What is the Utah Sky Trials?
The idea of a Sky Trials, which are now held the world over, began in Utah with Gerald Richards. The first Utah Sky Trials, as it is now called, was held in 1975. It began as a continuation of the Field Demonstrations concept at the North American Falconers Association (NAFA) Meets held each year in November.
Gerald Richards attended these NAFA Meets and watched each year as contestants tossed out bagged game such as pen-raised chukar partridge or pheasants. These, of course, were easy prey for the falcons stooping in front of the wide-eyed crowds. When these gatherings were discontinued in the 70’s, Gerald envisioned a different event. He saw a trial held in February, where local falconers could get together and watch some of the highest flying gamehawks at their physical best at the end of the regular hunting season.
Gerald shifted the focus from bagged quarry to an event that would encourage falconers to enter only those birds proven during the season to be the very best in mounting to high pitches and powerful dives called “stoops.” And to prove them, he chose a quarry that would rarely, if ever, be caught—the racing homing pigeon.
Through the years, Gerald’s respect and affection grew for his racing homers that were carefully bred, trained and brought to the Sky Trials each year. Eventually, like those falconers who grow to love watching their dogs work as much as seeing their falcons fly, he became involved in pigeon racing as well.
In 1994, Gerald suffered a massive heart attack while out on the mountain recovering a red-tail hawk he was training to stoop out of a soar. Utah Falconers lost a one-of-a-kind personality, scientist, innovator and advocate for long-wings—particularly our native prairie falcon.
Although the Sky Trials have always been uniquely his creation, the Utah Falconers Association maintained the tradition after his death by sponsoring the event for a number of years. Patrick Shane, fellow falconer and close friend of Gerald along with others have continued the tradition. In each case, the Utah Sky Trials have adhered to Gerald’s rules and wishes, while at the same time evolving the events as he may have. Many of his close friends continue to volunteer help each year and provide perspective on “how Gerald would have wanted it”.
The Utah Sky Trials, a field event that started as a simple, end-of-season gathering by a few falconers in Utah decades ago, are now held in many spots across theUnited States and around the world. One of the largest events is now held in Spain. And, the California Hawking Club makes it a part of their field meet each year. For many it has become a pleasant highlight each year as it becomes possible to watch so many fantastic, physically fit falcons flown. The Utah Sky Trials have also changed our expectations of what our birds are capable of. Their remarkable physical performances continue to amaze us at each year’s trials.
All of us here in Utah, and many around the world, are grateful that someone like Gerald Richards came along and single-handedly created the successful Sky Trials concept so many years ago. May we be so fortunate to share this experience for many years to come.