The magnificent Budweiser Clydesdale hitch is one of the most popular attractions in parades and at horse shows and rodeos all over the nation.
By PAT CLOSE, originally published in the January 1977 issue of Western Horseman.
This past summer they came to Colorado Springs for the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo, and the rodeo parade through town. Like lots of other people, we went to see them where they were stabled, and to visit with the men who travel with the horses, but who never share the limelight.
Just about anyone who has ever seen this hitch has probably seen Walt Brady, the manager/driver, because he’s been with them for 36 years. Walt’s crew always includes five men, and presently they are: Bob Bonnarens, Maurice Kruger, Bill Anders, Glen Woolcott, and Don Brady, Walt’s brother. They evidently all have a hankering for traveling, because even Henry Kissinger gets home more frequently than they do. Walt told us they travel about ten months out of the year; and when we talked with them in August, they had only been home three days since December ’75.
Walt’s crew and hitch work out of St. Louis, and there is also another hitch headquartered in Merrimack, N .H., that makes appearances in the eastern part of the country.
Each hitch has ten horses—eight regulars and two spares. They log about 40,000 miles a year, and travel in three specially built vans. Six horses go in one van; four horses and the portable stalls in the second van; and the third one carries the wagon, harness, and everything else.
All of the horses are geldings. According to Walt, “We start them in the hitch when they are three years old, and we keep them until they are twelve or thirteen. After that we retire them. Some go to amusement parks and zoos, and Mr. Busch gives some of them to his friends.”
Walt and his crew are unceasingly polite and patient with the crowds that come to see the Clydesdales. Several times a day they will lead one of the big fellows from his stall so people can have their pictures taken with him. Dads hoist their kids up on the broad back; and some “older kids” get a boost us so they, too, can have their pictures snapped on top of a 19-hand giant.
And the men answer questions being asked for the zillionth time as good-naturedly as if it were the first time. Questions such as:
How big are they?
“They average 2,300 pounds, and stand between 17 and 19 hands. A few are even taller. Jeff, for example, stands 19.2 hands and weighs about 2,400 pounds.”
How much do they eat?
“Each horse consumes about 30 quarts of grain and around 55 pounds of hay daily.”
What size shoe do they wear?
“They range in size from 10 to 12. Each shoe is handmade from a bar of steel that weighs about 4¾ pounds and is almost 2 feet long and l½ inches wide. We put borium on the shoes to keep the horses from slipping on pavement, and to help prevent the shoes from wearing out too fast.”
How much does the wagon weigh?
“About 3 and a half tons. It was built in 1902 by Studebaker, the automobile company.”
Are the horses broke to ride?
” Yes, we break them all to ride so we can exercise them. We will ride one and lead another. For a bridle, we snap a bit into the rings on the halter and attach a pair of reins. For a saddle, we use a saddle pad with stirrups and an extra-long surcingle.”
Probably not many people ask Walt this question, but we were curious how he got started with the Budweiser hitch.
“I’m from the little town of Greeley, Iowa, which was also the home of the country’s largest importer of Belgian horses. My father worked with them, and that’s how I got started with draft horses. When we were showing them at the fairs, I met the Budweiser people, and one day when they had a job opening, they gave me a ring . . . and I’ve been with them ever since.”
Something else we have often wondered: How did the Budweiser hitch get started? The answer is found in a leaflet about the hitch published by Anheuser-Busch Inc. It reads:
“In the early days, Anheuser-Busch used beautiful horses and brewery wagons to deliver beer. The echoing clip-clop of hoofs on city streets was as much a part of the sound of those times as the streetcar bell and later the sputtering noises of the horseless carriage.
Prohibition changed all that. Since there was no beer to sell, the brewery naturally had to close its stables. Anheuser-Busch went into other types of business activities… soft drinks, commercial yeast and other products.
“But the Busch family were still brewers at heart. When the repeal of prohibition appeared certain. August A. Busch, Jr., planned a special way to commemorate repeal. He secretly bought a team of Clydesdale horses and had them trained to pull a huge brewery wagon.
“On April 8, 1933, the day after prohibiton was repealed, August, Jr., prohibition asked his father to join him outside the St. Louis Brewhouse to see his new car. When they reached the street, August, Sr., stopped in his tracks. Instead of the expected automobile, there stood the magnificent Clydesdale hitch with its eight horses, gleaming leather and brass harness and shining Budweiser wagon.”
And the hitch has been rumbling across America ever since. It’s one of the all-time super ideas in public relations and advertising—ranking right up there with the Goodyear blimp!