Saturday, June 11, 2011

Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales

As I mentioned in the previous post about the Anheuser-Busch Brewery tour in St. Louis, I have always loved the Budweiser Clydesdales. But after visiting the three locations in St. Louis I am now a Clydesdale groupie! Quite frankly, the Clydes were one of the first stops on the brewery tour and it could have ended right there for me as I had seen what I was interested in! In fact, the tour guide gave everyone the option of returning to the hospitality room after seeing the Clydes and the Dalmatians so I guess I'm not the only one who feels that way.

There are now three units of Budweiser Clydesdales that travel the country for appearances. Two Clydes are called a "team" and anything more than two are called a "hitch". Each hitch travels with 10 Clydesdales and their gear in three semis - the first semi will have 2 Clydes and all the food, meds etc that are needed on the road. The second semi will have 6 Clydes and the third semi will have the last 2 Clydes and the harnesses and the beer wagon. The hitch based at Warm Springs Ranch in Boonville Missouri serves the West Coast, the hitch based at the St. Louis Brewery serves the Midwest and the hitch based in Merrimack New Hampshire serves the East Coast. Warm Springs Ranch in Missouri is also now the base of the breeding program after being moved there from Southern California a couple of years ago.

During our visit some of the mares were still pregnant and some had already had their foals for the season. A baby Clyde, if you can call it a "baby", is born weighing around 125 pounds and measuring 3 1/2 feet in height. Our tour guide told us that normally the mares give birth very fast. In fact she said that one mare had started giving birth at 2pm during the afternoon tour the previous week and she was done some 12 minutes later!
Unfortunately, this little guy here named Cyclone lost his mother at 2 months of age to a twisted gut. Because they don't want the foals to imprint too much on humans and because Clydes are such a social animal they had to get the baby a companion. They went to a neighboring farm and brought him a goat to be in the pen with him 24/7. Our tour guide told us that they groom each other and play together constantly. The goat even cries for Cyclone when they take him out of the paddock for exercise!

In order to become a member of the hitch a Clyde must be a gelding, must stand at least 18 hands (6 feet) high, must weigh between 1800 and 2300 pounds and must be at least 4 years old.The Clyde must also have the recognizable markings of a Budweiser Clydesdale : bay coat, 4 white stockinged legs, a blaze of white on the face and a black mane and tail. Each Clyde is able to pull twice it's own weight so a 2,000 pound horse can be pulling 4,000 pounds. There are eight horses on each hitch and each horse not only has it's own 130 pound harness made to fit him exactly, each horse also has it's specific place on the hitch. The bigger, stronger Clydes are called wheelhorses and are placed next to the beer wagon while the showmen or the horses that best play to the crowd as well as being agile, are placed in the very front to prance and entertain the people.

The hitches are on the road some 10 months per year as they are only allowed to travel 500 miles per day. Each hitch will stop at various pre-determined stables along the route to the next appearance so that the horses can rest and be exercised. The horses are washed and groomed daily when not performing and when they do get ready to perform it takes the trainers 5 hours to get the Clydes ready, from bathing to braiding the red and white ribbons in their manes and tails.

I would definitely recommend the Warm Springs Ranch Tour if you are in either Kansas City or St. Louis Missouri. The ranch is located about half way between the two immediately off of I-70. You do have to make reservations for either the morning tour at 10am or the afternoon tour at 2pm as they only take a limit of 55 people at one time. The tour does cost $10 and there are no complimentary beverages afterwards like with most Anheuser-Busch attractions.

Of course you know they say the grass is always greener!

The other Anheuser-Busch animal themed vs beer themed attraction we visited in St. Louis was Grant's Farm. It is located practically in the city but has acres of land and works with the conservation over 900 animals from 100 different species. The farm was founded in the 1850s by Ulysses S. Grant but was purchased by the Busch Family in 1907. Besides conservation the Farm runs educational camps for kids.  This is the only Anheuser-Busch attraction that was not sold to ImBev when the company sold out a few years ago. In fact, the Busch Family still has a house on the grounds that is fully staffed and ready for any family member to visit. I especially loved the petting zoo with the baby goats where anyone could get a bottle of milk to feed them.

The website has a listing of the schedules for each of the three hitches for each month. Please take a look and see if you can go and support this outstanding PR program and see some of the "gentle giants" for yourself.

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