ROCKLAND — J.J. and Drew were in the lead. They are the oldest, at 14 years, and most mature in harness. Behind them come Ivan, Vegas, Vic, Nomo, Rico and Phoenix. They are all geldings, and the guys in back, closest to the wagon, are six years old, young, inexperienced, and taking their cues from the horses in front.
These are the mighty Clydesdales of Anheuser-Busch, who are helping to lead the annual Maine Lobster Festival Parade, which begins at 10 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 1.
And these are the geldings that brought hundreds to the Elks Club Wednesday afternoon, July 29, just to see the mighty horses. Everyone was smiling. Who wouldn’t?
These horses are part of the Budweiser signature, and the most important. Budweiser may be king of beer, but the company’s legacy horses, descendants of the Great Flemish draft horses, are the heart of the business.
Budweiser makes sure its Clydesdales are a polished part of the marketing team, and that was evident with the 10 handsome geldings that arrived in special trucks to the Union Fairgrounds earlier this week.
As they paraded around the Elks Club parking lot on a hot July afternoon, admirers flocked around the team, taking pictures and talking with the crew of handlers — Chris and Will, who were driving the wagon; Norton, Curtis, Tyler, Larry and Marcus.
Those men travel with the particular team of Clydesdales to events and parades. And they never get sick of it.
“It’s fun to see people seeing these horses up close,” said Chris. “It’s an honor to see them in real life, not just on television.”
The Clydesdales' appearance in Rockland is one of hundreds made annually by the traveling hitches.
Canadians of Scottish descent brought the first Clydesdales to America in the mid-1800s. Today, the giant draft horses are used primarily for breeding and show.
Horses chosen for the Budweiser Clydesdale hitch must be at least three years of age, stand approximately 18 hands (or six feet) at the shoulder, weigh an average of 2,000 pounds, must be bay in color, have four white legs, and a blaze of white on the face and black mane and tail. A gentle temperament is important as hitch horses meet millions of people each year.
A single Clydesdale hitch horse will consume as much as 20-25 quarts of feed, 40-50 pounds of hay and 30 gallons of water per day.
Each hitch travels with a Dalmatian. In the early days of brewing, Dalmatians were bred and trained to protect the horses and guard the wagon when the driver went inside to make deliveries.
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.
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 a local stable so the “gentle giants” can rest, stretch and maybe roll around a bit. 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 more than 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: A Clydesdale’s horseshoe measure more than 20 inches from end to end and weigh about 5 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.
Dalmatians: Dalmatians have traveled with the Clydesdale hitch since the 1950s. The Dalmatian breed long has been associated with horses and valued for their speed, endurance, and dependable nature. Dalmatians were known as coach dogs because they ran between the wheels of coaches or carriages and were companions to the horses. Today, the Dalmatians are perched atop the wagon, proudly seated next to the driver.
Reach Editorial Director Lynda Clancy at email@example.com; 207-706-6657
Video of the Budweiser Clydesdales arriving into downtown Rockland Thursday night courtesy Todd Anderson.