Sunday, October 16, 2011

Clydesdales, Clydesdales, CLYDESDALES!

The gorgeous Budweiser Clydesdales were at Keeneland this week in preparation for their annual parade on the racetrack. This particular traveling team -- one of three that sends ten horses on the road in their high-tech semi-trucks ten months a year -- is from Merrimack, New Hampshire. The beauties made their appearance yesterday, on the undercard of the Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup S.-G1, following the second race.

We wandered over to Barn 1, the Clydesdales home when they visit Keeneland, a few minutes before noon and were treated to the unloading of the rig and the harnessing of the geldings. The process took about 35 minutes from the time the first horse, Gregg (or Mitch?), was out of his stall until the last one, the lead horse on the left, was hitched up, then additional time to get the reins in order and whatever other finishing touches.

By the time the eight-horse, two-driver, one-dog team stepped on to the Polytrack (which, as a synthetic surface, makes the rig much harder for the horses to pull), it was a good two hours after Gregg (or Mitch) had stood so patiently in the shedrow getting brushed. This, for just a few minutes parading in front of the grandstand and clubhouse! I missed the show, but I stayed long enough to watch the team clop, or rather, CLOP!, between the barns to a chorus of excited whinnies and dainty Thoroughbred heads poking out of every occupied stall. At two oclock, from the barn where I was with Nereid and Star Billing (who later ran third and sixth, respectively, in the Queen Elizabeth), I heard the crowd cheering for these beautiful, gentle giants over the beat of the Budweiser jingle, Here Comes the King, composed by Steve Karmen in 1971.

It gets me every time.

Three men manipulate the 8,000 pound rig out of the semi.

Moving the rig into place.

The right wheel horse, Gregg (or Mitch?), waiting to get the dust knocked off before he is harnessed.

Gregg (or Mitch).

Mitch (or, of course, Gregg), the left wheel horse.

The first horse -- we'll go with Gregg -- is in place. The pair closest to the rig are chosen for strength.

Mitch in his harness, ribbons billowing in the wind.

The equipment is cleaned and polished daily.

I don't know this one's name, but isn't he a cutie?

Mitch and Gregg spend more time harnessed than any other pair in the team.

One of the two drivers (he later changed into a green suit) holds a bridle and waits for another gelding to suit up.

The first step is to put on the collar.

Then the halter comes off and the bridle with blinders goes on.

Buckling up the surcingle.

The leather gear is hooked up under their bobbed and beribboned tails.

In just a few minutes, the 130-pound gear is on the gelding.

Imagine having to keep these feathers clean!

Four butts in a row.

The parking brake holding the 8,000 pound rig with its eight one-ton horses.

It's Brewer! He turns a year old next week.

After the full team was hitched up, this guy spent a long time configuring these reins -- eight individual reins, weighing approximately 40 pounds that is more like 75 pounds with the tension. He handed them to the driver very carefully.

Heading up through the kitchen to the gap leading to the track at Keeneland Race Course.

Brewer gets a ride behind the team. The final detail, he gets lifted up on the wagon at showtime.


  1. this is fantastic, thank you so much for the great pictures and descriptions!!

  2. Thank you for sharing such awesome photos and all the details. What gorgeous horses!

  3. That is so cool! What did the Thoroughbreds think of those showboating Clydesdales?

  4. Shame on you for mutilating the horses! SHAME!!!!!!!!!!!