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Famous Clydesdale Horses Surprise and Delight at Chicago’s Navy Pier

by claudette Jones on 26/02/10 at 10:07 am

The Clydesdale horses were caught in the middle of their early morning toiletries at Chicago’s Navy Pier this past summer. These mild mannered animals, often described as "gentle giants" were bred for hard labor pulling heavy wagons with heavy loads. After many years, these beasts of labor were finally tapped for a function that more perfectly fit their grace and beauty.

One day this past summer, visitors at Chicago’s Navy Pier were surprised and delighted to see the famous Clydesdale horses getting an early morning bath.  The Clydesdales have made appearances at Navy Pier for the last several summers.            

Known for their grace, size, strength and versatility the horses were initially bred in Clydesdale, Scotland for the purpose of pulling heavy wagons and loads, particularly in rural and industrial areas. They are believed to have been around for over 300 years, but today the animals have gained fame for being the beautiful and effective mascots of beer companies, particularly Anheuser-Busch.

The most recognizable feature of a Clydesdale is, of course, its size, which averages 17-19 hands, about six feet (one hand equals 4 inches); and a weight in the neighborhood of 2000 pounds with a deep chest.. The high-stepping Clydesdales sport a hoof size typically twice the diameter of a regular riding horse, such as a thoroughbred.


Their most distinctive feature however, aside from their size is the light, feathery hair on their fetlocks; the lower parts of their legs above the hooves; which seem to belie their traditional function as beasts of labor, in favor of something much more appropriate, such as show horses. The Clydesdales are also known for their demur, amiable manner making them perfect advertising ambassadors.

Clydesdales were first imported to North America in 1840. In 1933, August A. Busch, Jr., gave a hitch of six Clydesdales to his father to celebrate the repeal of prohibition, and the resumption of brewing in St. Louis. Delighted with the horses, Busch, Sr. recognized an excellent marketing tool when he saw one, and put them to work immediately pulling the first post-Prohibition beer wagon down a St. Louis street.

Cydesdale Hitch of eight horses. Wikipedia.com

In the intervening years, the horses have become a symbol of Anheuser-Busch (the makers of Budweiser), and are used extensively in commercials and promotions for the company. Bud Light has a contract with Navy Pier until April 2010 as the Navy Pier beer.

The Clydesdales travel the country about ten months of the year in great style; they travel in 50-ft. semi-trucks equipped with air-cushion suspension and thick, rubber flooring. When on the road, the team is stabled each night along the route so they can rest.

Today, tours are conducted in five of the twelve U.S. Busch Breweries, including the Clydesdale Hamlet at the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Merrimack, Hew Hampshire, and Grant’s Farm outside St. Louis, Missouri, which is a major breeding farm for the horses. They can also be seen at the Anheuser-Busch Garden theme parks in Williamsburg, Va., and Tampa, Fla., and at Sea World theme parks in Orlando, Fla., San Diego, Calif., and San Antonio, Texas.  

In 2008 Anheuser-Busch was purchased by Brazilian-Belgium company InBev. The company is now known as Anheuser-Busch InBev, and is considered to be the largest brewery in the world. Which raises the question: what is the future of the Clydesdales?

Judging from the response of those Navy Pier visitors, and fans of the animals around the country, it is hopefully safe to assume, their future is extremely bright.    

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