to it. As the round up riders made our way down the road to the corrals, to the right of the road was a cliff, and at the top of the cliff was a line of people, all cheering and clapping and waving down at us cowboys and cowgirls. It was a really cool feeling, to be a part of the roundup, and to be a part of the team of riders that successfully gathered 1,400 buffalo. This truly is an amazing experience!
Breezy was awesome. We walked to the trailer, and I tied him with his hay net, and he guzzled down 2 buckets of water. (Note to horse friends considering doing this-bring your own water, so you don’t need to hike up to buffalo corrals and haul water back to the trailer parking area.) I unsaddled Breezy, then let him rest at the trailer while I walked up the hill to find cell service to call Zeb to let him know that I survived and didn’t get trampled by a buffalo, and then I called my Dad. After my family was assured that I survived, I loaded up Breezy, and made the drive back to the French Creek Horse Camp.
What an adventure-and it was only 1 pm! The day was not over yet…check out Part 4 of Chevy and #RanchHorseBreezy’s Great Buffalo Adventure!