How Clydesdale Breed Horses Became an Iconic Symbol for Budweiser

How Clydesdale Breed Horses Became an Iconic Symbol for Budweiser
Horses that represent the Budweiser brand are raised at the Warm Springs Ranch in Boonville, Mo. (Courtesy of Warm Springs Ranch)

One of America’s most well-known corporations markets a rather unique philosophy when it comes to the ABCs of branding. Starting with the “A” of Anheuser-Busch, adding in “B” for beer wagon, and “C” for several Clydesdales, the makers of Budweiser have been brewing beer and breeding horses quite successfully for almost a century now.

Perhaps one of the most powerful icons in all of marketing history, a team of draft horses, a wagon, and several cases of beer represent not only St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch, but in many ways, all of America. From their appearances at nationwide televised events to their tours of small-town America coast-to-coast, the eight-hitch team representing Budweiser is almost a brand all its own. Like baseball, hotdogs, and apple pie, the Clydesdales and their cargo have become an American symbol, and their presence spurs on the American dream.

Supervisor and Ranch Manager Amy Trout has been handling the gentle giants for 20 years. (Courtesy of Warm Springs Ranch)
Supervisor and Ranch Manager Amy Trout has been handling the gentle giants for 20 years. (Courtesy of Warm Springs Ranch)

For Amy Trout, the eight-hitch team of Clydesdale breed horses represents a dream of her own. As Supervisor and Ranch Manager for Anheuser-Busch’s Warm Springs Ranch, Amy is in the 20th year of her dream job.

On the Ranch

Located on 350 rolling acres in Boonville, Missouri, Warm Springs is the breeding facility and foaling center where all Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales begin their journey. For many of the horses, it is also the place they return to at 4 years old for 12 months of hitch training, where they learn harness skills and begin teaming up with other Clydes in front of a wagon.

Trout is in charge of overseeing both operations, and although she is new to the Warm Springs facility, she is no stranger to the Clydesdales or their journey from newborn foal to famed hitch-team member. A veteran employee of Anheuser-Busch and one who grew up around Belgians and Shires, Trout knows draft horses. When she took the job as a handler 20 years ago, she hit the ground running—literally.

“They [Anheuser-Busch] flew me straight to Chicago to join a traveling team, and I was immediately on the road for four months.” she recalled. “There was no orientation, just straight on-the-job training.”

Then, without hesitation, she said, “I knew instantly it was where I wanted to be.”

Trout went on to travel across the country for eight years with two different Clydesdale teams—a rigorous job that consists of hauling 10 1,800-pound horses, the wagon, gear, and of course the beer, packed into three semi-trucks. Handlers like Trout travel approximately 300 days out of the year and wear many hats, including driving the big rigs. Managing a tour schedule on top of caring for, preparing, and showcasing an eight-hitch team of Clydesdales is a job as giant as the animals themselves.

“It works well because it runs like a well-oiled machine,” she described. “Every piece of equipment has its place—even down to the blankets [for the horses] that are folded a certain way before putting them away.”

The Clydesdales of course are considered and treated like royalty—not just by traveling staff, but by fans as well.

“I’ve never traveled with a rock star,” Trout stated, “but, pulling into a town with three semis of Clydesdales creates a similar response. It’s like you’re instantly famous.”

The gentle giants, with their signature feathered fetlocks, are recognized and admired not only across America but also beyond, as several of the Budweiser icons have traveled abroad, having visited China, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.

Their celebrity status should be no surprise, however. After all, their very first gig was an appearance in front of the White House, presenting a treasured case of Budweiser beer to President Franklin D. Roosevelt back in 1933 to commemorate the end of Prohibition. They were an instant success. It was soon thereafter that the six-horse hitch grew into an eight-horse one. Other teams were later added to accommodate the demand. Although brewing draft beer while simultaneously breeding draft horses is a rather strange unification of business strategies, it has grown them both.

Trout summed it up well, stating, “The Clydesdales exist because of Anheuser-Busch, and Anheuser-Busch exists because of the Clydesdales.”

The partnership between the two is why the famed beer company places so much emphasis and money in its Clydesdale program, and why the magnificent equines are front and center in everything from labels to commercials. It’s an ingenious marketing strategy that has branded one right alongside the other.

(Courtesy of Warm Springs Ranch)
(Courtesy of Warm Springs Ranch)


Warm Springs is an example of the renowned beer company’s commitment to the animals and their brand. A top-notch breeding facility, it produces as many as 30 foals a year, employing not only qualified horse handlers but experts in breeding as well. Trout’s years on the road, as well as her promotions within the Clydesdale-based organization, have perfectly prepared her for taking charge of breeding and foaling at the ranch.

Newborns are a huge celebration at Warm Springs. Since Clydesdales have an 11-month gestation period, all strategies toward pairing up the ideal sire and dam are anxiously anticipated. Cameras are present in each of the large, 20-by-60-foot birthing stalls, and as the mares come within weeks of giving birth, a small microchip is stitched across the birthing canal so that when a newborn foot breaks through, Trout’s phone is alerted. “I can be here immediately,” she stated.

Newborn foals generally weigh between 120 and 170 pounds and stand approximately 3 feet tall. Their mothers produce as much as 40 to 50 pounds of milk per day, and as they nurse, foals gain approximately 5 pounds daily. Markings and size are the first indicators of whether or not the newborns hold potential of someday becoming part of the iconic eight-hitch team. All Clydesdales that join a team must have four white socks, a white blaze down the face, and a black mane and tail. They are required to stand at least 18 hands high at the withers (the highest part of the back of the horse), and all are neutered.

Born late last fall, the ranch’s newest gangly colt, Justice, matches the bill so far. “He has a bright little future ahead of him,” commented Trout.

With all the markings and presumably the size, Justice will travel to the Grant’s Farm training facility upon being weaned. Located in St. Louis, and the original family property of the Busch family, Grant’s Farm is where young Clyde colts learn to be handled, haltered, tied, trailered, and groomed. A bit like boarding school, it is there that they are introduced to manners and are taught all the social graces necessary while also growing into a nearly 2,000-pound giant that might someday pull a beer wagon.

All that growing requires nutrition—no small investment for large-sized breeds like Clydes. Consuming a daily per-horse average of 50 pounds of hay, 6 pounds of grain, and 30 gallons of water, keeping just one single Clydesdale fed is a monumental task. Hay costs for one horse alone are over $2,000 per year—and that doesn’t even include grain or vet bills, or the expenses associated with trimming their hooves to fit into giant shoes weighing 5 pounds each.

After four years of eating and growing, Grant’s Farm trainees return home to Warm Springs, where they begin Clydesdale boot camp, so to speak. Learning the ins and outs of working under harness, teaming up with other equines in tandem at first and eventually a full team, it is here that the full-grown potentials go from beautiful draft horse to famed Budweiser Clydesdale.

It’s worth noting, too, that boot camp for the Clydes is also hard-core training grounds for drivers. Without much demand nationwide for skilled, eight-hitch team drivers, Anheuser-Busch invests time and energy into training its own. Managing 16,000 pounds of horseflesh and approximately 75 pounds’ worth of pull and weight through the reins, driving one of the refurbished Studebaker wagons with a full hitch is not a task to be underestimated. Potential Clydesdales-in-training, therefore, are helping to train the young drivers while simultaneously working to make the cut themselves.

Horses that don’t make the cut, however, still hold plenty of value behind the scenes. “Stan the Man,” a Clyde born the year that Cardinal baseball Hall-of-Famer Stan Musial passed away, is one of those golden boys. “Stan would rather ride on the wagon rather than pull the wagon,” Trout stated. “And it would require way too much energy in his opinion to run.”

The ranch produces up to 30 foals a year, some of which go on to become iconic Clydesdales that pull Budweiser's beer wagons. (Courtesy of Warm Springs Ranch)
The ranch produces up to 30 foals a year, some of which go on to become iconic Clydesdales that pull Budweiser's beer wagons. (Courtesy of Warm Springs Ranch)

Laid-back horses like Stan are the “go to” for training other horses, for calming young, nervous horses, and the chosen favorite for a crowd of people who want to pet or interact with the massive equines. Stan also enjoys photo-ops with the Musial family, who still visits him at Warm Springs and occasionally includes him in family portraits.

Several other Clydesdales named after celebrities reside in the Anheuser-Busch herd, like Kid Rock, J. Lo, and Jay-Z, as well as baseball Cardinal favorites like LaRussa, Yadi, and McGee. Horses like these all carry a legacy in their name and add a bit of fun for connecting the four-legged celebrities to Hollywood or ESPN stars. They also add an element of prestige for those whose names they bear. After all, you know you have “arrived” if a Clydesdale is named after you.

Trout has yet to have a Clydesdale named after her, but she says that other special Anheuser-Busch employees and executives have. When asked about her future plans working with the beloved giants, she affirmed how much every new role within her career thus far has only made things more impressive.

“Every year gets better and better, but 2033 will be the 100-year anniversary for the Clydesdales, and I definitely need to be here for that,” she stated. “It will no doubt be one heck of a party!”

This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.

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