Since we are open all year long, Rising K Ranch is one of the few places where you can experience horseback riding through the snow. Typically, in the winter, our shorter trail rides will have anywhere from 2 inches to 18 inches of snow on the ground. This is just enough to make for a beautiful winter scene, allow for a nice crunching noise as the horse's hooves stomp on the snow, and give the horseback rider a unique experience. If you decide to go on our longer "Mountain Ride", however, we will go as far up the mountain as we can until the snow becomes impassible altogether. (Usually somewhere in the two foot range.)
The temperatures here at Rising K Ranch in the winter are usually just above freezing (around 35-40 degrees) in the daylight, and drop to aorund 10 degrees at night. Horseback riding here in the winter is plenty of fun as long as you wear the following:
1. Warm wool socks and boots such as snowboots or muck boots (I typically wear "Mud's" brand muck boots all winter personally.)
2. Good, waterproof MITTENS. Mitttens are much, much better than gloves when it comes to horseback riding in the winter snow.
3. A hat that covers your ears.
4. Good coat
5. Snow pants.
6. Thermals underneath your clothing.
With regards to winter horseback riding here at Rising K Ranch, it is not so much a low temperature itself that can make a horseback ride too cold, nor is it snow falling from the sky that will make it uncomfortable. Rather, it is a high wind that will make you feel frigid. Thankfully, our ranch is nestled in closely enough to the mountains that we do not receive nearly as much wind as the valley closer to town does, so we only have a few high wind winter days each year. For the most part, our winter days have only a light wind, which is still very cold if you do not have a hat that covers your ears; but if you do have a proper winter hat, it is not troublesome at all.
As far as snowstorms are concerned, again, falling snow is not uncomfortable at all. In fact, riding a horse through a heavy snowfall is a fun and unique experience, and if you are dressed properly you won't feel cold in it at all. The only thing that would make a snowfall uncomfortable is if the snowfall is paired with a high wind, creating more of a blizzard condition. Again, this thankfully is not typically the case here at our ranch. In fact, our heaviest snowfalls are usually accompanied with a somewhat higher temperature. Of course, in the event of a true blizzard-like condition we have canceled a few rides- but this is only about two or three times per year.
If you have all the winter clothes I mentioned above, you will be plenty warm all day long and you will be able to comfortably enjoy riding a horse even through a snowstorm. Still, if you are unsure of your ability to cope with a colder climate, simply take the "Cedar Trail Ride" which is only an hour and a half long. With this ride, as long as you have any winter clothing at all, you will already be back to the ranch and your warm car by the time you start to feel cold.
Even though we are only a short distance from the West Entrance of Zion National Park, we are typically 15 to 20 degrees cooler. This is due to the rapid elevation change from Springdale's 3,898 feet, to Rising K Ranch's 5,982 feet. (If you go horseback on our "Mountain Ride", you will reach elevations of over 9,000 feet for even cooler temperatures.)
Along with the cooler change in temperature, you will find the geography of Rising K Ranch to include a much more forested, "Rocky Mountain" appearance than does Zion Canyon proper, which is a bit more of a high desert. Visit Zion National Park for awe-inspiring red cliffs and red canyon walls, surrounded mostly by juniper, pinyon, sage, cactus, and Gambel Oak, and ponderosa pine, and visit our ranch to view similar red cliffs, pyramids, and red rock walls surrounded by more spruce, quaking aspen, and maple.
If you are visiting Zion National Park and are looking for a unique way to get into some cooler temperatures, higher altitudes, and much less crowds (each of our horseback rides are private, consisting of only you, the people you bring along with you, and your guide) we hope you will consider taking a horsebac ride with us here at Rising K Ranch!
"Take the Time it Takes and it Takes Less Time." This is the adage I have heard many a time from Jim Montgomery training horses in Veyo, Utah, and it has become a large part of my understanding of making a good horse. Unfortunately, as has been the case for millennia, we are always in a hurry to move on to the next thing and tend to be just as ancy as any hot-blooded barrel horse ever was.
As with so many areas of life, having a finished horse is a matter of years of preparation; not a matter of a week-long tuneup just before the horse is needed. Moreover, due to the number of clinicians and competitions out there that promote horsemanship in terms of how far a colt can be brought along in only two or three days, I believe much of the general public has the wrong idea about what colt starting, as well as the rest of a horse's training, really looks like. Moreover, starting a colt successfully requires more than two or three sessions, and these are just a few reasons for why.
1. As far as I am concerned, a horse learns more through consistent daily training, even if it is only 20 minutes-45 minutes a day, than through a long, 3 day event. This is also true of our own learning process as humans.
For example, if you were to spend a 12 hour period doing nothing but learning to play piano, you would indeed learn much more in that day than the person who only spent twenty minutes. However, such a level of commitment to piano playing is, for the vast majority, an unsustainable amount of time. Meaning, it will likely be a few weeks before you have the time and motivation required to repeat such a long session, by which time you will have forgotten nearly everything you had learned. Not only so, but even during that twelve hour session, there will be a certain point (likely no more than two or three hours in) wherein your learning ability rapidly begins to diminish. Meanwhile, if you had spent only half an hour per day, six days per week, you will have put in twelve high quality hours of practice in only two weeks; and being more highly motivated due to the lesson times being more manageable, you will likely have put in a few extra hours on top of that just because you felt like it. Over the long run (and really not even very long) it is the consistent player who will vastly outperform the sporadic player.
It is just the same with a colt's mind. He can only engage at a high level of learning for about twenty to forty-five minutes. After that, you are greatly put to a point of diminishing returns in your training efforts. You can take longer rides on a trail and you can work fairly long periods gathering cattle, but as far as actual training is concerned the colt will learn much better, will be much happier, will have far greater confidence, and will even learn faster over the long run, than the colt who was rushed through the gauntlet.
Another thing to keep in mind is the colt's bodily condition. Training on a young colt for hour on end is something for which colts are not built. Naturally, they can travel, unsaddled, for many a prairie mile along with the herd; but training is a horse of a different color. We are typically asking them to remain soft and light as we train them to respond to our cues by easily moving their hips, shoulders, barrel, and all while remaining light in the face. You likely won't keep a colt light for hour upon hour. Not only are their minds unprepared for such mental exertion; but their muscles are not yet properly conditioned either. Rather than using a piano lesson as an analogy, you can liken this to yourself doing stretching exercises. Only so many per day are beneficial- there is a point at which working out and stretching can actually become detrimental to your well being.
2. There is a vast difference between a colt's being comfortable with a trainer like Nick Dowers, Stacy Westfall, or Martin Black, and his being comfortable with an average rider on his back. There are myriad ways in which these trainers are able to communicate to their colts through timing and feel, which is itself only attained through thousands of hours, not only on horseback, but on horseback while training and learning from other great horsemen and women. Such horsemen are able to stop many a storm from occurring long before the horse even has the idea of blowing up or reacting, simply because once you have started so many thousands of horses, you get a very good sense of how things are going to happen and, with that sort of a sixth sense, you can gently reassure your colt or propel him forward at just the right time without having to give it any direct thought. It becomes as natural to you as speaking your first language. The rider who has only started a hundred colts or less, is not possibly going to have such timing and feel, and will soon find himself in several awful predicaments which, while they may or may not injure himself or his colt, they will certainly be a setback to the colt's training to some degree. In the case of an average rider getting on a colt with just a few days' riding on him, it is pretty likely that he will do something to get hurt, regardless of how great the colt was going through an obstacle horse with a top hand in the saddle.
3. These clinics and competitions are bringing the trainer tens of thousands of dollars (or at least have the potential to if they win) over the course of three days. Trainers are able to dedicate themselves wholly in such events to just one or two horses, without having to worry about training any other horses and without having to do any other form or ranch work. They can afford to do this because they will be so highly compensated with money as well as some amount of connections and prestige. However, even if the three day event-style of training was a great all-around method for colt starting, it would require that the owner be willing to part with several thousand dollars for the trainer to focus solely on one horse for those three days. The trainer would need such pay because he is only riding that one horse rather than the dozen or perhaps twenty or thirty head that he would normally be working with the help of his assistants to saddle, unsaddle, lope, and generally care for.
In summary, such events are good for what they are good for- showcasing the ability of a trainer amd a colt in an entertaining fashion in order to maintain general public interest in horsemanship. When it comes to real life at the ranch or the training facility, however, you should expect to find quite a different way of doing things.
For a short time of my life, I was riding saddlebroncs at small little rodeos such as the nightly summer rodeo in Bryce Canyon at Ruby's Inn. Even though it was a very small rodeo, the Wrights would ride there as well as a form of practice, so there were some surprisingly good broncs as well as riders at that time (around 2013). With good broncs and riders, there was also plenty of good advice around if one was willing to ask for it, which most of us were. The advice I remember best are these two pieces of advice, and both of them serve me today just as well in the cowhorse industry, and I would say that they are true in every skillset.
1. You need a Coach.
All the great bronc riders are helped by a good coach. You need someone with a knowledgeable, watchful eye to tell you what you are doing and how you can improve. While you are in the saddle, it is simply impossible to know exactly what your body, as well as the horse's body, is doing. Things are simply moving too fast. Thus, you may believe with all your heart that you are lifting the rein, when in fact you are pulling. Or you may feel like you are marking out well with your feet, even though you are really far behind the shoulder; and there are hundreds of such variables that you will not be able to recognize on your own.
A good coach, however, is able to observe from a still point and at a perfect distance and is therefore able to tell you exactly where you went wrong and what you need to work on in order to improve. Being in the saddle is similar to being lost in the middle of a thickly wooded area, and the coach is like a man up in a hot air balloon. Rather than belittling the advice of the balloon man, the man on the ground would do well to heed his directions, otherwise he may end up lost in the woods for the rest of his life.
With making a good bridle horse and becoming a fine horseman, there are also thousands of variables that you will invariably overlook if you do not have sound, frequent help from a coach who has gone where you are trying to go and has trained the kind of horses you want to train.
2. You Need to Emulate a Winner
In my case, I was told to purchase the video, 'Born to Ride: Cody Wright and the Quest for a World Title.' The video is a documentary about Cody Wright, and his success as one of the world's greatest saddlebronc riders of all time. (Today his sons have the same distinction.) I was told to watch Cody Wright ride broncs over and over again, in slow motion and at regular speed, focusing one time on just his foot, another time on just his leg, and so on. When I was to practice riding broncs in any capacity, I was to picture exactly, down to minute detail, what Cody Wright does and mimic it- right down to his very facial expressions.
I'll admit, when I am training horses I do not go quite so far as to mimic any particular horseman's facial expressions- but the main point of that advice remains sound. You need to watch, in close detail, what the successful trainers are doing and emulate them as much as possible. I would even say that, at the beginning, the best thing you can do with ride primarily with just one or two horsemen and soak up everything you can from them until your method of training horses is exactly the same as theirs.
The title of this article is "Individuality in Horsemanship", so you may be asking yourself why I am advocating that you become a mere clone.
First, even if you are so closely mimicking another horseman, you will still develop your own unique style without even thinking about it. You do not need to put forth effort into coming up with a unique style- when it happens well, it happens naturally.
Second, so closely mimicking a successful horseman is simply a method that allows you to advance in your skills without having to go through years of trial and error. You already know that what you are doing works because it is exactly what -insert successful horseman name here- does and he has time and again proven that it it works. After several years, however, you will have naturally grown your knowledge base and your skillset to a point where you can easily recognize good and bad horsemanship and you will be able to pull your information from a wide variety of horseman across every field of discipline. You will also, at that point, be able to formulate your own ideas and methods that best suit your exact personality and circumstances.
In fine, I advocate both. First become as much of a clone as you can until you really know what you are doing; but once you have reached a certain point make sure you are not afraid to branch out and do what makes the most sense to you in your own program.
We start a lot of colts here at Rising K Ranch. After they have learned enough in the round pen, I take them out on a trail ride with a little company from my wranglers and assistants. At a few points, or at least at some point, the colt is sure to spook at something, whether that be a log, a branch brushing up against them, or one particular boulder out there that every coly so far mistakes for a bear.
Everyone who rides horses very long end up dealing with a spooked horse at least to some degree. While there are several methods out there that can work for getting a horse used to obstacles and objects and noises, my method is simply to ignore it and move on. In the case of the scary boulder, for example, I very well could spend fifteen or twenty minutes riding my horse in large circles around the boulder, gradually making my circles smaller, or I could work on other things like hip and shoulder control at a certain distance from the boulder and gradually get closer until he doesn't even pay the boulder any heed. I have done all these things before and they do work. However, I have also found that if you simply ride the horse every day and constantly expose him to new things, you really don't have to spend any dedicated time towards such desensitization, as the horse will naturally learn to trust you anyway.
Therefore, if I am in an arena and the horse is afraid of one certain side or of something just outside, I do not focus on the frightening place and attempt to desensitize the horse. Rather, I simply continue to look ahead where I want the horse to go and continue working on whatever particular thing we might already be working on (loping circles, counterarcs, etc.) Even if the horse does shy away and makes it impossible to make the perfectly shaped circle I was attempting, even if we end up riding in oblong shapes rather than in circles due to the horses' shying away from one end of the arena, I continue to look forward where I want the horse to go and continue to train the horse rather than make a concerted effort to desensitize him to a certain area. It is very rarely more than two or three rides in a row until the colt is over his fear and is back on track just focusing on his training.
The same holds true for the trail riding. If the horse is afraid of a particular place or thing, I simply refuse to acknowledge said thing, and I continue to keep my own eyes fixed ahead as I ask the horse to move forward. Even if the horse moves past the object by veering off the trail further than I would have liked, he still got past it and almost never takes more than two or three more trail rides before he feels comfortable walking right alongside the scary boulder or whatever object it may be. (I will say that streams are a bit of a different situation, as you have no choice but to cross them when you get to them, so that is a time when you simply must take the time it takes to teach your horse to cross a stream; but I will write on that more specifically at a future date.)
Perhaps the most important thing to remember where spookiness is concerned is that, no matter what, training a solid, confident horse in the arena and trail requires more than just a day or two- it requires daily exposure for several months, This is why we haul young horses to horse shows long before they are entered- it prepares them for all the activity. And this is why, if you are going to be showing a horse in a trail course or going hunting with him, you should have him prepared long before show time or hunting season. Preparing months in advance will take all the haste out of the situation and allow you to train your horse in a much more professional fashion, and will do much to reduce nearly all risk of injury both for the rider as well as for the horse.
The Cable Works along Zion National Park's "Cable Mountain Trail" were built as a means of shipping timer down from the high mountain forests to town below, such as Springdale, Utah. Prior to the cable works, it was not uncommon for one to have to bring in lumber, by horsedrawn wagon, from such distant places as Mount Trumball, Arizona, about 110 miles away. The orginal Cable Works at Zion were begun in the year 1900, overseen by a man named David Flanigan.
The original cable works' 8 and a half foot square by 12 foot high wooden structure spported a large, double-tracked pulley which also had a brake set up 30 feet away from the main structure. The cable works were in use by the year 1901. Over the course of the next five years, David Flanigan's cable works system had been used to send approximately 200,000 feet of finished lumber down Zion's canyon by means of a large basket attached to the cable. This ride down Zion Canyon was a 3,000 foot elevation change over a distance of about five miles. Naturally, the cable works would also be used to haul various types of produce and, one time, David Flanigan's dog, who was so afraid the entire ride that he never again dared to even come near the cable works.
Since the cable works structures were so prominently situated atop the mountain peak, they would commonly be struck by lightning and have to be rebuilt. On July 28, in 1908, one such lightning strike upon the structure even killed two boys, Thornton Hepworth Jr., and Lionel Stout. A third person, a young lady by the name of Clarinda Langston, was also present on the cable works when lightning struck it; but survived. The cable works were then used to transport the boys' bodies down the canyon.
The cable works were used under Flanigan's direction until he sold out in 1907 to O.D Gifford and William R. Crawford, who continued to transport vast quantities of lumber until the final load of lumber was sent down Zion in 1926. The wires remained in place until 1929.
Stella takes some time to rest in a lush valley filled with bison and elk. In the backrgound is Yellowstone's Hayden Valley where Stella was the horse I was riding. It was good to be able to take my own horses and ride, not only here at the Rising K Ranch in the Zion and Bryce Canyon area, but anywhere else I want to go, from Arizona's saguaro deserts to Yellowstone's volcanic mountains.
Stella is also a very handy ranch horse who I use, not only to guide trail rides, but also to start colts and work cattle. You spend enough time with these horses and go with them enough different places, and they do become your friends. For me, Stella is a "go-to" type of horse I can count on for about anything.
In the cowhorse industry, whether that be the NRCHA show horse world or the world of working cowhorses on working cattle ranches, we refer to the finished horse as a "Bridle Horse." This is because only our finished horses who have gone through about four years of training will be shown or primarily ridden in a bridle bit. The bridle bit is a solid bit and can be anything from a spade or ring bit, to a Mona Lisa, San Joaquin, or even a curb bit, or a grazing bit as they are sometimes called.
For my own purposes, a finished bridle horse is distinguished by the following five traits:
1. The Bridle Horse is Ridden with a Bridle Bit
This is the first and most obvious requirement. However, just throwing a bridle bit into a horse's mouth, proclaiming him a "Bridle Horse" when he doesn't pitch a fit, and riding him down the trail is not what I am talking about. The bridle horse knows how to carry the bit on his own, even holding onto the bit with his mouth. (Especially with a spade bit, which is why we go through a hackamore and two-rein process to get into the bridle.) The bridle horse is also soft and supple in his mouth as well as in his entire body, so that he will give to the bit without hesitation at any speed.
2. The Bridle Horse can Rein
The Bridle Horse can perform all the reined maneuvers (sometimes called "dry work") well. This includes lead departures, transitions from slow to fast and back to slow lope without breaking gait, changing leads, sliding into his stops, correct spins at a decent speed, and having a good back-up. In addition to these things, he should be able to stop straight, draw straight, and turn completely around with a "cowhorse turn" and move out again in the correct lead.
3. The Bridle Horse is of General Use Around the Ranch
The Bridle Horse, for my purposes, is not only a show horse, but he can also go out on the circle at a long trot for several miles at a time. He is handy at brandings and gatherings. He is patient and easy to handle when it comes to opening and closing gates without dismounting. He is not a nuisance on long trail rides and will cross bridges, rivers, and ravines without hesitation and can handle steep mountainsides and rocky terrain. He is a pleasure for the farrier to handle (if farriers can feel pleasure) and he is easy to load and unload from a horse trailer. And, though I would not consider it to be a requirement for a bridle horse, I do also like to teach my horses to handle mounted shooting.
4. The Bridle Horse is a Good Ranch Cutting Horse
The Bridle Horse may not be one you would show in the NCHA (just as you would not likely show him in the NRHA), but he can sure enough hold his own at a cowhorse or ranch cutting event, as well as in a sorting pen. He can also turn the cow down the fence and circle him in both directions. The Bridle Horse enjoys dominating a cow, and doesn't have to be reminded of what he is there to accomplish- he loves working a cow in much the same way as a border collie does.
5. The Bridle Horse Can Work a Rope
Finally, the Bridle Horse is good in roping situations, especially with regards to steer stopping and ranch roping, and he can work a rope for a lone cowboy who is doctoring.
In fine, the Bridle Horse is a true partner and can be trusted to take care of you in any situation at a ranch, rodeo, horse show, or mountain trail.
If you would like to learn more about making and understanding the Bridle Horse, I hope you will join my Free Private Facebook Group, "Cowhorse Community".
Because of Utah's drastic changes in elevation, Utah contains several types of countryside. From sagebrush deserts such as you find around St. George, Utah, to the juniper-pinyon woodlands that surround Cedar City, Utah, to coniferous forests on many of Utah's mountain ranges, similar in many ways to the Rocky Mountains. On many of Utah's mountain ranges, you will also find some high alpine meadows and tundra areas, such as in the Uintas in northern Utah. Rising K Ranch itself, lies within the juniper-pinyon woodlands, a few miles away from Cedar City, Utah, and our Mountain Ride takes you high up into the coniferous forests of Utah. The change of countryside along our Mountain Ride, is due to the elevation change, from 6,000 feet above sea level at Rising K Ranch, to above 9,000 feet elevation on the mountain. From some areas around Rising K Ranch, you can see all at once: areas of pure sagebrush, hills that are juniper-pinyon woodlands, and the coniferous forests on the mountain.
The juniper and pinyon trees grow well at Rising K Ranch because of paucity of water and an abundance of volcanic rock and soil. Most of the mammals and larger birds migrate, so that they are primarily at the ranch from December through May, and higher up in the mountains from June through November. As the Utah weather grows colder, the mule deer descend to the lower elevations in greater numbers, where they will find less snow and more vegetation upon which to browse. Since mule deer are the primary food supply of most of Utah's mountain lions, they often follow along with the deer. Not only do mammals migrate to the Rising K Ranch for the winter; but also such birds as bald eagles, Clark's Nutcrackers, Wild Turkey, Stellar's Jays, Scrub Jays, and Robins.
Often, you will find particular sections of the forest where junipers abound with only an occassional pinyon pine, and other areas where the pinyon abound with only the occassional juniper. In other sections of the woodlands, you will often find a juniper and pinyon growing mere inches from each other, almost as if they were one tree. The pinyon pine grows pine needles which are sinmilar to many other pine trees; but its bark is much darker, almost completely black, and its wood is incredibly hard, resembling a hardwood more than a typical pine. The pinyon pine tree is notable for its pine nuts, a favorite local food for people and animals alike. Many people will harvest the pinyon pine nuts in the fall and roast them before eating them.
The juniper has a much different type of needle than a pine tree has, with a much more scaly appearance. Junipers have a stringy bark that can even be braided into rope, and it is an aromatic hardwood, making excellent firewood. The juniper is known for its small, blue "berries" which are a favorite food source of robins and are also a key ingredient for making gin.
On a horseback ride through the juniper-pinyon woodlands, the wildlife you are most likely to see are mule deer, coyotes, foxes, dsquirrels, wild turkey, jackrabbits, cottontail rabbits, red-tailed hawks, ravens, other smaller birds, and many kinds of lizards and snakes. To have the best chance of seeing wildlife, it is best to begin looking right at sunrise, and keep your eyes peeled, always looking around the forest and not gettins mesmerized into only staring at your horse's ears while you ride.
I hope to go on a horseback ride through Utah's wild countryside with you sometime soon, right here at Rising K Ranch!
Description: Slim bodied with a long, bushy tail. His tail and his underside is darker than his back. Dull Yellow patch of fur on his Throat and on his Breast.
One of Utah’s most significant fur-bearing mammals is the Marten. So valuable is this animal’s pelt that some nations, such as Croatia, have based their entire currency around it for almost a thousand years, either using his pelt in place of money, or featuring his image on their coins as they still do to this very day! Although the Marten’s pelt may not buy you much in a store today, the Marten himself remains a marvelous creature to observe if you should come across one in the forest!
The Marten is found primarily in places that have a cold winter. His range includes most of Canada and Alaska as well as the Continental United States in Maine, Minnesota, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nevada (only around the Lake Tahoe area), Northern California, Oregon and Washington.
The Marten is an omnivore, his diet consisting of many types of food, such as mammals like squirrels and snowshoe hares, as well as nuts, berries, insects and birds. Keep in mind, however, that not all of the Marten’s food is found in the wild. In some places, the Marten makes such a habit of crawling underneath a vehicle and chewing up its rubber hoses and small parts that some people purchase insurance against vehicular Marten damage!
He spends most of his time in the treetops, which is where you are most likely to find him at any daylight hour. Since he is largely nocturnal, your best chances of seeing him on the ground will be at night when he is more actively hunting and foraging.
The Marten is a rather solitary creature, associating with each other only during the mating season which is in the summer. Although the Marten breeds is the summertime, the female will not give birth until the following Spring, which is an exceptionally long gestation period compared with other small mammals. Astoundingly, the reason for this lengthy gestation period is that the fetus does not develop continuously. Instead, the Marten fetus waits practically dormant until one month before his birth, when he will grow in one quick spurt! This method of gestation is known in the Animal Kingdom as “Delayed Implantation.” Other mammals who develop according to this method are the Armadillo, the Black Bear and the Fisher.
In Utah, the Marten is found primarily in the Uintas and will only rarely be seen as far south as Zion or Bryce Canyon National Park, though of the two he is far more likely to be seen in Bryce Canyon than in Zion due to his love for cold, dense coniferous forests and plenty of snow. Here at Rising K Ranch, your chances of seeing a Marten are extremely low- almost nonexistent. I have seen somewhat similar creatures while horseback riding on my own, such as the Ermine and the Long-Tailed Weasel (and those I have seen only rarely), I have never yet coe across a Marten, nor am I likely to here.
Description: White Stripe on Face, White Neck Patch, White V on the Back, Bushy Tail With White and Black. The Main Fur Color is Black.
Found in both Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, as well as right here at Rising K Ranch and throughout the entire state of Utah,the Striped Skunk is both larger and more common than the Spotted Skunk. His range extends throughout the continental US, most of Canada, and northern Mexico. Like all skunks, the Striped Skunk is especially known for his ability to emit a powerfully odiferous, and even somewhat blinding, spray. The warning, if one is given, that the Striped Skunk is contemplating using his spray is that he will arch his back, raise his tail, stamp his front feet and shuffle backward. Because of his spray, the Striped Skunk has few predators. For the most part, it is only the birds of prey, especially owls, that can truly take the skunk by surprise enough to make a decent meal out of him.
The Striped Skunk is largely nocturnal, becoming active right about dusk and ambling about through the night searching for food. The Striped Skunk is an omnivore, feasting quite a lot upon insects such as grasshoppers which are a favorite of the Skunk. Depending on the season, the Striped Skunk also feasts upon meat from small mammals, eggs, and fruits and berries. In Autumn, the Striped Skunk focuses on growing as fat as he can so that he can spend his winter inside a den. He does not quite hibernate; but he does become quite dormant throughout the cold winter.
If handled correctly, the Striped Skunk can be very easily tamed and throughout the 1800’s, the Striped Skunk was kept by many people as a barn pet in place of a house cat as a means of killing off mice and rats. The early settlers also found the Striped Skunk quite useful for his sweet, white meat (provided he had not sprayed just before he was shot) and for his fur. I certainly do not advise that you set about to eat or to tame a Striped Skunk for yourself, however, because they are second only to racoons when it comes to carrying rabies. If the potential spray is not enough to keep you from approaching too closely to a Striped Skunk, perhaps keeping in mind the potential for contracting rabies or leptospirosis will!
Like most of Utah’s animals, the Striped Skunk is a brilliant thing to see in his natural habitat and is nothing to be afraid of provided you use common sense and do not attempt to corner him.
Although he is mostly nocturnal, I have come across the Striped Skunk several times riding horses here at Rising K Ranch. I have yet to be bothered by them or even been close to being sprayed by them. Rather than coming after you to try and spray or bite you, the Striped Skunk is much more likely to walk away from you, or if you are quiet enough and not riding directly toward him, he may just ignore you altogether,
Description: Black & White Pattern, having a head covered in white spots and a body covered with several stripes or spots. The tail is bushy and black with a white tip.
Preferred Habitat: Forests, Prairies, Dense Shrubbery, Rocky areas, Anywhere Close to a Source of Water.
The Western Spotted Skunk is one of four species of Spotted Skunks: The Western Spotted Skunk, the Eastern Spotted Skunk, the Pygmy Spotted Skunk, and the Southern Spotted Skunk. It is the Western Spotted Skunk that makes his home in Utah, and he can be found by a diligent wildlife observer in both Zion as well as Bryce Canyon National Park.
Like all skunks, the Spotted Skunk is famous, or perhaps infamous, for his horrific odor, which is used at will as a means of warding off potential dangers. The Spotted Skunk in particular is known for his pre-spray warning, which is a rather impressive handstand. Not only does the Spotted Skunk’s handstand serve as a warning; but even more importantly, the handstand allows him to direct his scent glands exactly towards the threat. In addition to the signature handstand, the Spotted Skunk may also hiss, raise his tail and stamp his front feet. It is a good thing that he gives us this warning, and if you should see any of these signs you had better take heed because the spray of the Spotted Skunk is even more pungent than that of the larger Striped Skunk! It is also in the Skunk’s best interest that he gives a warning because he only stores about one Tablespoon of the pungent oil inside his body. In one sense, this tablespoon is plenty since it allows him up to five sprays in a row and he is incredibly accurate up to a distance of 15 feet. However, if he were to use up all five of his sprays at once, it would take him a full week to fully replenish his much-needed (you might even say “essential”) oils. The Spotted Skunk is a small animal in a dangerous world, so he must give at least some concern towards conserving his ammunition!
If you or, more likely, your dog find yourself sprayed by a skunk there are a few solutions to your dilemma. While tomato juice will not do anything at all to neutralize skunk odor, here is a list of things that certainly will:
Liquid Laundry Bleach- not for skin, but for hard surfaces or white clothes that will not be damaged by the bleach.
A Hydrogen Peroxide/ Baking Soda Mix. For colored clothes, furs, and even your sprayed pet, mix 1 quart of 3% Hydrogen Peroxide with ¼ cup of Baking Soda, then add 2 tablespoons of liquid dish detergent. While the concoction is still foaming, scrub it into the desired fur or cloth. There is a possibility that this concoction will become explosive if you store it in a sealed container so be sure to discard what you do not use rather than try to save it for later. Hopefully you or your pet learn the skunk lesson after the first time anyway! Also, this will change hair color.
For Removing Skunk Odor from Human Skin: First, take a shower using a deodorant soap or grease-cutting dish detergent all over your body. Second, take a 20 minute bath in hot water with 2-4n cups of baking soda mixed into the water. Third, take one more shower. Like the first.
The Spotted Skunk, like the Striped Skunk, is omnivorous. However, the Spotted Skunk makes more liberal use of meat in his diet than his larger cousin does. Among the Spotted Skunk’s favorite delicacies are such small mammals as mice and rats. The diet, as you might expect, varies with the seasons and climate. Typically, the Spotted Skunk will eat more insects in Spring and Summer, more fruits in the Fall, and more meat in the winter when insects and vegetation are scarce. Since they have rather poor eyesight, their primary aids in finding food are their keen senses of smell and their hearing.
Found all throughout Utah as well as all the Western States, the Spotted Skunk makes his home in a wide variety of habitats. It seems that the most important thing to the Spotted Skunk is that he is somewhat close to water, preferring a stream or brook to a large lake. The Spotted Skunk makes use of dens that were created by other burrowing animals and may sometimes den up with several of his own species. The den of a Spotted Skunk is usually one that is not totally dark on the inside- the Spotted Skunk likes to have at least a little bit of sunshine in his home!
Breeding season for the Spotted Skunk is usually late September through early October. After a 6 ½ month gestation period, the Spotted Skunk gives birth to a litter sometime from April through June. The litter average for the Spotted Skunk is 5 ½ young, with two thirds being males. Each baby Spotted Skunk will already have a color pattern similar to the adult. For the first month of his life, his eyes will be closed and he will spend a great deal of time nursing. Only a few days after he opens his eyes, the baby Spotted Skunk, called a “Kit” will begin to eat solids. At about two months of age, he will be totally weaned and by the time he is four months old, the Spotted Skunk will be fully grown. If kept in captivity, a Spotted Skunk will often live up to ten years; but in the wild, they rarely live to be even half that old. About half are killed by one predator or another before they are even 2 years old.
Here at Rising K Ranch, there are certainly several Spotted Skunks around. However, because they are nocturnal we seldom see them on any of our horseback rides. The skunks are especially drawn to Rising K Ranch because we have several free-ranging chickens. The skunks, if it were not for the dogs we have here, would often eat both the chickens and their eggs. As it is, they only rarely make off with an egg or two and nobody minds it too much at all. Spotted Skunks do not hibernate; but they are exceedingly less active whenever the weather becomes either hot as it does for a week or two in July or cold as it often does for several weeks in December-March. With that in mind, the Spotted Skunk will be easier to find in the summer in Bryce Canyon National Park where the elevation is 8,000 feet, in the winter in Zion National Park, where the elevation is 3,000 feet, and almost year ‘round here at Rising K Ranch which is just between Zion and Bryce Canyon and our elevation is 6,000 feet.
Color: Black Facial Markings with a White Stripe Down the Face and up the top of the Head. The body is covered with gray, shaggy fur and he has large, intimidating claws.
One of Utah’s larger mammals, the Badger often lives in areas with little moisture and few trees. Omnivorous, the Badger’s diet consists of earthworms, insects, eggs, small birds, small mammals, lizards, frogs, fruits and roots. With regards to his carnivorous habits, the Badger has a rather unique relationship with the coyote. While, for the most part, they simply ignore each other, there are both times when the badger will eat a coyote as well as times when the coyote will eat a badger. Some have even noted rare occasions when the coyote and the badger will work together to hunt their prey together here in the wild Utah ccountry! While the Badger is a truly ferocious animal, he does have his fair share of natural enemies including the aforementioned coyote, Golden Eagles, Bobcats, Black Bears, Grey Wolves (though not in Utah), and especially the Mountain Lion. While most predators will only attack a small Badger, the Mountain Lion will often take down a full-grown adult!
The Badger’s range in widespread, covering not onlu Utah; but most of the Continental United States, Central Canada, and much of Mexico. Although he is present in both Zion as well as Bryce Canyon National Parks, as well as the Utah mountains and deserts that lie between Bryce Canyon and Zion, the Badger is still quite rarely seen. This is because the Badger is a nocturnal mammal and is almost never active during the day. When the Badger is seen, it is usually for only a few brief moments before he uses his enormous claws to speedily burrow into the ground and escape. His burrowing habits make him much more likely to be found in an area with soft soil or Utah clay that is easy for him to dig into. Utah has many places that are full of malpais or volcanic rock where it is incredibly difficult to dig and sometimes even difficult to walk. The Badger is not likely to be found in such a rocky place as this. The large tunnels created by Badgers as they chase their prey or escape detection are typically all that is seen. Here at Rising K Ranch, we have several badger tunnels within only a few hundred yards in any direction. In one area about a mile away there used to be an entire Utah prairie dog town and the Badgers (or at least their tunnels) would often be seen in that area.
In somewhat the same manner as a skunk, the Badger is able to emit a powerful odor from special scent glands. He is a rather solitary creature, conversing with others of his kind only during mating season, which is in late summer. During the winter the Badger does not hibernate, but he does become significantly less active.
As with most of Utah's wildlife, your best chances of seeing a Badger from horseback will be to ride out when the sun is only barely coming up and to ride quietly, keeping your eyes on the areas all around you rather than just focusing on the ground in front of you or on your horse's ears.
One of my favorite of Utah’s mammals, though quite rarely seen, is the Ringtail or Cacomistle. His nocturnal lifestyle as well as his coloring and size are somewhat similar to Utah’s raccoons; but he is much more cat-like than a raccoon. In fact, he is rather like a cross between a fox, a cat and a raccoon! He is typically about 2 pounds and about 15 inches long in the body with an equally long tail. It is this long tail that gives him his name, being long and bushy with alternating black and white rings, ending with a black tip. It is this long, extraordinary tail that provides the Ringtails a great deal of balance as they lithely climb trees as a means of escape, attack, rest, and recreation. Since they are nocturnal, they often spend their days resting in the treetops, making them quite difficult to spot. Often, the only means of spotting a Ringtail will be to find their long tail dangling from a high-up tree bough! Although the Ringtail preys upon other animals, he is also a prey animal himself and must always be on the lookout for such enemies as foxes, coyotes, raccoons, bobcats, hawks, eagles and owls.
Found primarily in America’s southwestern states and into the majority of Mexico, the Ringtail prefer to live in rocky and densely wooded areas and is known to kill his prey in much the same manner as a cat, lying in wait until they suddenly pounce and kill by means of a strong bite to the neck. Their prey most commonly includes rats, mice, squirrels, rabbits, snakes, lizards and frogs. Although he does prey upon these animals, the Ringtail is an omnivore whose primary food is berries and insects as long as they can be found. It is during the winter months when such food is scarce that the Ringtail typically turns to a more carnivorous diet.
Since the Ringtail, if it can be captured at a young age, can be quite easily tamed or domesticated, it was once used by miners for the purpose of keeping rodent populations to a minimum within the mines; which gave the Ringtail yet another name: “Miner’s Cat.”
In Utah, the Ringtail can be found in both Zion as well as Bryce Canyon National Park. However, it would require quite a lot of patience, silence and luck, as well as a readiness to keep watch all through the night. Although he may be in the tall pine trees just above your head, you are not at all likely to see the Ringtail with your own eyes.
The Racoon seems to be just at home in the middle of a highly populated neighbourhood as he is in the middle of Utah’s most isolated mountain ranges. Not only are raccoons prominent in Utah, but their range covers almost the entirety of the continental US, southern Canada, and most of Mexico. While there are several subspecies, Utah’s raccoons are typically the Common Raccoon, which is 16-26 inches long in his gray and black body and 8-12 inches long in his bushy, ringed tail, with the famous dark eye mask and quite nimble little paws which resemble hands.
A nocturnal animal, the Raccoon prefers to dwell close to water, and will often feed on crayfish found in country streams, ponds, and lakes. Around both Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, you will often find the hand-like print of a raccoon in the Utah mud close to some form of water. Though he loves crayfish, the raccoon also seems to love every other remotely edible item, thriving on berries, eggs, grains, garbage, carrion, small rodents, insects and nuts. The Raccoon has an unusual habit of often dunking their food in water before they eat it. While some believe this to be due to a sense of cleanliness, it is also quite likely that his food-dunking habit comes from his natural instinct to catch food found in water (such as Crayfish.)
Raccoons do not hibernate; but in areas such as Bryce Canyon where it gets cold, raccoons are usually much less active during the winter, sometimes remaining for whole days inside their den. Raccoons mate in late winter in order to give birth in the warmer Springtime weather, with each litter yielding an average of four young. A baby Raccoon, called a Kit or a Cub, will often stay with its mother through its first winter until the arrival of the following Spring.
While Raccoons may be found in both places, I personally have seen far more raccoons in the Zion area than I have in the Bryce Canyon area, and I have only rarely seen raccoons or sign of raccoons, here at Rising K Ranch itself.
The Gapper’s Red-backed Mouse, also called the Red-Backed Vole, is a small, brown mammal that is quite numerous in many coniferous forests throughout Canada, the Rocky Mountains, and the Appalachians. He is an extraordinary tree climber and will often climb all over dead and live trees in search of a place to build a nest. Through his constant gnawing on the tree bark, the Gapper’s Red-Backed Mouse has been known at times to kill trees as large as a foot in diameter.
With its many predators, the Gapper’s Red-Backed Mouse typically has a short lifespan; but it reproduces at such a high rate that he is often the most numerous mammal in the forest. As you may imagine, this small, bottom-of-the-food-chain mammal is highly important to the forest’s ecosystem.
Dwelling more abundantly in the northern regions, and preferring to live in a more humid or moist environment, the Gapper’s Red-backed Mouse is more likely to be seen in Bryce Canyon than in Zion National Park, especially in an area where there is plenty of water and something of a marshland such as you may find just a few miles outside of Bryce Canyon National Park at a small reservoir called “Tropic Reservoir.”
Though perhaps few people in today's busy world pause to think or to meditate, the truth remains that even the smallest life on our beautiful planet is a veritable miracle- testimony to the Almighty God’s Power, Wisdom, Beauty, and Creativity. Even in its current, sin-affected condition, I do believe God derives pleasure from the beauty of His creation, and I do believe He appreciates the beauty of each flower, bird, and fish that is in it. It would not surprise me at all to one day find out that the most beautiful of all His flowers had been placed in total isolation from the business of man, existing solely for the pleasure of God’s eyes alone. These articles, however, are written for those few of you out there who do intend to discover the intricacies of the created world, and who do have such a mind as would like to separate from common fools in order to attain wisdom in all manner of things. (Please note, I do not mean to say that all wise people will necessarily love my articles; but rather that all wise people will find learning itself fascinating, though they may choose to attain knowledge from a loftier source than my simple “blogs.”)
One such intricacy of the animal kingdom is that of the difference between the shrew and the mole. While moles and shrews seem quite similar, here are a few of the most obvious distinctions:
Shrews are more akin to the mouse in their body shape and are sometimes even smaller than most mice. Moles are usually fatter in their shape and larger in their overall body size.
Shrews have a thinner tail than a mole. The Shrew’s tail is usually about an inch long (though in the case of the Masked Shrew it is often 2 inches long) and is thin, causing it to appear longer. In addition to the thinner appearance, the Shrew usually has some hair growing on his tail. A mole, however, has a stubbier-looking tail with little to no hair on it depending on the exact species.
The eyes of both the Shrew and the Mole are quite tiny. However, in the case of the Mole, the eyes are even more diminutive, with some species being totally blind, having skin covering their eyes.
Both Moles and Shrews also have a long snout; but the Shrew’s snout is more mouse-like and has hair almost entirely to the tip while the mole’s snout is hairless and pink in colour.
The feet are perhaps the most striking difference, Whie a shrew has claws that are suitable for creating burrows, his feet are not too unlike those of many small mammals. A mole, on the other hand, is completely unique, being equipped with special feet designed for two purposes only- burrowing quickly through soil and paddling quickly through water. Unlike the Shrew, the soles of the Mole’s feet face outward, causing him to appear as though his feet were put on backwards!
Here at Rising K Ranch, we will likely be too busy riding horses all over the hills and enjoying Utah’s beautiful red peaks and pine-covered mountains to be looking down at tiny little moles and shrews; but it is nonetheless amazing to ponder upon the many types of wildlife that dwell, not only on ground level with us, but above us in the trees and sky and even beneath us in the ground and streams!
At about 4 inches, the Masked Shrew is one of Utah’s smaller mammals. He has a brown body and a tail that is longer than the tails of most species of shrew. Although he is small, the Masked Shrew is a veritable bag of ferocious energy and is able to thrive in a greater diversity of habitat than any other North American mammal. Feeling just as comfortable in the grassy fields and marshlands as he does in the Rocky Mountain’s forests and peaks, the Masked Shrew thrives on a diet that is every whit as diverse as his habitat, feasting on such comestibles as insects, worms, mollusks and even scavenging from carcasses! Although he swells in a great diversity of climates, it does seem somewhat more likely for the Masked Shrew to be found in the Bryce Canyon area than in the Zion National Park area, due to the fact that the number of Masked Shrews tends to increase the further north you go, with his range only barely extending into Utah and New Mexico.
Rather than engage in manual labour, the Masked Shrew typically prefers to make use of burrows that have been created by other species of burrowing mammals. Using dried grass, the Masked Shrew will often improve his living situation inside these abandoned tunnels by building a small nest. The Masked Shrew remains active all year long, even through the cold Utah winters (and even through the cold Alaskan and Canadian winters for that matter!) Not only is he active all throughout the year; but he is also active all day and night, taking only small naps.
Each year, the female Masked Shrew will bear several litters of young, with each litter consisting of up to 10 individuals. However, due to his many predators such as birds of prey, snakes, foxes, leopard frogs, brown trout, other shrews, weasels, and even bluebirds, as well as disease and long, cold winters, it is rare for a Masked Shrew to live longer than just one year.
Requiring cold climates, the Snowshoe Hare is much more likely to be seen in Zion than in Bryce Canyon National Park. Named after his remarkable feet, the snowshoe hare is able to walk on top of the snow. While the Jackrabbit used his great, broad ears as a means of dispersing his body heat into the air to stay alive in extreme heat, the Snowshoe Hare uses his great, broad feet as a means of walking and running on the surface of the snow and thus escape predators, forage, and survive in extremely snowy climates.
Also called the “Varying Hare’, the Snowshoe Hare changes color each year from brown in the summer to pure white in the winter. This, of course, is his camouflage to keep from being spotted by predators such as lynx, bobcats, weasels, martens, fishers, minks, coyotes, wolves, Mountain Lions, owls, eagles and hawks. Due to his snowy white coat, the Snowshoe Hare is a prized specimen to the hunters and trappers during the winter.
Due to his love of the cold weather, the Snowshoe Hare is much more likely (though still rather rarely)to be spotted in Bryce Canyon National Park than in Zion. The prefer a densely wooded and even shrubby climate such as is common in Utah;s higher elevations where scrub oak is common and thick. Their love for extremely dense vegetation as a home is one of the reasons the Snowshoe Hare is not nearly as easy to find as the Jackrabbit. Out here at Rising K Ranch, I can recall only one time I have ever seen a Snowshoe Hare. It was during the winter when I was around 16 years old, and I was only riding a horse of my own as the horseback trail ride had not yet even been conceived as an idea. The Snowshoe Hare is active all year ‘round. In the warm months, he lives on whatever green feed he pleases, having at his disposal an abundance of grasses, leaves, and even raspberries in some areas! In the winter, however, his diet consists of whatever he can find, even if it is only pine needles, twigs, tree bark, and sometimes even meat scavenged off of dead animals. What a relief spring must be to the Snowshoe Hare!
The Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, found throughout most of the Western United States as well as most of Mexico, will be rather easily found in both Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, although he may be slightly more numerous in the warmer climate of Zion. The Black-Tailed Jackrabbit is quite able to survive at any elevation from sea level in western California all the way up to 10,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains! As the name suggests, he has a black tail as well as black-topped ears and a brown coat peppered with black markings. At about 6 lbs., and averaging 2 feet in length, the Black-Tailed Jackrabbit is among the largest of the hares. Due to the large size and somewhat slow and low movement of a walking jackrabbit, many of our riders here at Rising K Ranch mistake a distant jackrabbit in the evening for a coyote; and because of the great size of his ears, there truly are times when you would swear that he has antlers and you’d just seen a “Jackalope”! The Jackrabbit’s long ears are thought to help him stay cool in the hot desert areas. This is possible due to the many blood vessels in his wide ears. Whenever the jackrabbot heads into a shady area for rest, his body circulates his hot blood up to his thin ears and finally back out into the desert air in a process known as vasodilation.
Since he is able to survive off of many types of shrubs, grasses, and sometimes even scavenge off of dead carcasses, the Jackrabbit is able to thrive almost anywhere. The Jackrabbit does not chew the cud in the same manner as a cow, but he does re-digest his food by eating his own droppings Although the Black-Tailed Jackrabbit does not hibernate, he typically will remain within a 640 acre area year ‘round, growing a warm coat for the cold winter months. Unlike the Cottontail Rabbits which also dwell in both Zion and Bryce Canyon, the Jackrabbit typically is not hunted by man for food and is only occasionally harvested for pelts. This is due to the fact that Jackrabbits are nearly always carrying many types of fleas, lice and other parasites. Eating the meat of a Jackrabbit is often a means of acquiring some type of fatal disease.