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Rural Missouri Magazine

Welcome to Horse Heaven
Central Missouri farm produces next generation of famous Budweiser Clydesdales

by Jason Jenkins
A group of mares and foals run in the pasture as an afternoon thunderstorm approaches the new Budweiser Clydesdale breeding farm in Cooper County.

Moving is stressful no matter the circumstance. You carefully pack your most precious belongings, load them up in a trailer and then cross your fingers that everything arrives unscathed.

But imagine that in addition to your grandmother’s china, your high-definition television and your favorite chair, you’ve packed up the next generation of a classic American icon for a cross-country trek of more than 1,600 miles.

John Soto made such a journey last October. The manager of the Budweiser Clydesdale breeding farm oversaw the relocation of its residents from southern California to their new home in central Missouri. Of the nearly 100 horses transferred, more than two dozen were pregnant mares, a new crop of Clydesdale foals swaying in their bellies.

And while most of us know as soon as we arrive if anything was damaged, John had to wait until Feb. 24 to know if his transition was successful. That’s when Cooper, the first foal born at Anheuser-Busch’s new Cooper County facility, arrived.

The 22,000-square-foot barn serves as an anchor for the 347-acre farm, which is already home to 100 Clydesdales, including some two dozen foals. Many of these horses will eventually become Budweiser hitch horses and travel around the country. Buy a print of this photo.

Since then, 25 other foals have been born at the farm, joining the largest purebred Clydesdale herd in the world at about 250 horses around the country. Their new home — which sits on roughly 350 acres of pastures, woods and rolling hills just off of Interstate 70 on Highway 98 — offers state-of-the-art care in a picturesque setting that befits these majestic creatures.

“All those people driving up and down I-70 have no idea this is sitting here,” says Jim Poole, manager of Clydesdale Operations, noting that the facility is closed to the public at all times. “Just imagine how many people, if they knew about it, would drive by.”

For more than 75 years, Clydesdales have served as ambassadors for Anheuser-Busch and Budweiser, its flagship beer. The company’s world-famous traveling hitches appear at hundreds of events each year across the country — from fairs and festivals to the World Series and Super Bowl — making the beer and the breed synonymous to millions.

While Americans have claimed this larger-than-life horse as their own, the breed originated during the early 1800s in Lanarkshire, Scotland, a region along the River Clyde located in a valley, or “dale.” The breed’s power made it popular with brewers who hauled beer with horses.

Horse handler Jim Breeggemann brushes Kate before moving her and her foal, Cooper, the first born at Anheuser-Busch’s new state-of-the-art Clydesdale breeding farm in Cooper County

The first Budweiser Clydesdale hitch was introduced in 1933 in St. Louis, a gift presented to August A. Busch Sr. by his sons, August A. Busch Jr. and Adolophus Busch III, to celebrate the end of Prohibition in the United States. The advertising and promotional potential of a Clydesdale hitch pulling a beer wagon was soon realized, and so began the legacy.

The company established a breeding herd to provide stock for its hitches, and the breeding took place at Grant’s Farm in St. Louis originally. In 1989, Anheuser-Busch established a second farm in California on property where the West Coast traveling hitch was based.

“The climate and conditions the Clydesdales were accustomed to in California are different from here in St. Louis,” says Poole. “There was no grass or anything. We wanted something closer in proximity to St. Louis so we could operate the two breeding farms as one.”

After searching nearly two years for suitable property, the company, now a subsidiary of Belgian conglomerate Anheuser-Busch InBev, bought the central Missouri property where the farm is now located.

More than 14 miles of fence surrounds the property and divides it into 10 paddocks, each with a shelter for the horses. The 22,000-square-foot stable — with its green roof, red siding and white trim — sits back from the highway on a ridge overlooking a large pond.

Though charming, the stable offers a number of technological innovations. Of its 34 stalls, six are designed specifically for foaling, with cameras positioned to allow farm manager John Soto to monitor each stall from his office or home — or to allow Jim Poole to check in from St. Louis headquarters. Additional cameras are placed both inside and outside to monitor the entire farm, which is served by Co-Mo Electric Cooperative.

Tawna Purcell, a veterinarian with Equine Medical Services of Columbia, conducts an ultrasound examination on one of the farm’s mares. Anheuser-Busch InBev keeps both vets and farriers on contract to help with Clydedales’ care.

The stable houses a complete lab for conducting ultrasounds and other tests; a breeding area; office space; and a unique venting system that allows the building to remain cool even on the hottest Missouri days. It also includes a small apartment.

“More than likely we will do commercials out here, and if we have an actor involved, we have a place to stay,” says Poole, who has worked with the Budweiser Clydesdales for 23 years.

Thanks to careful preparation, the move to Missouri was successful. Though delayed, there were no major complications during foaling season.

“I think it’s absolutely living up to expectation, maybe exceeding it a little bit,” says Poole of the new farm. “The way the horses arrived here with no problems and just being able to fit into the community. It’s always a pleasure coming out here.”

He adds it was amazing to watch the horses as they exited the trucks from California. “Most of them had never seen grass before,” he says. “They kind of looked at it, looked around at each other and said, ‘Thank you!’”

Grass wasn’t the only aspect of the farm that was new to some of the Clydesdales. “One of our studs who was born in California was in the barn one night when it snowed,” says Soto. “When we took him outside the next morning, boy, he’s just snorting at it. He didn’t know what that white stuff was.”

A Clydesdale foal grazes by his mother’s side at the Cooper County farm. Buy a print of this photo.

Soto and three others take care of the day-to-day activities at the farm, from feeding the horses and cleaning stalls to managing the breeding program and delivering new foals. A favorite task is naming the new additions to the herd.

“Normally, if you have a mare that starts with a ‘C,’ you start the foal with a ‘C,’” says Soto, explaining the process can get creative. “This year, we had two born on Cinco de Mayo, so we had to come up with Latin names. And we had Gnat. She’s a tiny little thing and she had a little slow start. We had to bottle feed her for eight days to get her rolling.”

Not all new foals will become Budweiser Clydesdale hitch horses, however. To be considered, a horse must be a gelding at least four years of age. He must stand 6 feet at the shoulder when mature, weigh between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds, be bay in color and have four white stocking feet, a blaze of white on the face and a black mane and tail.

The eligible horses remain at the breeding farm for two years, then begin two years of training before joining a hitch. Poole says that in the future, he hopes to do more training at the farm. “We just want to build this into one of the finest breeding operations and raise good Clydesdale horses,” he says.

For many in the Clydesdale community, Anheuser-Busch has already accomplished that goal.

Jim Breeggemann leads two mares back to pasture. Buy a print of this photo.

“We’ve always had an admiration and respect for the Budweiser Clydesdales because they have made the Clydesdale a national icon,” says Cathy Behn, corporate secretary of the Clydesdale Breeders of the USA, who admits still getting goosebumps when she sees a Budweiser team, even though she raises the same horses. “You can’t go there and not be excited about the direction their program is going.”

Soto admits initially being resistant to the move to central Missouri, but says he changed his mind the moment he stepped on the property.

“I really didn’t want to like this place because we built the other place from scratch,” he says. “But then you walk in here and start looking around, and you’re like, ‘This is amazing.’”

Even Poole finds himself taken away by the farm’s pastoral grandeur. “I’ve been out here early a couple of mornings when the sun’s coming up,” Jim says. “It’s just the most beautiful sight, to see these mares and foals up on the side of the hill. It’s unbelievable. It’s like being in heaven.”

Budweiser Clydesdale Facts
  • Every day, each horse in a Budweiser Clydesdale hitch will consume as much as 20 to 25 quarts of whole grains, minerals and vitamins; 50 to 60 pounds of hay; and 30 gallons of water.
  • Each Clydesdale harness and collar weighs roughly 130 pounds. The harness is handcrafted from brass and leather and is made to fit any horse. The collar is tailored to fit each horse.
  • Four traveling hitches travel nearly 100,000 miles across the country making appearances each year at various events. They are on the road at least 10 months of the year.
  • Clydesdale horseshoes measure more than 20 inches from end to end and weigh about 5 pounds, which is more than twice as long and five times as heavy as the shoe worn by an average riding horse. Clydesdale hitch horses are shod every six weeks.
  • In addition to St. Louis and Cooper County, Budweiser’s traveling hitches are stabled at Merrimack, N.H., and San Antonio, Texas.
  • Dalmatians have traveled with the Clydesdale hitch since the 1950s, perched atop the wagon and seated next to the driver.

 

 

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