Horsing Around: the Budweiser Clydesdales

I have to admit that Budweiser is not my favourite beer. As we say in the historic brewery, everyone’s palate is different. I’m not a fan of eggs either, but I love spice. Just the way my palate is constructed.

Nevertheless, I do have a secret soft spot for the Budweiser Clydesdales. Clydesdales in general make me happy—they’re gorgeous animals, and they always remind me of Ross and Integra here at Black Creek. Plus—the Budweiser Clydesdales actually have a Canadian connection!


Draught horses have long been used to pull brewery wagons and make deliveries. As you all know from lifting your purchased growlers, beer is heavy. And remember, nineteenth century roads were very rough; large, well-muscled horses had an easier time of it. Different companies favoured different horse breeds. Some liked Hackneys; Shires were popular.

But we’re here to talk about Clydesdales.

The Clydesdale breed emerged in 1800s Scotland—from the region around the River Clyde, funnily enough. Selectively bred from Flemish stallions, they were also the favourite breed of one Mr. Patrick Shea, a brewer in Winnipeg.

Patrick Shea

Born in County Kerry, Ireland, Shea emigrated in 1870, finally settling in Manitoba in 1882. From 1884, he operated the Waverley Hotel with his new friend, fellow Irishman John McDonagh (side bar: it always fascinates me, pondering how two people decide to go into business together—did they cook up this plot over a pint?). In 1887, the dynamic duo purchased the defunct Winnipeg Brewery. Sadly, McDonagh died six years later, leaving Shea the sole owner.

Besides brewing, Shea was also dedicated to breeding Clydesdales. So much so, he took to importing champion horses from Scotland to strengthen the bloodline. Even after the introduction of the car, Shea continued to use his horses well past World War I. In 1933, he finally sold some to an American brewery….



…because in 1933, Prohibition had just been repealed in the United States, and one August Busch Jr. wanted to give his father a gift to celebrate. August Busch Sr., a St. Louis brewer, had been told his son had bought him a car. But when he came out, a team of Shea’s Clydesdales awaited him. They carried the first case of post-Prohibition beer, thrilling crowds and providing lots of advertising for Anheuser-Busch.

Today’s Budweiser Clydesdales are descendants of that original team, and they still thrill crowds and provide advertising—think of the Super Bowl!

So what does it take to be a Budweiser Clydesdale?

Prospective hitch members must be…

  • A gelding
  • At least four years old
  • At least six feet high at the shoulder, weighing between 1800-2300 pounds.
  • Bay in colour (light-dark reddish brown)

And they must have a black mane and tail, four white stocking feet, and a white blaze on the face. Our boy Ross might have a little too much white around his legs and face, and I’m not sure he’s quite big enough…but I’d take him any day. 😉

Ross on a summer morning.
Ross on a summer morning.

Even though those Clydesdales are pretty stunning…




4 thoughts on “Horsing Around: the Budweiser Clydesdales

  1. Katie, I loved your bit on the Clydesdales. There is another Canadian connection of a more recent era… until the late 80’s virtually all of the Clydes in the modern-day hitch were bred by Budweiser and the Busches. The first exception was a gelding from Thistle Ridge Farm in Guelph, ON.

    Two more horses from Guelph entered the Budweiser hitch program in 2012…one, “Alex” was the Clyde shown with the Golden Lab pup in Budweiser’s 2014 “Puppy Love” Super Bowl commercial. (http://www.wellingtonadvertiser.com/index.cfm?page=detail&itmno=20474)

    Finally, I have my own Budweiser and beer connection. I had the great pleasure of doing business with August Busch Jr. (Gussie) in the 70’s (I sold him some Angus cattle). One evening when I had dinner with Mr. Busch and his family at Grant’s Farm, as a naïve youthful beer drinker, I poured my Michelob as many Canadians do… down the side of the glass so as to get as little head as possible.

    In his gravelly and commanding voice he noted, “Boy, you’re going to ruin that beer. You need at least 1/3 head on it to bring out the flavour.”

    This spring, in honour of our business’s 20th anniversary and in memory of that night with Mr. Busch, we launched “Cooler By The Lake Anniversary Ale” in partnership with Northumberland Hills Brewery in Cobourg, ON. (http://coolerbythelake.beer/)

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