One of the most recognizable and venerated icons in the world, the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale horses, arrived Monday afternoon at J.F. Gregory Park.
The Clydesdales will be under the covered pavilion in the park until this coming Monday and the public is welcome to come down and visit them during park hours, said city parks director Harvey Lashley.
"People love them," said Clydesdale handler Barb Jesse. "Folks just don’t have the opportunity to see a big draft horse hitch anymore. Back in the day, this was the life blood of the country. They used to help plant the crops, make deliveries, take the family to town, and a variety of other essential chores. For a lot of people, this is the only way they see a big hitch anymore."
Anheuser-Busch chose Richmond Hill as a rest stop between parade appearances for the renowned horses based on the serene setting and ideal climate here. They just came off the road from an appearance at Bike Week in Daytona Beach and are slated to appear at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah this coming Saturday.
The horses will depart only to participate in area St. Patrick’s festivities, but some of the horses will be at the park for the duration of the time as only eight of the twelve stationed horses will participate in functions at a time. In addition to the St. Patty’s parade, the Clydesdales will participate in a public appearance this afternoon at Savannah Mall and an appearance on Tybee Island tomorrow afternoon.
The traveling stable here is one of five that Anheuser-Busch utilizes. This particular bunch is from a stable out of Merrimack, New Hampshire that tours the Southeastern U.S. "The furthest we go is Mississippi," said Jesse.
Jesse and the crew of seven other Clydesdale handlers, like the horses themselves, spend an enormous amount of their time on the road and in various towns throughout the country. She said it is a fun job and she enjoys the warm reception and reaction to the elite group of horses as they arrive in different cities.
She added that the one downfall is that it is tough to maintain a stable family life with all the traveling. Only 30 days out of the year are spent at the stables, although some of the crew and horses are alternated, she said.
Jesse said that the Clydesdale stables receive thousands of requests for the "gentle giants" every year. Each request is evaluated on the type of event, dates, history of appearances in that particular area and other input from Anheuser-Busch management representatives.
"Before Daytona, we were in Sarasota for an Italian Festival," Jesse said. "Before that was Mardi Gras. We seem to hit pretty much all the major festivals and parades."
The horses, the famous red, white and gold beer wagon and other essential equipment are transported in three 50-foot tractor trailers, which weigh 24 tons when fully loaded. Cameras in the trailers enable the drivers to keep a watchful eye on their precious cargo during transport. The team stops each night at local stables so the horses can rest. Air-cushion suspension and thick rubber flooring ease the rigors of traveling.
As a bit of history to the famous horses, they were formally introduced to August A. Busch Sr. and Anheuser-Busch on April 7, 1933, to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition. August A. Busch Jr. wanted to commemorate the special day. To his father’s delight, the hitch thundered down Pestalozzi Street carrying the first case of post-Prohibition beer from the St. Louis brewery. Ever since then, the world famous Budweiser Clydesdales have been the symbol of quality and tradition for Anheuser-Busch.
To qualify for one of the six hitches (five traveling and one stationary), a Budweiser Clydesdale must be a gelding at least four years of age. He must stand 72 inches, or six feet, at the shoulder when fully mature, weigh between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds, be bay in color, have four white stocking feet, a blaze of white on the face, and a black mane and tail.