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Thursday, October 4th, 2007

Not your ordinary festival visitors

By Margie Wuebker

Youngsters take advantage of the opportunity to reach out and touch Chip, part o. . .

MINSTER - Chip, a statuesque fellow with big brown eyes and a soft muzzle, is getting plenty of attention under the red-striped tent at the Melcher Street Park.
His companions - Greg, Rudy, Buck, Jack, Don, Dillon, Mike, Ringo and Sly - watch from the confines of their stalls carpeted with wood shavings knowing it is only a matter of time until they prance into the spotlight.
That's what happens when the famed Budweiser Clydesdales come to town in a fleet of three decorated 18-wheelers. The entourage also includes a staff of seven people, the brass trimmed beer wagon and a black and white spotted Dalmation.
This marks the fifth time the Clydesdales have come to town for the Minster Oktoberfest, an annual festival established in 1975 to salute the community's proud German heritage. The visit, secured with the help of C & G Distributing Co. Inc. of Versailles, coincides with the village's 175th birthday.
"I live right across the street and my mommy told me I can come and see the horses whenever I want," 9-year-old Kaeleah Fischer proclaims to companions Megan Gabel and Nora Schwartz. "I wish I had been here when they arrived but it was a school day."
There have been numerous opportunities to meet the Clydesdales since their arrival Tuesday afternoon. School children, nursing home residents and others have streamed to the park located at the corner of Lincoln and Sixth streets to marvel at the animals fresh from an appearance in Bordentown, N.J.
The hitch will be here in Celina from 3 to 4 p.m. today at Chief supermarket before traveling down Main Street toward the lighthouse and making several stops along the way before returning to the supermarket's parking lot for a scheduled 6 p.m. departure.
Public viewing will continue Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Minster site, with the hitch appearing in Sunday's 2 p.m. parade. There will be no viewing Monday as horses and staff prepare for a Tuesday morning trip to Cleveland.
Anheuser-Busch has used Clydesdales since April 7, 1933 -the date Prohibition was reappealed. August Busch Jr. had the first case of post-Prohibition beer delivered by wagon. He later gave the horses to his father as a gift commemorating the occasion. It didn't take the Busch family long to realize the marketing potential of the statuesque horses.
A dalmation was added to each team on March 30, 1950 to commemorate the opening of the company's Newark, N.J., brewery.
"The phrase 'Gentle Giants' certainly applies to these guys," says Barb Jesse, a handler with the team based in Merrimack, N.H. "No other words accurately describe their disposition or their size."
She admits with a chuckle that some of the horses crave more attention making a simple task like cleaning the stall more difficult.
"They put their heads between us and the work at hand," the 81/2-year veteran adds. "Or they follow you around and keep nudging until you stop and pet them. They like a lot of attention."
Standing 18 hands (6 feet) tall at the shoulder and weighing 2,000 to 2,300 pounds, the Clydesdales must have gentle temperaments as the company's five hitches meet millions of people over the course of a year.
Jesse, a former farm girl from Illinois, calls the 10 geldings here in Minster and their five counterparts back home great travelers. Two of the 50-foot red and black rigs carry the animals while the third transports the hitch wagon and equipment. Each trailer is equipped with cameras and monitors so drivers can observe them during transport. Air suspension and thick rubber flooring ease the rigors of the road. It is not unusual for a team to travel more than 100,000 miles during the course of an 11-month schedule, with horses rotated in and out of the hitch for rest and relaxation.
"We use eight Clydesdales in a hitch but travel with 10 in case something happens," she adds. "Horses are not unlike people who occasionally need an extra day off from work. They're also predictable. When we get out the buckets and grain barrels, they immediately head for feeders at the back of their stalls. All you see is a line of hind ends."

Clydesdale facts
Here are some additional details about the Budweiser Clydesdales:
• The hitch will consume at least 20 to 25 quarts of specially blended feed containing crimped oats, bran, minerals, salt and molasses, 40 to 50 pounds of timothy or grass hay and 30 gallons of water during the course of a day.
• The Minster Future Farmers of America will haul away approximately 15 cubic yards of manure each day. That is enough to fill a medium-sized spreader with the contents headed to harvested fields outside town.
• Physical ability determines where each of the eight horses are placed in the hitch. Wheelhorses (the pair closest to the wagon) must be large and strong enough to start, stop or slow the vehicle while the leaders or the pair in front must be the fastest and most agile.
• Geldings from the company breeding farms must be at least 3 years of age to qualify for training, stand approximately 6-feet tall at the shoulder, weigh at least 2,000 pounds and be bay in color with four white stocking feet, a blaze of white on the face and a black mane and tail.
• Initial training takes place at the breeding facilities with extended training done at various hitch locations in Merrimack, N.H., Menifee and San Diego, Calif., San Antonio, Texas, and St. Louis. Younger horses are typically paired with older horses working first on two-horse wagons before advancing.
• Clydesdales join the hitch at the age of 5 and work for approximately 10 years. At the age of 15 years the horse goes to an amusement park for display purposes or to pasture at the company's Warm Springs ranch in California.
• It takes five hours to wash and groom the horses, polish the harnesses, braid red ribbon in their manes and insert red and white bows in the tails. Add another 45 minutes for hooking up the 130-pound, custom-made harnesses. Trimmed tails prevent hair from getting tangled in the harness.
• Horse names begin with the first letter of the mare's name. They are short making it easier for the driver to give commands during performances.
• Horseshoes measure more than 20 inches from end to end and weigh about five pounds. They are replaced twice a year.
• Some horses lay down to sleep while others remain standing. Ligaments in their knees keep the legs from collapsing.
- Margie Wuebker
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