Somewhere I heard that the Clydesdales were coming to one of the Spring Training fields in the Phoenix metro, and I was disappointed to find out that I would be out of town that week. I would soon discover that the beer company giants make several appearances every year during Cactus League baseball season each. A quick glance at their online schedule showed me that I was in luck. Their last appearance in the Phoenix area would be at our nearby stadium in Goodyear… and we would be in town. Not sure of the size of the crowd that might show up to view the horses, we got there early. So early, we beat the caravan of semi-trucks. We weren’t sure where they would be unloading and we didn’t know how close we could get to the teams as they worked.
It was shortly after their scheduled arrival time that three large trucks pulled up to unload their heavy cargo. The trucks bring ten horses in two of the trucks and the third truck carries over 12 tons of wagon and accessories. The tradition started in 1933 when the Busch sons, August Jr. and Adolphus III surprised their father, August Busch Sr. with a six-horse Clydesdale hitch to commemorate the repeal of Prohibition. Being the marketing experts they were, it didn’t take long to realize that the attraction would be a good addition to their marketing efforts. Another team was soon added and an additional pair of horses creating an 8-horse hitch became the norm. In 1950, the trademark Dalmation mascot was added.
Shortly after unloading the beer wagon, a trio of workers went about polishing the brightwork and preparing the wagon for its trips around the ballpark roads. While we were there, they only travelled on the paved roads. I’m sure the weight of the horses and wagon would have been too much to bring them onto the ball field itself. As they were there well before the start of the game, there weren’t even that many spectators to watch them unload and hitch up. I was pleasantly surprised how close they let us come to the process. Our only admonition was to remain more than six feet from the animals. Hardly an unreasonable request.
One at a time, the horses were led from their stalls in the trailers and during a short stop at the last trailer, they were fitted with their harness and other tack. Each of the harnesses and collars weighs in the neighborhood of 130 pounds (59 kg). The team of handlers and specialized crew travels with the horses for ten months each year. Their next stop after this day’s trip was in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Three 10-horse teams travel the country. This team is based out of Fort Collins, Colorado. The other teams are at their home base of St. Louis, Missouri and Merrimack, New Hampshire.
One at a time, they add horses to the hitch, each hitch set is added as the size of the team grows. It takes a fair amount of time to prepare each horse and get him in place for the final stringing of the reins.
As the hitch is built, one man stands watch in front of one of the lead horses, no doubt a safety position in case the horses get skittish. While he was standing there, he answered many questions from people who were watching the hitching unfold.
One of the final steps is stringing the reins to the wagon. The reins’ combined weight of about 40 pounds (18 kg) and the additional weight of the horses when pulling requires that the drivers have the strength and endurance for the job. Managing the weight of horses and wagon under tow requires skill and training. It takes time to become a practiced Hitch Driver.
Finally the drivers and dalmation mascot appear and take their honored position on the wagon. It’s time to drive the horses. In most browsers, you can click on an image below to enlarge it and to scroll through the gallery. Most of the facts for this post came from the Anheuser-Busch website. More details on the Clydesdale teams can be found here.