Due to his busy travel schedule, I wasn’t able to sit down with Sparky for our interview in person, though I’m hoping for a meet up later in his tour this fall. Luckily, one of the team’s handlers, who’s much handier typing anyway, was able to help Sparky answer some questions for me, to give you an insider’s perspective on the celebrity lifestyle of a Budweiser Clydesdale. (I bet you thought they just showed up at parades once in a while, and spent the rest of the time filming their heartwarming, and often hilarious commercials, didn’t you?)
Sparky began with the basics. He’s six, and “got the call, up to the big leagues” two years ago. Making the hitch not only requires strength, but a uniform appearance of all the team members. Standing at 18 hands (an equine unit of measurement equal to 4″. That’s six feet tall y’all, just at the highest point of his shoulder, called the withers!), and a beautiful coppery bay coat, black mane and tail, thick white feathers (those long hairs on his legs), with a big blaze of white on his handsome face, meant he was a perfect fit. Sparky recalled, “I was then loaded into the most incredible horse limo. I could smell the stardom ahead as we headed down the highway from Warm Springs Ranch, to St. Louis, MO, wind in my mane, riding in my new 18-wheeler.”
I asked Sparky, to describe a typical “day in the life” for me, and to talk a little about some of his friends on the team. He began, “It’s not easy being a superstar. My day starts off bright and early with my wonderful caretakers coming to greet me. Sometimes I neigh at them, just to tell them “Hurry up, I’m hungry.” But those two legged animals can only go so fast. My handlers carefully measure out my breakfast, ensuring it’s exactly how I like it. They bring me a big red bucket full of an oat mixture, called Omolene, made by Purina feed, the top of the line horse feed. Just like our brewmasters at Anheuser-Busch, my handlers are among the most talented and highly trained in the industry, so I think I can trust them with the most important part of my morning, feeding time. Next they come around and give me a fresh cool bucket of water. My stall is cleaned to perfection and bedded thick with shavings. After filling my belly with high quality Timothy Hay, it’s time to enjoy my morning nap.
Once I am done with my beauty sleep, I go out and stretch my legs. My handlers put my bright red halter on me and lead me out of my stall. Some days they take me for a brisk walk, while other days I get to play with my friends. I travel with nine other Clydesdales; they are like family to me. I would say my closest friend is Levi; he has been here since before I started. Levi is in his mid-teens. He is a well-traveled majestic horse, who has many stories to tell. Then there is Fire and Charlie (those are the biggest horses on my team.) Those two are always together pulling the wagon or playing out in the field. I work with a lot of “newbies”, Princeton, Rascal and Jack, to name a few. And then there is Rock, he is very rambunctious. He is a lead horse and I helped train him when he first came “on the road” with my hitch. Rock always wants to go; he is a very proud Clydesdale, a true definition of team spirit.
I probably should also talk about the one four legged animal I know everyone loves: our Budweiser Dalmatian named Clyde. Clyde is a year old and is quite full of himself, but when it’s time for him to “go to work” (sit on the wagon) he is a true professional. Although he doesn’t quite work as hard as the horses, Clyde does an amazing job interacting with each and every person he can throughout the day. The original purpose of the Dalmatian was to guard the wagon, horses and beer when the driver was making deliveries.
Now that I have had a chance to run around and limber up for the day, it’s time for some pampering. My handlers will choose the eight horses that will be hitched for the day and start grooming them. First, my feathers (the long hair on my lower legs) are washed with a mixture of special shampoos and conditioners, followed by a massage with some curry combs, to scratch all those places I can’t reach, then I am brushed and combed smooth. As I am getting pampered, there are several more of my handlers polishing away at my attire that I will wear later.
I am then braided up with a red and white cloth ribbon with roses placed in my mane. We all get loaded into the meticulously cleaned tractor trailers and off to the show we go – three tractor trailers, eight horses, and of course our Dalmatian, Clyde. Once we arrive, our handlers pull us out one by one, doing a final groom and detail check on every horse. Then comes our time to shine. My solid brass and patent leather collar and harness are carefully carried out from the equipment semi and placed on me. They ensure everything is adjusted to fit me. I am usually the last horse to be hitched to the wagon, this means I am in the lead. We work as teams when we are in harness, starting from the back by the wagon and working our way to the front. Our drivers, now dressed in their traditional drivers green attire, climb up on the wagon, give a loud “kiss” noise, and off we go!”
We then discussed what a Budweiser Clydesdale, and their hitch team, brings to their audience… “Every appearance we make is very unique. We are ambassadors of Budweiser, helping introduce tradition, heritage and quality to a new generation of beer drinkers. It’s an honor to be able to do what my great, great ancestors did over 80 years ago. In 1933, August Busch Jr., gave his father, August Busch Sr., a team of six Clydesdale horses to celebrate the repeal of prohibition. The team was used to deliver one of the first cases of post-Prohibition beer, ice cold Budweiser, to the White House!
And here I am today. We’ve upgraded to an eight horse hitch since then, but still delivering smiling faces to people everywhere! The quality and care that is given to me and all of my four legged friends is a reflection of the same quality that our brewmasters put into each and every Budweiser that is made.
We are true rockstars and live an exceptional life. We couldn’t do it all without our trained handlers. There are always six handlers traveling with us; they do it all. They are professional truck drivers, groomers, horse trainers and oversee the daily health and care for my team.”
That, is one classy guy. He may be a younger member of the team, but he clearly was well-raised and handled by real pros. Speaking of, I owe a debt of gratitude to someone else who’s a celebrity in her own right…
Many thanks to Kat Metzger (and the rest of the PR team, who helped arrange this interview)! Kat has been an important member of the traveling team for about three years. She grew up in the horse industry, showing in 4-H with her Foundation Quarter Horses, before moving on to competitive vaulting (gymnastics and dance on moving horseback). She added, “that’s where my love of draft horses developed.” I would think so! If I were going to be standing on the back of a horse, dancing or performing gymnastic moves, I’d want the safety and stability of that broad back too! She later attended Michigan State University, graduating with a degree in Equine Management.
Kat spent seven years working in Colorado, for various trainers and stables, before deciding it was time for a change. Taking a shot in the dark, she mailed her resume to the Budweiser Clydesdale Operations. Much to her surprise, she got a phone call shortly after from the General Manager of the Clydesdales, followed by an interview, and eventually a job offer that, as she said, “changed her life!”
Sparky asked that I also pass along this message to my readers, “if you want to come meet me and any of my over 200 Budweiser Clydesdale friends, here’s some great links to help you find where we will be next:”