It’s an awesome love-at-first-sight moment; that first glimpse of those powerful hooves, the beefy flanks that support them prancing in rhythm with each other. Their gallop is steady and sure, and every movement seems to exude purpose and regality.
They are the mighty Clydesdale horses, and they have achieved rock star status in the equine world and beyond. That’s not simply because they are beautiful and magnificent to behold, or because they’ve appeared in more than 60 Rose Parades since 1954, but because their strength and history of service to man is legendary.
The Clydesdale horse began its storied history in Lanarkshire, Scotland in an area through which the Clyde River flows, known then as Clydesdale. Flemish stallions imported to the region were bred with local mares, resulting in a genetically superior horse. The farmers of Lanarkshire recognized at the time the horse’s might and versatility in helping them work the land and utilized the horses in agriculture, for hauling coal, and other heavy-hauling duties. In 1806, a filly later referred to as “Lampits Mare,” so named for the owner’s farm, was born and began a lineage of pedigreed Clydesdales that traced back to a group of black stallions originally imported from England. It is Lampits Mare that is listed in the ancestry of virtually every Clydesdale alive today. Once a successful breeding program was established in the late 19th century and early 20th century, the horses were soon exported to America, Northern England, New Zealand and Australia and became such a force in the latter country it was often referred to as “the breed that built Australia,” according to the Clydesdale Horse Society.
Considered invaluable to pre-industrial farmers, Clydesdales were known for their sturdy build, patience, docile temperament and ability to perform arduous hauling tasks on the farm. These traits have continued in its lineage, making them as strong as they are beautiful. The hardy draft horses are even-tempered and easily trainable, often being called “gentle giants.”
In addition to their easily recognizable gait and handsome profile, the Clydesdale is also well-known for the substantial “feather” it sports — the long hairs of the lower leg that cover the hooves and, according to the Anheuser Busch website, are “capable of pulling a 1-ton load at 5 MPH.”
In 1905, in an effort to escape the chilly climes of their St. Louis and New York homes, Adolphus Busch purchased a stately home in Pasadena near Arroyo Seco Canyon. The home, known as “Ivy Wall,” was designed by architect Frederick Roehrig and located on South Orange Grove Avenue. The Busch family’s dream to develop the arroyo behind their property into scenic walking gardens and trails for the public soon came to fruition, and by 1909 it had become an immensely popular tourist attraction to the area and included “Triangle Trolley Trips” from the gardens to Santa Monica and oil fields in Los Angeles. After Adolphus’ death in 1913, his widow Lilly, daughter of partner Eberhard Anheuser, continued the tradition of public access to the gardens until her death in 1928, when they were closed for some time.
In August 1933, August A. Busch Jr. and Adolphus Busch III gifted their father, German immigrant August Anheuser Busch Sr. with a six-horse Clydesdale hitch carrying the first case of post-Prohibition beer to celebrate the end of America’s dry period. Legend has it the elder Busch was so moved by the gesture he was brought to tears, hence the term “crying in your beer.”
Busch Sr. recognized the enormous marketing and public relations potential of these gorgeous beasts of burden, and it was then that he devised a plan to send them across the country as goodwill ambassadors for the Budweiser brand, and to mark the end of the country’s ban on alcohol from 1920 to 1933.
In the 1950s the spotted Dalmatian became the official mascot for the Clydesdale. Over a half-century later, these charming canine companions continue their partnership with the Clydesdales and you can find a Dalmatian seated next to the driver on each hitch. Currently, three teams of Clydesdales travel the United States. These teams, also known as “hitches” are the Western Hitch, based in Colorado, the Eastern Hitch, located in New Hampshire, with the remaining hitch stationed at the brand’s birthplace in St. Louis, Missouri. Ten horses travel on each team, with eight harnessed for performances and two used as alternates. Transporting each hitch requires three 50-foot semi-trucks, two for the horses, and the last one for the emblematic red, white and gold beer wagon, a modified Studebaker originally manufactured in the 1900s.
The Budweiser Clydesdales participated in the Rose Parade, pulling the City of St. Louis float, from 1954 until 2011, and reappeared again in 2014, this time pulling the emblematic Budweiser beer wagon. They now pull the Wells Fargo Stagecoach. Today, the mighty Clydesdale continues to delight, and much of Pasadena’s history along Orange Grove is owed to the Busch family and their legacy of public works. Indeed, a significant portion of what we now consider Old Pasadena is built on the remnants of the horse farms and acreage that surrounded their beloved “Ivy Wall.”
Jeannette Collier, committee services manager for the Tournament of Roses, says of them succinctly, “They are a crowd favorite. Their presence is majestic.”