Friday, October 16, 2009

This Clyde's for You

On the road with Team Budweiser
All photos by Mars Vilaubi — thanks, Mars!

The canvas tent roof rattled, the plastic flaps lifted in the bitter breeze, but under the big top the 10 horses stood solid and stolid. No wind on earth could blow these equines away or even ruffle a single ear. Several were asleep, eyes half closed, lips slack and rubbery, lying down or standing with one huge hoof tipped up; others snuffled in their mangers or gazed at the gawkers of all shapes and sizes.

Gentle giant

You’ve seen the Budweiser Clydesdales on billboards and in TV ads, but they are truly monumental in person. They are famous for their majesty and their mildness, and they’re camped here in our parking lot awaiting a performance in the Fall Foliage Parade (a long-time North Adams institution). The 10 horses and six handlers travel in four supersized tractor-trailers with gigantic photos of the team along the sides; when not performing they hang out in this billowing white tent receiving visitors.

The MASS MoCA staff temporarily closed the parking lot
to create a horse haven.

The Budweiser people have set out a welcome mat, literally, with Adirondack chairs and a faux-harvest landscape of cornstalks, hay bales, and chrysanthemums. I sat in one of those chairs for a while and witnessed a procession of North Adams visitors, curious to see these equine legends. Seniors came with walkers and canes, teenage girls drifted and hovered, little kids danced around, and one mother held her six-month-old baby as high as she could to meet the gaze of Ringo.

Young and old were enthralled by these statuesque yet placid animals.

Some had never seen a horse, certainly not of this size; others said they had raised Appaloosas or Arabians. One man in a baseball cap told me he remembered the animal-power era: He grew up on a North Adams dairy farm where a “workhorse” pulled the wagon carrying fresh milk to customers every morning at sunrise.

Once in their presence you want to stay and soak up the calm and strength of these gentle giants. I sketched their bodacious curves and decided there is really nothing more exquisite than the shape of a horse’s ear.

This, I believe, is Ben, or it might be Stewart or maybe Chip.

The camera couldn’t capture all ten horses in their box stalls, but here are their names, for posterity: Ringo (contemplating the mountains like a tourist); Dillon (comatose); Don (nose in manger); Barry (easily resting his head atop the seven-foot-high steel partition); Chip (munching hay); Stewart (lying down and causing great consternation that he might be dead); Ben; Jack; Buck; and Greg. One woman approvingly noted the name Stewart and said, “They should all have Scottish names.”

The curvaceous proportions of these steeds are due to great musculature developed over centuries of pulling ploughs near the River Clyde in Scotland. But these “heavy horses” were descended from chargers, the preferred mount of knights, with their massive weight of weaponry and armor. Ringo would've been fearsome in battle: His withers (where the neck meets the back) were a good foot above my head; his rump was three feet across. In all he seemed twice the stature of a normal horse.

The Budweiser Clydes are among the royalty of the breed, impeccably trained and devotedly tended. The company has four touring hitches that travel around the country giving shows — this batch lives in New Hampshire. The horses range in age from 5 to 14, with an average age of 8. On this frigid and blustery day, they each wore a red blanket with their logo, a bald eagle clambering through a big gold A.

In my opinion these horses are the best thing about Budweiser. And for this day they also were the best thing about lunch hour.

— Deb Burns, Acquiring Editor

No comments: