The Budweiser Clydesdales and their famous red beer wagon will help celebrate the 100th anniversary of Langley Field this weekend.
The horses are scheduled to parade at the Air Power Over Hampton Roads air show from 9:45 to 10:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Afterward, they can be viewed in the stables at the airfield from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Early visitors to the air show can also watch the team get hitched to the wagon when the gates open at 9 a.m.
The visiting Clydesdales are based out of Merrimack, New Hampshire, one of Budweiser’s three traveling teams. Each team consists of 10 horses, with eight horses used to pull the cart.
This group of Clydesdales has been staying at Carlton Farms in Williamsburg in the days leading up to the show. In anticipation of the event, the horses have been spending their time getting bathed and running around the pastures.
Preparation for the show can be more intense for the handlers: It takes around four hours to polish the harness and braiding the horses takes five people about 30 minutes to complete.
Still, for Assistant Supervisor of the East Coast Hitch Chris Wiegert, the payoff is worth the work.
“People see them on TV but they don’t realize how big they really are and how powerful they are,” Wiegert said. “It’s really exciting and an honor to get to bring them to the local community and show them off.”
The horses are known as “gentle giants” due to their massive size and patient temperament. Budweiser Clydesdales Ambassador Nick Green explained the history of the powerful animals.
The breed was first established in Scotland in the 19th century. Their connection with Budweiser dates back to April 7, 1933. To commemorate the repeal of Prohibition, August Busch Jr. presented a hitch of Clydesdales to his father.
“From that day on, the Clydesdales became ambassadors for the brand, for Budweiser,” Green said. “We continue that stewardship, traveling the country and bringing out the horses for people to see.”
Since the 1950s, Dalmatians have accompanied the Clydesdale hitches. Weigert said the dogs originally served a crucial purpose.
“Once the driver was inside making deliveries, the dog would guard the beer to make sure no one had any free samples,” he said.
This weekend, a young Dalmatian named Barley will accompany the team of Clydesdales.
Tradition also dictates which Clydesdales are selected for the honor of pulling the Budweiser wagon. Since 1933, only geldings have been used on hitches. The horses must be huge; at least 18 hands tall and 2,000 pounds.
Typically, they embark on their career with the hitch as 5-year-olds. Budweiser Clydesdales must have four white stockings, a black mane and tale, a solid coat of bay, and a blaze of white on their face. Because they frequently interact with the public, these Clydesdales must also be docile and friendly.
“Not all horses can be Budweiser horses,” Wiegert said.
The parade at Langley Field will be the first public outing for two new additions to the hitch, 5-year-olds Master and Royal.
Visitors to Carlton Farms at a private viewing on April 21 remarked on the beauty of the Clydesdales and expressed excitement for their upcoming showing.
“They’re the most gorgeous animals,” visitor Barbara Sneed said. “I love them. I could just stay here all day.”