Horseback riders essential to Roundup

Leslie Silverman
The 56th Governor’s Buffalo Roundup is in the books. The event attracts young and old, newcomers and veterans, for a chance to witness a herd of 1,300-1,400 bison rounded up into the corrals of Custer State Park (CSP). 
Sixty horseback riders are integral to the events. Between 20-25 are long-time volunteers; 20 are “draw” riders, chosen from the general public from about 150 applications from all over the country; and 20 are appointees from the governor. 
Diana Saathoff of Rapid City has been helping with the Roundup since 2008 in some capacity. This year she was on mounted patrol, watching the corners so bison didn’t get into the parking area. 
“I don’t know if I herd people or buffalo,” she joked. Saathoff loves the challenge of her duties, for both herself and her horse. 
“It’s pure adrenaline,” she said of the experience.
It takes three teams of horseback riders to push the bison into one group. The bison come off of Hay Flats and cross Red Valley Road. The bison travel about three or four miles before a single team of horseback riders gives the herd a final push into the corrals. Bullwhips can be heard cracking as commands from riders.
Once in the corrals, the herd will be “worked.” The process takes about threeweeks. 
The park uses a show herd on Roundup day to display the process the herd will undertake. These are bison that have been previously corralled, so as not to stress the newly rounded-up bison too much.
Bison are branded with the letter “S” for State. This year’s herd is given a number 1 for the year 2021. Calves are vaccinated, weighed and identified according to sex. Cows are given pregnancy tests. Approximately 450 calves are born each year. A fresh calf is cinnamon in color and turns brown at about the 3-4-month mark. They weigh about 40 pounds at birth and can move within the first hour.
Bison are separated for the auction, since the park can sustain only about 1,000 animals. Park employees and volunteers try to mimic nature, selling every fifth animal to allow for genetic diversity. 
The November auction, which will sell 370 bison, is online, allowing bidders from all over the world. Funds raised from the auction go back to taking care of the park’s herd. 
Despite the bison being “ornery all summer,” the buffalo cooperated for this year’s roundup, according to Matt Snyder, superintendent of Custer State Park. 
The park makes every effort to accommodate all visitors who want to see the Roundup. Staff and volunteers work together to make certain cars are parked efficiently.  
“The last thing we’re going to do is have people drive all this way  and miss the final push,” said Snyder.
The event was, however,  slightly delayed this year due to the large volume of car traffic and the time it takes to get 60 riders in place, according to Snyder. This year also saw a rider fall off their horse and taken  to the hospital as a “precautionary measure.” 
Gov. Kristi Noem rode in the Roundup along with her two daughters, her son-in- law and a nephew. 
“There’s nowhere else in the country where people can have an experience like this,” said Noem. “It was very special being out  there.”  
Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden  had his son and daughter-in-law riding with him also. It was the first time both the governor and lieutenant governor rode in the Roundup.
CSP set an annual visitation record last year with 2 million visitors and the Roundup attracted 19,000 viewers. 
This year’s Roundup was also record-breaking, with 22,452  attending.

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