On June 18, Sheldak Ranch, owned and operated by Dave and Kim Utke, was inducted into the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame.
The Utkes were honored in the Ranch division.
The criteria to be nominated for induction are “Nominees must be individuals, specific ranches, or ranch operations that have made significant contributions to the development and promotion of the livestock industry, ranching, or western lifestyle. Nominees must be at least 50 years of age or deceased. Ranches or ranch operations must have been in operation for at least 50 years.”
The following is taken from the Hall of Fame Nomination and provided by Lori Steedsman, Dave and Kim’s daughter:
“Sheldak Ranch is the birthplace of legendary Appaloosa horses. Husband and wife Dave and Kim Utke, the ranch owners/operators, are known worldwide for producing versatile horses with good looks, intelligence, athleticism, trainability, hardiness, and pleasant dispositions. For 50 years, they have been credited with first helping improve the Quarter Horse, then the Appaloosa breed. Sheldak has even provided foundation stock to start Appaloosa lines abroad. Since purchasing their first Appaloosa stallion in 1968, the Utkes have sold weanlings to eager buyers seeking horses who can excel in and out of the show ring, in halter, roping, cutting, dressage, trail, reining, ranch, rodeo – the list goes on. Show records prove this excellence with a growing list of champions through 2018. These awards include National, World, High Point, Superior, and Supreme Championships in Halter, Cutting, Roping, Pleasure, Western Riding, Trail, Champion Of Champions, Versatility, Hall Of Fame Awards and more.
“Today, the 1,000-acre Sheldak Ranch is a shining example of productivity, livestock quality, and effective land use through the tried and true methods that North Dakota ranchers have been using since land was first homesteaded.”
The vision of Sheldak Ranch began long before owners Dave and Kim Utke met each other. They each wanted their futures to involve the ranch life.
Dave was born in March 1942 and grew up on a farm north of Fargo. As a young man, he and his father, Paul Utke, were stock contractors in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They furnished bucking bulls for rodeos at Fort Ransom, Fort Totten, State Line (NDMT), Cogswell, Richardton, West Fargo, and the ND Rodeo Association Finals, among others.
Dave was also a bull rider in early 1960s. Some of the Utkes’ top bucking bulls were The Stripper, Little Joe and Thunder Road. Dave also spent many years threshing with horses. Dave and his father used three teams of horses hooked to bundle wagons to bring shocked grain to the threshing machine. Henry White (Fargo) was the threshing machine operator, and Nemi Severson (Enderlin), James Hoglund (West Fargo) and Dave were the bundle haulers.
As it became more difficult to find shockers and teamsters, the Utkes had to end their threshing era in the late 1970s.
The other half of Sheldak Ranch began with the exuberant daydreams of a girl who loved horses – Carolyn “Kim” (Evanson) Utke.
She was born in January 1943 and grew up in Detroit Lakes, MN. She helped start the first 4-H Horse Project in Becker County, worked hard to get it set up statewide, and went on to train her “backyard horse,” a sleek palomino mare named Sis Monty, to win numerous area championships and make parade appearances.
She told everyone that she wanted to raise horses for a living when she grew up. People told her that was a ridiculous notion, which made this stubborn little Norwegian girl even more determined to prove them wrong.
Dave and Kim met in 1959 when they were showing their Quarter Horses at the North Dakota State Fair, held in Fargo at the time.
Their visions of ranching merged into reality when they married in 1963. Already raising their first horses together at Dave’s family farm, they bought a dilapidated old farmstead 50 miles southeast of Fargo near Sheldon, ND.
The couple started with nothing but $1,000 cash, a small loan from the local bank, and one mare. The two of them spent time ’round the clock fixing up the run-down farmstead and getting their ranch set up to take on the name of Sheldak Ranch, a combination of their initials (D And K), and town of SHELdon, and North DAKota.
The strong-willed young couple decided they would run the ranch on their own with no hired help, which they continue doing to this day.
While working first to breed palomino part-Arabians (first foal sold went on to win National Top Ten Yearling Filly at AHA Nationals), then later Quarter Horses, the Utkes met their first Appaloosa stallion in 1968. Rebel Red Hawk, a gentle, stocky red leopard, was boarded overnight at Sheldak Ranch on his way to a show in Minnesota.
Within a day’s time, they fell in love with him.
The Utkes bought Rebel Red Hawk after the show and set out to build up their breeding operation.
From then on it was time to build up the broodmare band.
Even though young and perhaps naive, the Utkes made their best decision ever by following the advice of well-known Texas oil man and horse breeder Carl Miles.
He told them, “Buy the best horses you can find, even if you have to finance for years to do it. A sure way to lose is to buy a few cheap horses and pray for a miracle.”
To learn more about the best horses, Kim subscribed to Appaloosa Journal then buried herself in Appaloosa research. She and Dave studied bloodlines and list after list of great Appaloosa sires and dams. Kim used her industrious detective side to make phone calls to Appaloosa show judges across the country, bluntly asking who they thought were the breed’s best. The judges repeatedly mentioned progeny of Mighty Bright (by Bright Eyes Brother), a line going back to Quarter Horse greats such as Old Fred, a muscular stallion born in 1894. Today, after decades of countless national and world show wins and placings by Sheldak Ranch Appaloosa descendants, Dave and Kim are now the ones mentioned by judges as among the world’s best breeders.
The horses that today graze Sheldak’s pastures have pedigrees that go back to many national and world champions and the most recognizable names in Appaloosa sires, including Mighty Bright, Bright Eyes Brother, Prince Plaudit, Acclaim, Joker B, Prince David, Mighty Tim, Spittin Image, King David, String of Stars, Skipper W and Mr Exclusive – all tracing back to Old Fred. Broodmares trace back to the Old Blue Mare.
Today, after raising two children and a couple thousand foals, the Utkes are still going strong, running the ranch on their own much like they did at the start. The Utkes are strong believers in pasture breeding and foaling. They have run as many as 75 broodmares (now around 40) and keep about four stallions. Because the stallions do not stand to outside mares, all ranch income depends on weanling sales each fall. There is no production sale, as the Utkes prefer the one-on-one interaction with their customers. Many people are repeat customers. Most sales are done through their web site at www.sheldakranch.com and through Appaloosa Journal advertisements. With the horses serving as their only means of income, the Utkes put nearly every penny earned back into building up the ranch.
Accomplishments in the Horse World
Dave and Kim’s success in the horse world began early with their vast 4-H horse wins as youngsters. After starting Sheldak Ranch, their hard work and research paid off almost immediately. Their first Quarter Horse foal won the Weanling Colt class at the Great Midwest International Show at Crookston, MN, and went on to be pinned Reserve Grand Champion, the first time ever for a weanling. After switching to Appaloosas, their first Appaloosa colt, sold in 1969, won the yearling Appaloosa class at the Minnesota State Fair, the largest fair in the nation at the time. From that time on, hundreds of national and world championships, national high-point awards and other accolades have been earned by Sheldak Ranch bred-and-raised foals all over the United States, Canada and other countries.
The first Sheldak Ranch bred-and-raised foal to show at a national show was the red leopard colt Prince Shannon (by Prince’s Jim). Prince Shannon was named Junior Reserve National Champion at the 28th National Appaloosa Show in 1975. He also won the Junior Championship at the Grand National Cow Palace and earned many more championships and high-point awards. Prince Shannon went on to become a Leading Sire of halter and performance horses, with his offspring dominating an impressive range of classes, including halter, steer daubing, roping, reining, pleasure, stake race, Camas Prairie Stump Race, English show jumping and suitability for dressage. Prince Shannon was inducted into the Appaloosa Hall Of Fame in 1996.
Another famous Sheldak Ranch sire, Mighty Tim, started producing national winners in 1975. Mighty Tim was a massive bay stallion with a white blanket and a puppy-dog personality. He was a major financial investment for Dave and Kim. As one of the greatest halter and performance horses in the breed at the time, he did not disappoint as a sire. Mighty Tim retired from the show ring to Sheldak Ranch and became a leading sire of worldwide halter and performance champions produced out of Sheldak mares. In turn, those fillies and colts went on to become leading producers themselves. Mighty Tim’s influence is still seen in his descendants at the Sheldak Ranch and around the world. Because computer show records did not start for the ApHC (Appaloosa Horse Club) until 1983, many of the show records of Mighty Tim’s progeny and other prominent Sheldak studs are inaccessible.
Their recent premier stallion, Imaginate (1990-2017), has produced National and World Champions from his first foal crop in 1997 through 2018, which includes Appaloosa Hall of Fame inductee and 7-time National & World Champion String Of Storms, 6-time National & World Roping Champion Imagine That Jack (720 points in 21 different classes) and 20+ National & Supreme 6 Halter and Western Performance Champion Hesa Cool Star. His offspring in turn have produced National, World and International Halter and Performance Champions, Superior, Supreme, Horse Of The Year, and Champion Of Champions, yearly through the 2018 World Championship Show. Imaginate was a proven sire with a charming, kind and curious disposition. His exceptional progeny were athletic, eager to please and quick to learn, just like he was. Many trainers have told Dave and Kim that “you only show an Imaginate offspring something one time, maybe twice, and they remember.”