Ten calm, imposing Budweiser Clydesdale horses, their human handlers and one 6-month-old playful dalmatian pup named Brewer are guests of Fort Stewart this week. The Clydesdales have been a crowd-pleasing part of the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day parade for several years.
The team is being hosted by the Bits and Bridle Equestrian Club, a private riding club with stables and corrals off Georgia Highway 144. The Clydesdales will appear in the annual parade, which kicks off at 10:15 a.m. Thursday in downtown Savannah.
“We love having them here,” club president Sandra Ott said. “They’re a friendly crew and easy to have as guests. The temperament of these giants … they’re very mellow.”
Clydesdale team handler Bert Westbrook said he’s worked with horses and has been employed by the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company for 30 years. Westbrook said it takes five hours to get the horses ready for an event.
“They’re bathed once a week and groomed every day,” fellow handler Roman Raber said.
Raber said handlers spend six months to a year training the Clydesdales and conditioning them to tolerate public events.
“They’re gentle, docile horses,” he said.
“Each horse averages 18 hands (6 feet) tall,” Westbrook said. “They weigh an average of 2,000 pounds and each horse should be able to pull more than twice its weight, about 5,000 pounds.”
Westbrook said the famous Anheuser-Busch wagon weighs 3.5 tons empty and carries a 10-ton payload when full.
“We have three touring hitches (teams),” he said. “We’re based out of Merrimack, N.H.” Eight of the team’s 10 horses pull the wagon and two are alternates. Hitches travel in three 50-foot semi trucks.
Raber said the wagon the hitch pulls is one of two original beer wagons made in the 1800s.
“It’s been refurbished quite a few times,” he said.
Raber also explained Budweiser has been keeping dalmatian dogs around its Clydesdale teams for nearly a century.
“The hitch dogs would keep other dogs away from the horses and would guard the beer on the wagons,” he said. “They started using dalmatians because they can be seen in the dark and not get (accidently) run over.”
Brewer, the team’s new dalmatian, greeted soldiers and children alike. The frisky puppy ran circles around one little girl, attempting to get her undivided attention. When that failed, the beer wagon dog dug holes outside a corral fence.
The public may visit the Clydesdales at the post stables from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. today and from 1-5 p.m. on Thursday.
One Jefferson, Texas, family visited the huge, handsome workhorses before saying goodbye to their deploying soldier on Tuesday.
“My grandson is deploying to Afghanistan today,” said James Cooper, a former Marne soldier and Korean War veteran. Cooper and his wife, Laurie Cooper, and their 5-year-old granddaughter, Makayla Cooper, petted Chip, a 12-year-old Clydesdale at the club stables.
The couple’s grandson, Pvt. First Class Kyle Mirochna, is assigned to the 530th Engineer Company, 92nd Engineer Battalion based at Fort Stewart. The engineer company’s 160 soldiers will perform route clearance missions while deployed to Afghanistan, according to a public affairs news release.
Soldiers from the Warrior Transition Battalion also visited the Clydesdales early this week. The Southern Eagle Distributing Company presented the WTB an appreciation plaque Tuesday with an authentic Clydesdale horseshoe mounted on it.