History repeated itself in a crowd-pleasing way when the Budweiser Hitch came to Strong City.
Excitement had been mounting since early in the year when it was announced that the world-famous Clydesdales pulling an old-fashioned beer wagon would be returning for the 75th anniversary Flint Hills Rodeo.
The big horses had been a highlight of the 50th rodeo, so it seemed appropriate to have them back this year.
Longtime Chase County Agent Mike Holder was instrumental in organizing their participation for the golden anniversary rodeo, and he stepped in to help the get them again this time.
Used for promotions and commercials by the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company, the Clydesdales came from the headquarters’ brewery complex in St. Louis, Missouri, where they are housed in a historic brick and stain-glass stable built in 1885.
“It’s really takes more coordination than one might think to get the Clydesdales to come to the rodeo,” according to Holder.
“However, the main thing is that there must be a major sponsor, and we are really fortunate that Mussato Brothers of Osage City came on board to help us,” he emphasized.
Instrumental in that were Ron Whitney and J.D. Lohmeyer, officials of Mussato Brothers, Inc., a Budweiser distributor serving eight Kansas counties.
“We are really happy to be involved in this promotion, even though it does require considerable planning,” Whitney admitted.
Now, these horses won’t stay just anywhere, but fortunately there are nice facilities at the Chase County Fairgrounds in Cottonwood Falls.
“We had to make sure everything met Budweiser company’s requirements, and they put up their own stalls, even brought bedding and feed for the horses,” Holder said.
Because it is such a unique opportunity, a special review of the Clydesdales, and their way of life, was coordinated by Holder.
“We invited 4H’ers from Chase and surrounding counties and welcomed anybody who wanted to come see and learn more about the horses and the hitch,” he said.
One of six Clydesdale handlers who came with the hitch, Mark Fisher discussed the horses, logistics of performances and answered questions from several dozen of all ages in attendance.
“We always bring 10 horses, but we only use eight in the hitch,” said Fisher as he brought an eight-year-old Clydesdale gelding named Fire out of one of the immaculate red curtained stalls identified for each specific horse.
“There are three teams of horses that travel to perform around the country, and one remains in St. Louis to entertain there,” noted Fisher, who has been working with Budweiser Clydesdales for five years.
Some of the other handlers were bathing horses on the wash rack nearby. Another group of Budweiser workers was waxing three bright red semi-trucks used to haul the horses, wagon, tack and supplies. A red Budweiser van also accompanies them.
While Budweiser has a Clydesdale breeding operation, not all of the horses used in the hitches are raised in that program.
“However, horses chosen to pull the wagon are all geldings. They are at least three years old, bay in color, have four white legs, a white blazed face and a black mane and tail,” Fisher said. “Each horse is eight-hands, which is six-feet tall, at the wither and weighs about 2,000 pounds.”
One Clydesdale will consume as much as 25 quarts of concentrate, 50 pounds of hay and 30 gallons of water a day.
Exercise is essential for the Clydesdales, and this is usually done by hand walking, even though the horses are broke to ride, Fisher related.
Questioned if any of these horses were used in Super Bowl commercials, Fisher responded, “They’re all actors, too.”
Coming out of his own personal stall, the Dalmatian named King mingled through the crowd during the presentation.
“In the early days of brewing, Dalmatians were bred and trained to protect the horses and guard the wagon when the driver went inside to make deliveries,” Fisher explained.
Those attending the program were then invited to pet Fire while Fisher held him.
Although the handlers stayed overnights in a motel, there were guards hired to keep watch on the horses whenever officials were not around.
Company rules prohibit the horses from being hooked to the wagon more than once a day. So, the hitch performed only at the Thursday and Friday evening performances, and was driven in the Saturday afternoon rodeo parade.
Two drivers cooperated in driving the team pulling the colorful red wagon with a load of Budweiser, as King was proudly seated next to them.
Upon introduction at the rodeo performances, the hitch performed intricate maneuvers at a fast prance and was backed to the fence as if it was a dock to unload merchandise.
After resting on Sunday, the Budweiser Hitch, that had been in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before coming to Strong City, headed for a presentation in Minnesota.