'Gentle giants' vacation at Woodside's Horse Park | November 7, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



Community - November 7, 2012

'Gentle giants' vacation at Woodside's Horse Park

by Nan Chapman

For the past two weeks, equestrians at The Horse Park in Woodside have had the pleasure of watching some of the best-known advertising icons in the world, the Budweiser Clydesdales, frolicking and basking in the sun in the paddocks at the facility, which is located at the corner of Sand Hill and Whiskey Hill roads.

The horses were brought here in anticipation of appearing at the San Francisco Giants World Series games, but an unfortunate glitch in the city's permitting process kept them from performing there or at the ensuing celebratory parade.

Nevertheless, the 10 horses, their six handlers, and Gus, the ever-present and mandatory Dalmation — attired in a coat that matched those of his equine buddies — had a wonderful temporary respite from their constant travels around their company's Western zone, which covers several states.

According to Roman Raber, assistant supervisor of the team, these gentle giants' weight averages 2,000 to 2,200 pounds, about double that of the average saddle horse, and four of them stand over 19 hands high (over 6 feet from their feet to the top of their shoulders). Each one eats a healthy serving of grain and 30 to 40 pounds of timothy hay every day.

He says the horses are extremely docile and compliant. The animals are so large that it takes a well-coordinated team 25 minutes to harness eight of them, and then hitch them up to the red and gold Budweiser wagons. Potential drivers are constantly in training to learn how to handle the almost lost art of driving with four reins (lines, in horse parlance) in each driver's hand, which run to the bit in each horse's mouth.

Needless to say, it was a memorable experience for all those who had the opportunity to mingle with these extremely gentle, yet majestic animals, as well as with their keepers. And the feeling was mutual. Mr. Raber said that he, as well as the rest of the handlers and the horses, is anxious for a return trip to the Horse Park in the future.

As the three huge vans pulled out of the Horse Park on the foggy morning before Halloween , a bevy of new fans gathered to wave goodbye and to wish both handlers and horses a safe journey on the way to their next stop and performance in Las Vegas.

Some Clydesdale history

In the middle ages, horses were valuable commodities that were used for hauling goods, and in agriculture and war. The horses of that period differed from modern breeds, in that they were types rather than distinct breeds. They were smaller in comparison to the large breeds of today. Anything over 14 hands was considered large.

In an attempt to develop a horse that was large enough to carry his enormous weight and necessary war armor, as well as the armor for the animal itself, King Henry VIII decreed that stallions under 15 hands and mares under 13 hands should not be bred. Many smaller animals were destroyed, so as not to displease the king.

Selective breeding became more common after Henry VIII started to increase the size of the war horse, and obviously the Clydesdale breed, which was founded in Scotland, was one of the results of this long, pains-taking process.

The Budweiser Clydesdales were first introduced to the public in 1933 to celebrate the repeal of prohibition, and thus was created one of the most well-known advertising symbols throughout the world.


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