The Budweiser Clydesdales will hitch up and take over the streets of downtown Mobile during Mardi Gras 2016. The enormous horses, weighing from 1,800 to 2,000 pounds each and standing at least six feet tall, are scheduled to appear on parade days Feb. 2 (Order of LaShe’s), Feb. 4 (Mystic Stripers Society), Feb. 5 (Crewe of Columbus) and Feb. 7 (Joe Cain Day).
These majestic animals have attended several past Mardi Gras parades in the Port City and never cease to amaze spectators with their beautiful white blaze, black mane and tail and, of course, their white stocking legs with extensive feathering.
“We are proud to associate their timeless beauty in tradition with the king of beers,” Kyle Oliver, marketing director with Budweiser-Busch Distributing’s Mobile office, said.
The almost mythical horses have been associated with Anheuser-Busch since 1933. The Clydesdales were presented as a gift to avid horse admirer August Busch Sr. by his son, August Busch Jr., in celebration of the repeal of prohibition.
Prohibition was a very difficult time for many Americans, from business owners to consumers. The legendary Clydesdales are a symbol of this enduring spirit.
The eight-horse hitch famously known for pulling Budweiser’s signature red-white-and-gold, circa 1900 Studebaker beer wagon is among the most recognizable symbols in beer and advertising. The horses have been featured in numerous Super Bowl and holiday commercials, making their first TV appearance for Super Bowl XX in 1986.
According to Oliver, the Clydesdales will arrive Jan. 31 and be in town until Feb. 8. Their temporary home will be the parking lot of Automotive Painters Supply beside the Budweiser-Busch Distributing office at 1050 E. I-65 Service Road N.
“We are very excited to have the Budweiser Clydesdales return,” Oliver said.
On average, the horses make more than 900 appearances at 200 events each year, such as parades, festivals, rodeos and air shows.
There are a total of 250 Budweiser Clydesdales of various ages and sexes, but those in hitches are neutered males known as geldings. Each traveling team includes 10 horses on the trailer, which allows eight horses in a hitch and two as backups.
A horse’s hitch position is determined by his physical ability. Wheel horses, the pair closest to the wagon, must be substantially strong enough to start the wagon rolling and stop it when required. The wagon has two sets of brakes — a parking brake and a hydraulic foot pedal to help slow the wagon if on a hill.
The hitch driver position is also physically demanding, as the horses’ equipment weighs approximately 75 pounds. A hitch driver for Budweiser requires a degree in agriculture, experience in customer relations and the completion of a four-month intensive training process.
The hitches travel in custom-made 50-foot trailers, accompanied by their team of groomers, a veterinarian and a driver. The team stops each night at a local stable so the horses can rest. Air-cushion suspension and thick rubber flooring in the trailer ease the rigors of being on the road. A team travels about 300 days a year.
There are three main hitch barns, located in St. Louis, Missouri; Merrimack, New Hampshire; and Fort Collins, Colorado. There is also a breeding facility in Booneville, Missouri.
A Budweiser tradition since the 1950s, an obedience-trained Dalmatian is always perched atop the wagon, seated next to the hitch driver. During pioneer days, Dalmatians were bred and trained to protect the horses, as well as guard the wagon when the driver went inside to make beer deliveries.
Oliver says a Dalmatian will definitely accompany the Clydesdales this Mardi Gras season.
Tradition and representation is very important to the Budweiser brewing company, Oliver said. The horses are a constant reminder of the American dream.
“The Budweiser Clydesdales are a piece of Americana,” he said. “They bring to mind great American traditions … no matter how much things may change in culture and fashion, the Clydesdales stand for strength of character and values.”