‘Rolls Royce of horses’ pull into Rifle and Aspen
Jon, Mike, Ted, Dave and the guys are hanging out in the valley this weekend. Sure, they’re famous.They’ve been in commercials and have posters and photos of themselves on display everywhere they go. Women flock to them and people of all ages and genders gawk.They’re professional athletes of gargantuan proportions. But at the end of the day, they just like to take a hot bath and relax like the rest of us.Each one of these guys – the 10 horses on the epic Budweiser Clydesdale tour of the West – weighs an average of 2,000 pounds and stands about 6-feet from his shoulders, said their driver, Lloyd Ferguson.The horses will be at the Garfield County Fairgrounds in Rifle Saturday morning and in Aspen today and Sunday.
Ferguson and the horses spend about 11 months a year touring the western part of the United States, Canada and Mexico. Ferguson’s team is one of three that travel and one of six total. Clydesdales are huge and handsome draft horses brought to this country by Canadians of Scottish descent. The Busch family hitched them to their brewery wagons, finished with fancy chrome, to deliver beer.”Appearance was very important,” Ferguson said. “And Clydesdales, Mr. Busch thought, are like the Rolls Royce of horses.”There are eight Clydesdales on a hitch team. The biggest ones are usually hitched closest to the wagon because they are fitted with a special harness that allows them to push the wagon backwards.”They work as the breaks, too, when we’re heading up hill,” Ferguson said.The hitch teams are always accompanied by a Dalmatian dog. Gus travels with the West Coast team. “Dalmatians are basically a coachman’s dog,” Ferguson said. “I think it goes back as far as Egyptian times – they would have a Dalmatian run with the chariots. I think it was a security thing in the beginning here.”
Ferguson brought Major out of his stall at the Aspen Farm just south of Carbondale on Wednesday afternoon. Major bent down to nuzzle Ferguson with his nose.”Major is a massive horse,” Ferguson said. “He’s honestly 19 hands tall, 6-4. He weighs 2,200 pounds.”Major is “home bred” on one of Budweiser’s breeding farms in St. Louis, California or New Hampshire. Some of the horses come from other breeders in Canada and even Scotland. Not just any Clydesdale gets to be in the Budweiser hitch. It’s a rather exclusive fraternity.To qualify, the horses must be 3 years old, bay in color, have four white stockings and blaze of white on the face with a black mane and tail.Ferguson said he keeps the Clydesdales in shape by riding them when they’re not hitched up. It’s a challenge to mount the “gentle giants,” as they’re often called. But Ferguson has a tall stool he uses to climb up on the horse for riding, braiding the mane and grooming.
They all get warm baths once a week.”We have a propane water heater for hot water on demand,” Ferguson said. “No cold water for these guys. We find that they get cleaner with warm water. It opens up their pores.”Ferguson’s horses, being close to film studios in California, are frequently the stars of Budweiser – and sometimes Bud Light – commercials. Major was caught on tape getting soaking wet at the Rose Bowl this year. The West Coast team pulled the Budweiser float.Major and his hitch team buddies are part of a long-standing tradition. The Budweiser Clydesdales have been touring the country with their red beer wagon since 1933.Contact Amanda Holt Miller at 625-3245 ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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