A Worldwide Attraction in South Dakota
The annual event is a highlight for Custer State Park attracting 14,000 bystanders in 2014. Two viewing areas for spectators are located on hillsides while journalists from around the world captured the event on camera and video.
Horseback riders from Michigan, Iowa and Minnesota participated along with photographers from Germany, Canada and Japan at the yearly Black Hills event.
Michigan resident Kevin MacRitchie from New Beginnings Ranch was one of the volunteers interviewed by Cowboy Lifestyle Network. MacRitchie and his wife Kimba saddled their horses at 5:30 a.m. and stopped for a buffalo brisket lunch at noon. “I have been working for the park as a volunteer since 2005. So this is my tenth year in the roundup. I’ve been asked on the core staff by Chad Kremer (Buffalo Herd Manager),” he stated.
A couple from New York, a Spanish tourist and school children from Colorado, accompanied by nuns, were among the thousands drawn to witness the Buffalo Roundup. Three core teams identified by red, white and blue rode horseback herding the magnificent animals over the park land and into buffalo corrals. Pickup trucks carrying journalists moved behind the heard while other park service vehicles secured perimeters.
Buffalo cooperation is certainly an oxymoron.
The veteran buffalo slowed for the tree line and veered west toward the fenced pasture and walked towards the final gate crossing. The remaining 75 percent of the herd ran east which required riders to turn them back down the smaller hill close to spectators. As the herd thinned three buffalo broke away and caused the grand finale scene of cowboys racing after them. MacRitchie explained, a maverick calf didn’t want to move with the heard.
Jim Straight, District Park Supervisor and Core Leader for the Red Team spoke with Cowboy Lifestyle Network following the roundup. He explained, “Our job (park service) is to direct the first year riders and to watch out and make sure they don’t get hurt. We stagger all the riders. We have core team riders, park riders, invitees and draw riders.” Straight noted the application process looks for riders with experience and ones that can handle their mounts in rough terrain. “It’s about bragging rights,” he mentioned for the participants.
MacRitchie noted his three-year-old horse Justice, “has been raised in a pen with buffalo.” He was also quick to tell Cowboy Lifestyle Network he has the fastest horse out there every year. For MacRitchie the roundup was an just an average days work, “no different… just here there is 71,000 acres and 1500 buffalo,” he replied.
Range Ecologist Mark Hendrix is to secure the buffalo numbers are thinned to match Custer State Park vegetation. In addition, he said, “We show the volunteers how we will work the rest of the herd throughout the week.” A catwalk over the herd allowed spectators a view of calves being vaccinated and branded following a catered lunch for $15 per plate. The separated cows were loaded into bucking chutes and skillfully given ultrasounds.
Graduate student Matt Knight from Peosta, Iowa was a first year horseback rider. “I’ve been riding horses since I was eight and rounding up cattle. I came out on vacation once and heard about the roundup and found out about the application process and put my name in,” he stated.
Knight admits the horses were all hyped up in the beginning and it was a big adrenaline rush.
While some riders are fulltime cowboys or graduate students others are businessman that fly in to ride in the roundup. Brian Coulter from Northfield, Minnesota hauled Brian Short’s horse from Wisconsin. “My fulltime job is taking care of corporate aircraft, today I’m the Palomino’s chauffer,” Coulter joked.
The vivid images of buffalo stampeding on the prairie in the 1990 movie Dances with Wolves was a reality for eye witnesses. During the 49th Buffalo Roundup the herd broke between the saddle peak of hills and delivered will clouds of dust following them to match crowd expectations.
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