Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

July 13, 2013

Horsing around with the Budweiser Clydesdales

Mike James
The Independent

ASHLAND — Budweiser’s iconic Clydesdales took over downtown Ashland Friday evening, when hundreds of spectators turned out to see the massive draft horses.

The eight-horse team took a couple of trips up and down Winchester Avenue and side streets but for the most part the animals were content to stand calmly while an admiring crowd pressed close and took pictures.

“They’re so big and massive. They’re just great. And I’m not a horse person. But these are worth coming out to see,” said Wilma Cordell of Ashland.

The Clydesdales arrived in Ashland in three tractor-trailers; spectators started gathering an hour before their scheduled 5 p.m. exhibition time.

The team — there are 10 in all but only eight are hitched at a time — travels the eastern United States with seven handlers. Budweiser breeds the horses on a farm in Missouri, said handled Burt Westbrook.

The team uses horses that are bay in color, with four white legs, black manes and tails, and white faces, Westbrook said.

The horses are 18 hands high at the withers — that’s about six feet at the shoulders, for the non-horsey crowd — and weigh about a ton apiece. They are immensely strong, able to pull twice that amount.

The team is on the road 320 days a year and logs between 30,000 and 40,000 miles per year.

Driving the team requires long experience, special training and the ability to control the equivalent of a 75-pound pull on the reins, head driver Dave Thomas said. “It takes years to develop the skills to drive a team like this,” he said.

Among the rewards is basking in the admiration of the crowd. “It’s a pretty big rush watching everybody watching us,” he said.

Long accustomed to gawkers, the statuesque animals are capable of standing virtually motionless while crowds press in and point cameras. Some posed their children in front of the team for pictures.

The Clydesdales were in the Tri-State courtesy of Triple Crown Beverage Group, which operates Anheuser-Busch distributorships in Ashland, Ironton and Huntington. Triple Crown scored the visit as a reward for top performance.

Budweiser introduced the Clydesdales in 1933 to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition. Besides promotional visits, the horses appear in beer commercials.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or

(606) 326-2652.