The hardest-working horses in show business are here at the Delaware County Fairgrounds through the weekend.
A team of 10 Budweiser Clydesdales pulled into town a little after 6 p.m. Wednesday with an entourage of three semi-trucks, a van, seven people and a couple Dalmatians.
Two of the horses will be making public appearances today — one will be at Benny’s Pizza in Marysville from 4 to 5 p.m., and another will be at the Quaker Steak and Lube at Polaris from 5 to 6 p.m. From 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, eight of the horses will be harnessed and hitched to the red beer wagon, drive around the fairgrounds racetrack, and stop for photos. Finally, the Clydesdales will also appear in the 30th Delaware All Horse Parade, starting at 3 p.m. Sunday.
The fairgrounds are a frequent overnight stop for the East Coast team of Budweiser Clydesdales, based out of Merrimack, New Hampshire.
“It’s a convenient place, not far from the freeway, good size stalls, so it’s got everything we ask for that makes it easier to make the overnights,” said Burt Westbrook, who has handled Clydesdales for 34 years.
There’s three touring hitches that cover the United States, with the others near St. Louis, Missouri, and Fort Collins, Colorado. Between the three locations, there are 230 horses.
Westbrook said the horses are out on the road 320 days a year.
“We don’t go home until November,” he said. “We have a lull mid-December to mid-January, but even then we go down to Washington, D.C., for the Military Bowl. We actually travel Christmas Day.”
When traveling, the trucks stop every two hours so the horses can stretch their legs. Every night, they get out of the truck and stay in box stalls guarded by security.
“They handle it pretty good, but just like us, they need days off, too,” Westbrook said. “If they’re not sick or sore, then you have a different two off each day.”
According to Budweiser, a horse might consume 20-25 quarts of feed, 40-50 pounds of hay and 30 gallons of water daily.
To be one of the horses pulling the wagon, they have to be at least three years old, be six feet tall at the shoulder, weigh a ton, be bay in color, with four white legs, a blaze of white on the face, with a black mane and tail.
“These range from 5 to 14 years old,” said Westbrook. “We use them until they’re 14 or 15, but some leave at 5 or 10.”
After their career with Budweiser, the horses are sold.
The horses are worked with by their handlers 8 to 15 hours a day, Westbrook said.
“We’re not always training them, but we’re messing with them, move them here or there, so they learn fairly quickly when they’re young, and they do pretty much what we expect them to do because we work with them so much. We give them the tools to thrive.”
Among other things, the horses are trained to deal with noise, being touched, and pulling the wagon over things like hoses and cables.
“We do whatever we can to get them used to it because we do not want them to fail, we want them to last, and the only way they’re going to last and be happy campers is if they get used to what they’re doing,” Westbrook said.
The horses may be happiest when they’re pulling the wagon.
“That’s what they’re developed for,” Westbrook said. “They know when we’re starting to get ready for it.”
The gentle giants are a quiet breed to begin with, but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same.
“They’re just like people – they have their own personalities,” Westbrook said. “Just like people, there’s some you like working with, some you’d rather not.”
Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.