Their hooves are the size of dinner plates. Most people feel tiny standing next to them. Their bay coats glisten in the sun – well, they do when they haven’t been romping through the dust.
The Budweiser Clydesdales rolled into town Monday in their specially designed semitrucks for a series of appearances this week. Tuesday morning the horses were let out in an arena at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center, dirtying their coats.
“They ran and got all of it out of their system,” supervisor Doug Bousselot said.
The horses will get a warm bath before they appear in public again.
Bousselot’s group is one of three that travel the country 320 days a year with a team of 10 horses, though horses come and go throughout the year so they all get plenty of down time. They have traveling down to a science, calculating where they have to stop each night and having feed and other supplies shipped in ahead of time.
“We’ve been doing this for 81 years,” Bousselot said.
The western team based in Fort Collins, Colorado, is accompanied by a Dalmatian named Chip. During down time he curls up for a nap or trots faithfully behind the handlers and the horses as they move around.
On Tuesday, Chip also greeted guests, including Maxine and Vern Kays, with a wagging tail. The couple came to the fairgrounds to visit the horses after seeing a flier. Vern confessed that he was more of a Bud Light man, but he was happy to see the iconic horses just the same. “We have seen them in full hitch before,” he said.
Some of the horses in Spokane this week have been featured in the popular Budweiser television commercials. Each ad usually features many horses, each trained for several weeks to do a specific task, Bousselot said. There were seven in the recent “Puppy love” commercial.
“One horse was taught to put his head down and nuzzle the pup,” he said. “Another was taught to jump the fence.”
Training treats for correctly performing an assigned task include peppermint or butterscotch candies. Others have developed a taste for Doritos. Bousselot said his crew quickly learned not to leave their lunches unattended around the horses.
The animals are gentle giants that are used to being handled by their trainers and petted by the public. It’s particularly evident when they visit children’s hospitals or special needs children, Bousselot said. They’ll often lower their heads to be patted.
“They just have a sense to them,” he said. “They’re so gentle around the kids.”