North Dakota’s Sheldak ranch honored for lifetime contributions to Appaloosa breed
Dave and Kim Utke of Sheldak Ranch in Sheldon, North Dakota have an international reputation for producing versatile and well-built Appaloosas. Selling weanlings nationwide, and to countries like Mexico, Chile, Canada, South Africa, France, Germany, and beyond, their contribution to the breed is inarguable.
In 2019, Sheldak Ranch was awarded with an induction to the Appaloosa Horse Club Hall of Fame as influential breeders. The announcement was delayed due to COVID-19, but is no less an honor. This award follows decades of home-raised horses also being inducted, most notably, the all-time leading sire, Prince Shannon. The 1974 stallion earned a Reserve National Yearling Halter title and a Junior Championship at the Grand National Show, and his offspring continue earning national and international awards.
Two years ago, a top-producing mare called String of Storms raised by Sheldak Ranch was inducted to the Appaloosa Horse Club Hall of Fame. At the time of her award, five of her offspring had earned seven Bronze Medallions, qualifying her to the HoF as a Producer.
Now, Dave and Kim earned their plaque on the wall. “It was quite an honor and quite a surprise. We are busy 365 days a year on the ranch and we don’t really look up to see what we’ve done. So it was kind of a wake-up call for us,” says Kim. Sheldak Ranch was nominated for the award at least twice, indicating that many thought it was high time for recognition. Since the late 1960s, the couple has been producing foundation-bred Appaloosas for disposition and conformation.
Their commitment to the breed began by chance when a friend stayed the night with her stallion, Rebel Red Hawk. The Utke’s admired his red leopard coat and gentle disposition, so they purchased him. Thus, they thrust themselves into the world of Appaloosa horses, dedicating their lives to continuing proven bloodlines of a breed historically significant to the United States.
The Appaloosa breed can be traced back to the Nez Perce Tribe of the Pacific Northwest. The tribe selected and refined the breed in the early 1700s before any such practice took place in the country. They gelded inferior males and traded away any horses that did not suit their breeding program. After the Nez Perce War of 1877, Appaloosas were possessed by the US Army, lost, or killed. However, the breed was revived by the founding of the Appaloosa Horse Club in 1932 with steady growth ever since. Now, the ApHC is an international association which showcases the versatility of the breed on every level, from club to world class.
In 2020, the ApHC World Show and Youth World Show (held concurrently for the first time) showcased over 2,500 total entries in a wide range of events, including halter classes, cutting, horse racing, English equitation, and more. Some unique classes included the Nez Perce stake race and Most Colorful at Halter class. Utke-bred horses have proven themselves in every single discipline. “From jumping to reining to barrel racing–I don’t know what they haven’t won at,” says Kim.
Sheldak Ranch is located in Sheldon, North Dakota, with the name indicating the address “Sheldon, Dakota”. The D-A-K at the end of “Sheldak” is also “Dave And Kim” abbreviated.
Each baby raised at Sheldak has humble beginnings. The ranch itself is very much isolated, being 50 miles southwest of Fargo. There, the Utkes allow nature to be their main producer. Not only is each mare pasture-bred and turned out year-round, all foals are born outside, as well. Perhaps the key to Sheldak’s success is in those humble beginnings, for the ranch itself was an abandoned farmstead when the newlywed Utkes purchased it. With one mare, a little cash, and a loan from the bank, the couple built barns, planted trees, and cultivated their program. Now, it is a world-class operation that raises premier Appaloosa weanlings.
Remarkably, all of their stallions run together in the off-season. Kim says they are the best of friends. All of their studs are of the gentlest disposition and are safe for children. “Otherwise they wouldn’t be on our place,” she says. These males pass on not only their foundation pedigrees, but their dispositions to their offspring.
The Utkes have sold private treaty from the start. “We’ve had an ad in Appaloosa Journal since 1969,” Kim says. Weanlings are sold to buyers in all 50 states and 12 countries, with some serving as seedstock for the beginnings of the Appaloosa breed in Chile. Countless colts and fillies have gone on to win world titles, thousands of points in the ApHC, and further produce champions. A handful of top performers in the show ring include National & World Champion Cutting Horse, Go Meyer Kim; 6-time National & World Roping Champion, Imagine That Jack; 7-time National & World Champion and 2017 Hall of Fame inductee, String Of Storms; and 15-time National & World Champion, Colored by Vision. Leading sires raised at Sheldak Ranch include Mighty Tim, King David and Imaginate, to name a few.
Though their stack of accolades is mountainous, the Utkes remain modest in their life’s work. They rarely take part in any national or world shows except to check the results online the following day. Instead, they prefer to nurture their future world champions at home, with Kim as the ranch’s professional photographer and marketing expert. “We don’t get off the ranch. We have chores twice a day,” she says. In 2012, the ranch was named one of the Top 5 Horse Farms in the U.S. by Horseman Magazine. Other farms which have the honor include Calumet Farm and Claiborne Farm, retirement home of Secretariat.
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Jill Rigler is not your average 17 year old.