As I finished my coffee, I took a deep breath. I was excited, but also starting to feel nervous. Those what if thoughts kept creeping in. What if Breezy spooked at the buffalo? I put a stop to those negative thoughts, and instead shifted to positive affirmations. Breezy is fit and ready. I am a confident, gritty rider. We are ready for this!
I cleaned up after breakfast and packed up the trailer. My goal was to pull out of camp at 11am, so I had plenty of time to get to the Buffalo Corrals before Orientation. One drawback to the Featherlite Inn is that everything needs packed up and anything fragile put in the nose of the trailer before hauling. So my camp stove, coffee maker, table, chairs, lights, etc. all needed packed up and put into their totes.
After camp was packed up, I put on Breezy’s Easy Boots as he finished his morning hay, then saddled up. At 10:45am I led him to the trailer...and he just stood there, refusing to step up and get in! I am sure after the long haul out here he was thinking, “Seriously? You think I’m going to get in there after I just spent a whole day in there and traveled 700 miles? No thanks crazy lady!”
I grabbed my flag and was doing some groundwork with him behind the trailer when my neighbors from two camp sites down came by. It took just a few minutes of me in the trailer and my neighbor waving the flag to remind Breezy that he did actually know how to trailer load, and he jumped in. I’ll admit, it was embarrassing to have the horse that didn’t want to load!
After that slight delay, we were on the road! And like much of the gravel roads in Custer State Park, they are narrow with lots of curves! This trip has done wonders for pushing me outside of my comfort zone, and most of those experiences were behind the wheel!
We made it to the Buffalo Corrals, and parked alongside other trailers. I unloaded Breezy and tied him to the trailer, then walked up to the corrals to check in. The vet was there checking paperwork and doing health inspections, so I walked back to the trailer to get Breezy. After his paperwork was checked to verify he matched his health certificate, his teeth inspected, and his temperature taken, we were given the ok to participate in the Roundup. I took him back to the trailer, then again walked back to the corrals. Lunch was buffalo burgers, so I joined my camp neighbors, Shane and CJ, that helped me load Breezy, and my campsite neighbor Beau (who is from Australia!) and in line met one of the Roundup Team leaders, Ron, and his wife, Jen. It was really neat listening to everyone’s stories as we enjoyed lunch in the sunshine. Then it was time for Orientation!
All of us Roundup Riders received our packets and filled out the remaining paperwork, including an Emergency Contact card that we were instructed to keep on our person during today’s orientation ride and tomorrow for the roundup. We were split into three teams-Red, White and Blue, and along with out team arm bands, we received our Roundup Rider Name Patches. I was assigned to Blue team, which is led by Ron, who I had met at lunch.
Then us Roundup Riders were given a personal pep talk from the Governor of South Dakota! She is a cowgirl herself that rides in the Roundup. After her pep talk, the Park staff went over the plan for the roundup, complete with a map and talking through where each team would be riding. They also talked about what to look for and expect from the Buffalo. Basically, if they start looking over their shoulder at you, pay attention. If they starting making a deep “woof” sound, its a warning. If their tail flips up over their back, get out of the way!
We were also instructed to double check all of our tack, especially our latigos and stirrup leathers. Bob, a wise old cowboy who has been part of these roundups for over 40 years recommended that today isn’t the day to be changing bits. We were warned that our horses might not act as they normally do, and that there was no shame in backing out if after today’s orientation ride we didn’t think that we could complete the roundup.
“Once those buffalo get running, you’ll find out pretty quick if you are cowboy or cowgirl enough!” cowboy Bob quipped.
After that, we were sent off to get our horses and join our team leaders for our orientation ride. I double checked my tack, thinking of all of the warning advice we had been given. They definitely wanted all of us riders to be aware of all the possibilities! I stepped into the saddle, and Breezy and I trotted off to the blue team meeting spot behind the cook tent. Each team had about 20 riders, and each volunteer rider was paired with a “core” rider, who was an experienced roundup rider. I was paired with Jen, team leader Ron’s wife. Then we were off! We trotted up the hill, through a patch of trees, and then we got our first glimpse of Buffalo!
All of our team handled the route great. We really had an awesome group of horses and riders. After the orientation ride, I felt much more confident in my ability (and Breezy’s) to complete the Roundup on Friday. When we got back to the Buffalo Corrals, we were instructed to be saddled and ready at 8am behind the cook tent, ready to ride out!
It was a little after 5pm when Breezy and I pulled back into our campsite. I think Breezy was happy to chill in his pen, while I set up camp and warmed up supper.
I was having trouble getting cell service to call home, so after supper I hopped on Breezy bareback and rode out to higher ground in search of service. I finally found some up by the camp sites higher up on the hill, and called home to say good night to the boys and tell Zeb about my day.
Once I got back to my camp, my new neighbors (4 Sheriff’s Posse members from Colorado, two of which were in the Roundup, and the other two had ridden in the Roundup a few years ago) had a campfire going and invited me over. I brought my chair (and set it 6 feet away) and listened to their exciting stories and advice from those that had previously ridden in the Roundup. The best were the stories told by Scott, who in addition to being a Sherriff’s Posse member was also a cowboy poet and master packer who had run horse camps for kids and adults. My sides hurt laughing at some of his (mis)adventures!
I knew tomorrow was going to be a big day, so I made sure to get to bed early. I set three alarms to make sure I didn’t oversleep, and drifted off to sleep, with visions of a thundering herd of buffalo in my head.