Whether it has been from a commercial on television or a chance sighting at an event somewhere, there are few people in this country who are not at least vaguely familiar with the impressive and iconic Budweiser Clydesdales.
The tradition of the horses started in 1933 when August A. Busch, Jr. and Adolphus Busch III surprised their father with the gift of a six-horse Clydesdale hitch to commemorate the repeal of Prohibition. They saw the marketing potential of a horse drawn beer wagon and the tradition was born with an initial six-horse hitch drawn through the streets of New York City. The Anheuser-Busch tradition continues today with approximately 250 Clydesdales in the breeding program and teams that make appearances around the country accompanied by their mascot, a Dalmatian named Clyde.
Last week, the Fairfield County Fair hosted the renowned Budweiser Clydesdales. The famous horses have only ever been to a handful of county fairs in the nation. Despite the uncooperative weather, they were clearly a popular attraction. Our camper at the fair was just outside the barn housing the Clydesdales and there was a line of folks waiting to see the beautiful animals for most of the week, even in the rain.
Though an unpleasant drizzle prevented several of the daily parades of the eight-horse hitch, the sunshine on Wednesday, with the changing autumn leaves dotting the scenic Fairfield County Fairgrounds, provided a beautiful setting for their parade around the track. A huge crowd gathered to watch.
To be a Budweiser Clydesdale, the horses must be at least four years old, at least six feet high at the shoulder, weigh between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds and have white legs and blaze with a black mane and tail and a bay coat. Each horse will eat as much as 25 quarts of grain, 60 pounds of hay and will drink 30 gallons of water a day. Here are some more facts about the Budweiser Clydesdales from Anheuser-Busch.
Hitch Locations: The Budweiser Clydesdales can be viewed at the Anheuser-Busch breweries in St. Louis, Mo., Merrimack, N.H., and Ft. Collins, Colo. They also may be viewed at Grant’s Farm in St. Louis and at Warm Springs Ranch, the 300-plus acre Clydesdale breeding farm located near Boonville, Mo.
Clydesdale Operations: Based in St. Louis, Mo., Clydesdale Operations is responsible for maintaining and scheduling the traveling hitches. Thousands of requests for the “gentle giants” are received each year. Events are typically requested and sponsored in part by the local Anheuser-Busch wholesaler. Each request is evaluated on the type of event, dates, and history of appearances in that particular area.
Stables: The official home of the Budweiser Clydesdales is an ornate brick and stained-glass stable built in 1885 on the historic 100-acre Anheuser-Busch brewery complex in St. Louis. The building is one of three located on the brewery grounds that are registered as historic landmarks by the federal government.
Handlers: Expert groomers travel on the road with the hitch. They are on the road at least 10 months every year. When necessary, one handler provides around-the-clock care for the horses, ensuring their safety and comfort.
Transport: Ten horses, the famous red, white, and gold beer wagon and other essential equipment are transported in three 50-foot tractor-trailers. Cameras mounted in the trailers are connected to monitors in the cabs that enable the drivers to keep a watchful eye on their precious cargo during transport. The team stops each night at local stables so the “gentle giants” can rest. Air-cushioned suspension and thick rubber flooring in the trailers ease the rigors of traveling.
Drivers: Driving the combined 12 tons of wagon and horses requires expert skill and physical strength. The 40 pounds of lines held by the driver plus the tension of the horses pulling creates a weight of over 75 pounds. Hitch drivers endure a lengthy training process before they assume the prestigious role of “Budweiser Clydesdale Hitch Driver.”
Harness: Each harness and collar weighs approximately 130 pounds. The harness is handcrafted with solid brass, patent leather, and stitched with pure linen thread. The harness is made to fit any Clydesdale; however, collars come in various sizes and must be individually fitted to the Clydesdale like a finely tailored suit.
Names: Duke, Captain, Mark, and Bud are just a few of the names given to the Budweiser Clydesdales. Names are kept short to make it easier for the driver to give commands to the horses during a performance.
Horseshoes: Clydesdale horseshoes measure more than 20 inches from end to end and weigh about five pounds, which is more than twice as long and five times as heavy as the shoe worn by a light horse. A horse’s hoof is made of a nerveless, horn-like substance similar to the human fingernail so being fitted for shoes affects the animal no more than a manicure affects people.
Wagon: Turn-of-the-century beer wagons have been meticulously restored and are kept in excellent repair. The wagons are equipped with two braking systems: a hydraulic pedal device that slows the vehicle for turns and downhill descents, and a hand-brake that locks the rear wheels when the wagon is at a halt.