We see them during the Super Bowl in Budweiser commercials. They tour the country, making special appearances as a six-horse hitch in full harness. Even if you’re not a horse person, the Budweiser Clydesdales have something magical about them.
Michelle Speck of Hillsboro, Mo., is a supervisor at historic Grant’s Farm in St. Louis, Mo. Owned by the Busch family, Grant’s Farm is 281 acres of rides, shows, food, animals and even meet-and-greets with the Budweiser Clydesdales.
A lifetime horsewoman, Speck rides her own Quarter Horses in all-around events in her time off. Horse Illustrated chatted with her for a behind-the-scenes look at her job working with the world’s most famous horses.
Horse Illustrated: How did you get started working at Grant’s Farm?
Michelle Speck: I started part-time as a Clydesdale handler in the merchandise department between my junior and senior year of college, where I studied animal science. I would work with the Clydesdales, but I also coordinated photos with guests and worked in the gift shop. I did that for about five years, and in 2010 I came on full-time as a handler. Just recently I became a supervisor, but I still work with the horses.
What was your first impression of the Clydesdales?
They are powerful and majestic. I was amazed at how quiet they are.
What do you do with the Clydesdales?
They come to Grant’s Farm when they’re 6 months old until the end of their 3-year-old year. With the young ones, we teach them how to stand for the farrier, we give them baths, work on loading and unloading, catching them in the pasture—we really work on basic ground manners.
When they’re 3 years old, we start teaching them how to wear a bit and rig so they can get used to the harness. At the end of their 3-year-old year, we send them back to our other location in Boonville, Mo., to start the hitch training.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
I love working with the babies, and then being able to see them when they’re out on the road, at parades and on the big screen in commercials. It’s really cool to be able to recognize them in the commercials.
Why do you think Clydesdales are so magnetic to so many people?
They’re just iconic. They’re so pristine and majestic coming down the road. You can hear the hoof beats on the pavement and you can feel it in your heart. Everybody is in awe when they see them—no matter if you’re a kid or an adult.
What’s the most common question people ask about the Clydesdales?
They ask how much the horses weigh—and the answer is 2,000 pounds.
How can guests see the Clydesdales at Grant’s Farm?
They can see them out in the pasture and around the barn, and we have Clydesdale Experience tours where guests can get up close and personal with the horses.
What’s it like to work with them?
They’re a little different from other breeds. They’re actually a lot easier to work with. Even though they’re bigger, they’re gentle giants, and they’re a lot quieter. They’re fun to be around. Each one has their own personality, like other horses do. They’re just a little bigger.
Budweiser Clydesdale Facts:
- Each horse can pull twice its body weight—4,000 pounds per horse.
- Anheuser-Busch has around 125 Clydesdales at any given time.
- The horses’ most distinctive feature is the hair around their legs and feet, called feathers.
- A Clydesdale’s hoof is about the size of a dinner plate.
- In 1933. August Busch Jr. and Adolphus Busch gifted two six-horse hitches of champion Clydesdales to their father in celebration of the repeal of Prohibition, and Anheuser-Busch has been connected with the breed ever since.
- All of their harnesses are custom-made for Anheuser-Busch.
- They travel in three custom semi-trucks around the country.
- There are three traveling hitches and the Clydesdales live at two base locations in Missouri.