Many of us have only seen the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales on our TV screens while watching Super Bowl advertisements.
But 26-year-old Shelby Zarobinski has been around Clydesdales her whole life. Her parents bred the horses at their farm in Northern Indiana, and as a teenager Zarobinski showed them with local 4H groups. Now a personal trainer for the traveling hitch of Budweiser Clydesdales based out of Fort Collins, Colorado — one of the four main bases for the Budweiser horses — Zarobinski says, “This is my dream job.”
It’s not, however, a job for everyone. The Budweiser Clydesdales and their trainers travel 300 days a year, every year. They enter a new town each week to appear in parades, fairs, and other shows, and will travel to the Flathead on June 27 through July 4, making appearances across the valley.
Trainers like Zarobinski, all of whom are required to have a Class A commercial driver’s license, drive the three gigantic semis that transport the horses, their food and water, the red Budweiser beer wagon, and a couple of Dalmatians across the country. The dogs are a nod to the Budweiser Clydesdales’ historic roots. In the early days of brewing, Dalmatians accompanied the hitch to protect the horses and guard the wagon when the driver went inside to make deliveries.
On the road, trainers stop frequently to feed and water the horses and clean out their stalls. A single Clydesdale can consume as much as 20-25 quarts of feed, 40-50 pounds of hay and 30 gallons of water per day. Each Budweiser horse stands between 18 and 19 hands (approximately six feet) at the shoulder, weighs around 2,000 pounds, is a solid bay color with a dark mane and tail and a blaze of white on the face, and has four white feathery legs.
To look at these huge horses, affectionately dubbed “gentle giants,” you’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart. But for Zarobinski, who works with the horses six days a week, “It’s like a mom telling twins apart.” She can easily identify each of the 10 horses she trains because of their distinct personalities, although they’re almost physically identical, and rattles off their names without skipping a beat: Pride, Payday, Kelso, Flint, Prince, Lester, Scott, Al, Andy, Frank, and Archie.
In many ways, Zarobinski says, the Budweiser Clydesdales’ shows are a way of maintaining and celebrating tradition. In the past, Clydesdales, a breed of draft horse, were used for heavy, high-intensity farm labor because of their large size and patient nature. Although they still perform similar types of work on small Amish and Mennonite farms today, machines with internal combustion engines largely took over draft horses’ work in the 20th century.
In 1933, as Prohibition came to an end, the Budweiser Brewery in St. Louis had the idea to use Clydesdales to pull their beer carts as they made deliveries around the country. Soon, the Clydesdales and the red, white and gold Budweiser carts became a national attraction, and people showed up in droves to see the strong, majestic horses in local parades and shows.
“The Budweiser Clydesdales connect generations,” Zarobinski says.
She particularly loves seeing grandparents take their grandchildren to meet the Clydesdales.
“It’s magical,” she says. “The grandparents are seeing the Clydesdales for the first time in 40 years and the grandchildren are seeing the Clydesdales for the first time in their lives. It’s amazing to be a part of that.”
When the Clydesdales make appearances in shows and parades, Zarobinski adds, it’s a way for people to experience the type of work they did historically: lifting and pulling heavy hitches, and awing people with their grandeur, gentleness and beauty.
“If we didn’t travel around with the horses,” Zarobinski points out, “they would barely be seen by anyone nowadays.”
The Budweiser Clydesdales arrive in the Flathead Valley on June 27 and will make appearances through July 4, including Thursday!Fest in downtown Kalispell on June 29, Majestic Valley Arena on July 1 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and Bigfork’s Fourth of July parade, which starts at 12 p.m. in downtown Bigfork. For more information, visit www.flatheadbeverage.com/budweiser-clydesdales or call Jeff Carter at (406) 755-4203.