Clydesdales in area for race week set to gallop their stuff

Tony Casey • Aug 17, 2013 at 10:21 PM

BRISTOL — The Budweiser Clydesdales are once again hitching up their red wagon during race week at the Bristol Motor Speedway.

With four events scheduled from Aug. 21-24, fans of the historic team of horses will be able to see them in all their glory.

Mike Hubbard, director of sales and marketing for Holston Distributing, is the man behind the logistics of getting everything ready for the horses.

“Everyone shows up and enjoys it, but a lot of work goes into this,” Hubbard said. “I’ll be the person to bring them to all their sites and appearances. They travel on three tractor-trailers, and with traffic, it’s sometimes difficult to get them from point A to point B. We need a lot of help from the police to sometimes get them across county lines.”

Hubbard says he gets to get up close and personal with the horses during their elaborate pampering and grooming process, saying they don’t eat just any old bale of hay.

“They have special hay (that) is brought in with them,” Hubbard said.

The Clydesdale hitch is made up of 10 horses, but being selected for the team that makes hundreds of yearly appearances is no easy task. Each must pass requirements of being a gelding at least four years old, stand six feet at their shoulder when fully mature, have a weight between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds, have four white legs, a bay coat, a white blaze and a black mane and tail.

Budweiser boasts the specifics of the Clydesdales’ preparation when at an event. Each horse will consume up to 60 pounds of its special hay and 30 gallons of water per day, as well as 25 quarts of whole grains, minerals and vitamins.

The horses will be accompanied on the road by expert groomers for at least 10 months out of the year, often with around-the-clock handlers to care for their comfort and safety.

With 2013 being the Clydesdales’ 80th anniversary with the Anheuser-Busch company, the team is heralded by Budweiser as being a symbol of “our weary nation’s return to optimism.”

These horses are built for comfort, not for speed. They have the ability to tow a one-ton load at a speed of 5 mph, nearly 140 mph slower than Jason Blonde’s overall track record for speed at the Bristol Motor Speedway (144.871 mph on March 21, 2011) but are considered by some to carry themselves with more grace.

“These horses are well-mannered and well-bred,” Banner Elk Stables’ Dick Parkinson said. “They’re some of the best acts out there. Any time they’re part of an event, a state fair or at Bristol Motor Speedway, you know they’ll be the classiest.”

Parkinson says he had the good fortune of working with the Budweiser Clydesdales while shooting video for his company at the Kentucky Horse Pavilion. He said while they don’t do the same kinds of eye-catching stunts that smaller quarter horses do, they have a knack for show biz, which always makes them a fixture in the public eye.

“I know we all look for them in the Super Bowl ads, because you never know what they’re going to come up with,” Dickinson said. “And they’re always the best commercial.”

Seeing the Clydesdales on TV and seeing them in person is a whole different thing, Hubbard says, noting the sheer size of the animals. He hopes the allure of the massive horses will draw crowds out to see them.

“I know what it looked like for me the first time I saw them,” Hubbard said. “I just couldn’t imagine what it looks like for a child.”

Hubbard said there is one ultimate souvenir to get from one of the Clydesdales’ events. “Getting a horseshoe as a gift is a thing of honor, and when I got my father one, it was really a privilege,” he said.

The team of horses was in Bristol just a few weeks ago to celebrate a Bristol distributing company’s anniversary.

Their first appearance during race week will be at Bristol, Tenn.’s Walmart at 220 Century Boulevard from 4-6 p.m. Wednesday, where they’ll be in full hitch. On Thursday, they can again be seen with consumers in full hitch at Food City Race Night on State Street in Bristol from 6-8 p.m. A one-horse show will be at the Roadrunner Market on the Bristol Highway in Johnson City on Friday from 1-3 p.m. The Clydesdales’ final Bristol appearance during race week will be at the Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

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