The Budweiser Clydesdales Visit the Black Hills Stock Show
April 13, 2009
“And now, ladies and gentlemen … boys and girls … here they come! The famous, world renowned Budweiser Clydesdales!”
With the Budweiser theme song playing in the background, into the arena thunders 8 tons of magnificent horse flesh pulling a 3-1/2-ton beer wagon, almost as if it were a toy. A Dalmation dog is perched atop the wagon next to the driver. They circle the arena and perform a perfect Figure 8, to the delight of the audience.
This scene and ones similar to it have played out many times over the years, whether at parades, rodeos, or special shows. The Clydesdales had previously never performed at a stock show, but this year the Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo in Rapid City, S.D., hosted them for its 10-day event.
A Clydesdale hitch consists of eight horses, although 10 horses travel to the event so that there are two extras for rest periods. etc. The horses, wagon, harnesses, and other equipment are transported in three 50-foot tractor-trailers which travel as a caravan. In the two trailers that transport the horses, all stalls face forward, while air-cushion suspension and thick rubber flooring help to ensure their comfort. There are even cameras in the trailers with monitors in the cabs.
Several requirements are in place for an individual Clydesdale to qualify for one of the hitches. He must be a gelding at least 4 years old, weigh approximately 2,000 pounds and be at least 18 hands (72 inches) high, be bay in color with a black mane and tail, have four white stocking feet and a white blaze down his face. He must also have an exceptionally gentle temperament.
Each pair of horses in the hitch has a specific job to do as part of the team. The largest horses are the “Wheel Horses.” They are the pair closest to the wagon because they have to hold it back while the other horses make the turns. The third pair are the “Body Horses,” which are slightly smaller as they help pull more of the load. The “Swing Horses” are the second pair who again are slightly smaller than the body horses because they need agility to cover a larger area in making turns. The front pair are called the “Lead Team.” They are smaller and more active than the others because they cover the most territory during a turn and do it in the fastest time.
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Although the Clydesdales are groomed daily, special attention is given to their appearance on performance days. The grooms spend about five hours washing and grooming them, polishing the harnesses, braiding red and white ribbons into the manes, and inserting red and white bows into the tails. The harnessing process itself takes an additional 45 minutes. Each harness and collar weigh approximately 130 pounds. The harness is made to fit any horse, but the collars come in different sizes and must be individually fitted.
After the harnessing is completed, the Clydesdales are individually hitched to the red, white and gold 1903 Studebaker-built beer wagon. The wheel horses are hitched up first.
The forerunner of the Clydesdale was the Great Flemish Horse, bred by farmers living along the River Clyde ni Lanarkshire, Scotland, in the early 19th century. The region was located in a valley or “dale.” These farmers needed strong horses to plow and pull loads of farm equipment and workers. The Flemish horses were bred to local mares, and the Clydesdale breed was born. The mighty horses quickly became known as being more powerful than any breed available before and were eventually brought to the United States.
On April 7, 1933, in St. Louis, Mo., August A. Busch Jr. and Adolphus Busch III presented their father with a Clydesdale hitch pulling a red, white and gold beer wagon to commemorate the first bottle of beer brewed following the end of Prohibition. The brewery sent a second team by rail to New York City. This hitch went on a tour of New England and the mid-Atlantic states, and even delivered a case of beer to President Frankling D. Roosevelt at the White House.
Today, the official home of the Budweiser Clydesdales is an ornate stable built in 1885 on the historic 100-acre Anheuser-Busch brewery complex in St. Louis. Five traveling hitches are based in St. Louis and Booneville, Mo., New Hampshire, San Diego, California, and in San Antonio, Texas. The Clydesdales can be viewed at the Anheuser-Busch breweries in St. Louis, Merrimack, and Fort Collins, Colo. They can also be seen at Grant’s Farm in St. Louis and at the Anheuser-Busch theme parks known as Busch Gardens in both Williamsburg, Virginia, and in Tampa, Florida. In addition to these, the horses are also featured at the Sea World theme parks in Orlando, Florida, San Antonio, Texas, and San Diego, Calif.
The Budweiser Clydesdale hitches are a modern-day symbol of a bygone era, and they are truly wonderful to see. Whether are a parade in Missouri, or a rodeo in Texas, they are always a crowd pleaser. The hitches travel some 100,000 miles a year, and with each mile they cover, so continues the tradition.