The earth trembles under your feet when they prance down Main Street. It is thrilling and romantic to watch them pass in review.
The perception here is that you don’t see a logo representing a specific product. What you see are these “gentle giants” and what you hear is the rhythmical hoof beat of their large, white, fluffy feet prancing off the pages of history.
Dressed in their polished brass-trimmed harnesses, they remind us of what it was like back in the days when that was a way proud companies had to transport their products. Today, they are a logo of a product and a splendorous show piece in parades.
You might think these Clydesdales represent a tradition that originated centuries ago. Actually, the tradition is quite modern. According to history, it came about in April 1933 as a way to celebrate the end of Prohibition. The whole idea of their being was sort of an accident — a trick played by August A. Busch Jr. on his father, August Anheuser Busch.
The son let it be known that he was giving his father a new car as a surprise gift. When he called his father out to look at his gift, Busch Sr. instead saw eight beautiful geldings hitched to a large wagon loaded with kegs of Busch beer. The man was so impressed, quickly recognizing the promotional potential and a logo representing his beer, that he ordered his gift, the hitch, to deliver the first load of post-Prohibition beer. The rest is history.
The term “hitch” is the full assemblage of horses, wagon, drivers and a Dalmatian. The specific purpose for the Dalmatian, a tradition since the 1950s, was to guard the wagon and protect the team while the drivers went inside buildings to make deliveries. There are several hitches around the country. Each team is composed of horses taken from a herd of about 250 Clydesdales located throughout the country.
It’s not just eight horses hitched to a wagon. They must meet certain standards to qualify to be hitched to the wagon. Each horse must be a gelding, stand at least 18 hands (6 feet) when fully matured, and weigh between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds. They must be bay in color, a reddish-brown coat with a black mane and tail, have four white-stocking feet with long, fluffy hair and a blaze of white on the face.
They are draft horses that were bred centuries ago in Clydesdale, Scotland, for such purpose; although, some believe they were once bred as war horses used by knights in heavy armor.
Standing near these gentle giants, looking up at them, you can sense their strength. They stand, holding their heads high, bobbing up and down, ready and waiting nervously for a command. I believe they are also waiting for that gentle pat on the nose from an impressed public.
I had an opportunity to visit a hitch near here and talk to one of the handlers. He said the horses can sense when it is show time and become excited. Each horse has a personality of his own. The handler can identify each horse, not only by his color pattern, but the way he reacts when his name is called. There is no need to lead the geldings to their respective positions on the team — they know their place.
The handler said he and others watch the team every hour, monitoring their behavior, making sure they are ready for the next show. Sometimes, one of the horses might feel poorly and not feel like performing his duty. There is always a gelding standing by.
Sparky, with Elite at his side, leads the team. Directly behind them are Jack and Tim, and behind them are Prince and Curley. Bringing up the rear are Fire and Charlie. There is probably a specific reason that Sparky and Elite were selected to lead the team and Fire and Charlie to bring up the rear. Maybe they have those certain behavioral characteristics that warrant their positions. They each carry a harness weighing 130 pounds and a collar weighing 70 pounds.
What else could be more fitting to dress up a major parade than with these gentle giants?
Bond lives in Richmond Hill.