Yippin and Hollerin – A Cowgirl for a Day
- Posted On
- Sep 08, 2014
By Karen Stolman –
Antelope Island State Park sits seven miles from the mainland in the Great Salt Lake. In addition to a myriad of quality outdoor recreation, the Park is home to many species of wildlife, including the mighty Bison.
Bison on Antelope Island date back to 1893 when just 12 were introduced. Today's herd is about 700 strong. Every fall volunteer horseback riders gather to assist the rangers at the annual bison roundup. Each animal is checked by a veterinarian and extra animals sold. The bison roam freely throughout the island and rounding them up is a big job. Last year, organizers estimated that 350 riders participated in the roundup. The riders are a mix of the very experienced and neophytes who participate mainly for a leisure ride, where they can enjoy the beauty of the island and watch the herd from a distance. Many participants camp out the night before and enjoy a traditional chili dinner party at the conclusion of the roundup.
Through 2004 helicopters were used as the primary herd driver. In 2005, horseback riders joined the choppers. The helicopters proved to be costly and now have been entirely replaced by the horseback riders who enthusiastically volunteer each year.
This year I joined Barbara Riddle in the "Advanced/Red" group. She has been riding in the roundup since 2005. Ours was the left flank of the U-shaped group of riders, closest to the mountain and rocky terrain. The riders were divided into three main teams – the largest central posterior group, a left flank and a right flank. The teams formed a U-shape that enveloped the herd as we drove them from the south end of the island, north to the corrals. Each team had a few experienced wranglers - some are "shooters," who fire birdshot in the air to re-direct any stray members of the herd. Other wrangler's crack whips in the air to herd stray animals. Riders with the advanced groups tend to ride alongside the herd and need the skills to rapidly change their horse's gait from a walk to a gallop. Riders must stay alert for when a buffalo might charge.
Prior to the start of the roundup all riders met at 8am, where Neil- the central team leader (with an impressive sense of humor for so early in the morning) laid down the safety rules and a plan for the day. He advised us to listen toour leaders, and to shout, "Go, Go, Go!" if an animal charged, and "Clear, Clear" if the animal stopped. On the command "Go", Neil said to gallop away from the herd at a 45 degree angle. While some veteran riders might scoff at these warnings my confidence was fueled with this information, so I could join the advanced group feeling well prepared. I discovered that these large beasts tend to intimidate and a horse can outrun a charging bison. In my group, I was accompanied by two generals from Hill Air Force Base, so I felt at ease. It was their first time doing the roundup as well. At 9am all the riders assembled with their respective teams at the flagpoles, each marked by a large flag bearing their team color. That moment, I was reminded of the excitement at the start of color war at summer camp. Then we were off, patiently trotting up the hillside to find the most southwest edge of the herd.
The idea of sweeping the herd within a big "U" of horses might sound simple, but in practice it is not. There are multiple small herds of bison scattered around, so during the first half of the roundup, many small, elite riding teams are assigned to round up mini-herds and drive them toward the main herd. I watched breathlessly alongside my team members, as another very brave riding group attempted to drive a small herd from a rocky and steep hillside. We saw them huddle on their horses as they plotted their moves and then take off at their agreed signal to push the herd. They succeeded and the small herd joined the main herd, down and center.
There are some distinctive calls that experienced riders make to encourage the herd to move forward. I asked Barbara's daughter, if there was a name for that call, and she replied "just Yippin and Hollerin." I guess it is what many ranchers use to herd cows, though Neil made it very clear during our orientation meeting that we "ain't herdin' cows". From our start at the south end of the island until the finish more than five hours later, we moved about 650 of the 700 Bison. There were about 50 mature bulls that we did not round up, typical each year.
The experience is scenic, exciting and a very social trail ride. You can make it as exciting as you want by positioning yourself near or far from the herd. As Barbara Riddle puts it "you can choose your own destiny in the Antelope Island roundup."
The 2014 Bison Roundup will by Oct 24 & 25th
About the author: Karen Stolman, M.D., is an experienced English Hunter/Jumper style equestrian and a member of the Utah Hunter Jumper Association. She competes with her horse Escalante in local and national competitions. Dr. Stolman is an Aesthetic Dermatologist at Gateway Aesthetic Institute and Laser Center in Salt Lake City.