The Clydesdale horse is iconic thanks to the Budweiser beer wagon that members of the breed pull through parades and other events. But this gentle giant has so much more to offer than their connection to the Anheuser-Busch company, although that association has made them famous!
The Clydesdale breed was formed over 300 years ago in Clydesdale, Scotland. Farm work and pulling the heavy loads from the coal mines and other industries was their primary purpose. The horses are beautiful, with glistening dark coats, large white blazes, and beautiful feathers on their legs, long hairs that extend down from the knee and cover their hooves. Clydesdales are beautiful – but also powerful. They can pull a one-ton load at five miles per hour.
Despite their popularity, there are fewer than 5,000 Clydesdales globally, leading many to work to conserve and promote the breed.
History of the Clydesdale
The River Clyde runs through Lanarkshire, Scotland in the south-central part of the country. Clydesdale was the name used for the area for generations. Farming was of course the lifeblood of the community for centuries, and the people needed strong horses to perform the labor. This is how the Clydesdale horse originated. Local farmers improved the breed in the early 1700s by crossing a Flemish stallion with their mares and also used Shire blood in the ensuing years.
Clydesdales were first imported to the United States in 1842 but never gained as much popularity for farm work as the Percheron horse. The Clydesdale Breeders of the USA formed in 1879 and has protected and promoted them ever since. Similarly, the Clydesdale Horse Society of Great Britain has preserved the breed since 1877.
Clydesdales truly are gentle giants with kind personalities. They range in height from 17 to 18 hands high and weigh around 2,000 pounds. Smaller Clydesdales, as short as 16.2 hands and weighing only 1,600 to 1,800 pounds are more common today. The breed evolved to meet current demands. Their distinct look – bay, dark brown, or black, with white markings including socks and a blaze – make them easy to recognize.
Leg feathers are a key feature of the breed. These are even more pronounced because they have high leg action at the walk and the trot. Their heads have an elegant sense of beauty with large, kind eyes. Most important for their agricultural history, their feet and legs are strong and well-formed.
The Budweiser Clydesdales
August and Adolphus Busch gave their father, also named Adolphus, two six-horse hitches of Clydesdales as a present to celebrate the end of Prohibition. The horses stirred strong emotions in many, including the father and sons when they were introduced to the public on April 7, 1933. It was on this day that they delivered the first beer to the White House as part of the celebration of the end of Prohibition. The nation was recovering from the Great Depression, and the Budweiser Clydesdales became a symbol of a new era of prosperity and our industrial spirit.
Since then, they have appeared in numerous television broadcasts and parades. And let’s admit it, how many of us watch the Superbowl just to see the newest Budweiser Clydesdale ad? I know that attracts me to the big game every year. They even served in the inauguration parades of Presidents Harry Truman (1949) and Bill Clinton (1993). Anheuser-Busch added a Dalmatian dog to each hitch in 1950, and the Dalmatian has been their official mascot ever since.
Today, the Budweiser Clydesdale breeding and training facility is at Warm Springs Ranch in Boonville, Missouri, about 150-miles from St. Louis. Warm Springs Ranch, the official breeding facility, was built in 2008 and is 300-acres. They relocated the training facility there in 2018. The hitches used in events and for promotions are in St. Louis (near the Anheuser-Busch headquarters), Merrimack, New Hampshire, and Fort Collins, Colorado.
The Clydesdale Today
Scotland and New Zealand really only have Clydesdales as draft horses. Australia also has a strong Clydesdale presence. The 1950s saw dwindling numbers of Clydesdales in the United States, and the breed persevered thanks to the Anheuser-Busch Company. Another challenge the breed faced was the recession and decreasing horse numbers from 2008 onwards.
Breeders and owners continue promoting Clydesdales, showing them in-hand or in driving classes, and enjoying them for recreational use. Clydesdales are also ridden, and many owners enjoy competing in events like pole bending and barrel racing. There’s something magical and exciting about those thundering hooves!
American agriculture predominantly used Percherons. But the Clydesdale became iconic because of their association with the Anheuser-Busch family and for their beautiful looks, kind personality, and status as a gentle giant. The Budweiser Clydesdale teams will continue delighting crowds, but there are also those loyal breeders and fierce enthusiasts that will keep the breed a constant presence and work to increase their global numbers.