An inquisitive group gathered near the white Anheuser-Busch tent Friday evening to watch the first appearance of the majestic Budweiser Clydesdales at the Kenai Peninsula State Fair.
Friday evening's appearance was the first time the giant horses and most of their trainers had visited Alaska, said Lloyd Ferguson, driver and supervisor of the team.
The trainers and the 10 horses, named Thunder, Turbo, Chance, Ted, Master, King, Duffy, Stewart, Major and Flash, made the trip from Menifee, Calif., to tour the state.
The horses were driven to Seattle, then boarded a custom livestock plane and flew to Anchorage.
Known as the "gentle giants," the Budweiser Clydesdales consist of a total of six teams. Three teams, including the team at the fair, travel full time, while the other three teams are located at Sea World Theme Parks in San Diego, Orlando, Fla., and San Antonio, Texas.
Ferguson said this team tours 13 western states.
"That is mainly what we do."
Ferguson said the traveling teams make appearances at sporting events, the Olympic Games, air shows, chili cook-offs, Rose Bowl parades and Mardi Gras.
So each horse took its turn, prancing in front of the audience, while they were harnessed with shiny patent leather and brass mounted custom harnesses.
"It is a beautiful harness," Ferguson said.
Each horse waited its turn and then stood patiently while others were harnessed. The horses are known to be gentle and docile animals. Often times, when in groups, they will rub and nuzzle one another.
According to information from the Budweiser Clydesdales' home pages, the Clydesdales were formally introduced to August A. Busch Sr., president of Anheuser-Busch Inc., by his son in 1933. Prohibition had just been repealed, and to commemorate the event, the hitch of eight horses thundered down Pestalozzi Street, in St. Louis, carrying with it the first case of post-prohibition beer from the St. Louis Anheuser-Busch brewery.
Similar to that first hitch, the Budweiser Clydesdales thundered through the Ninilchik fair grounds. The horses pulled a Studebaker wagon from the 1930s. The wagons were converted to deliver beer.
To prepare the Clydesdales for the show, the animals were bathed, and their manes, tails and forelocks were braided and decorated with ribbons and flowers.
To be a Budweiser Clydesdale, each horse must be bay in color, have four white legs and a white blaze on its face. The animals also must average 17 to 19 hands tall and weigh between 1,800 and 2,200 pounds.
The massive horses eat up to 45 pounds of feed per day, Ferguson said. They also drink 30 gallons of water daily.
King, 17, is the oldest Clydesdale, while Turbo, 4, is the baby of the group, Ferguson said.
Running around both horses and handlers is Gus, a 3-year-old Dalmatian and the official Budweiser Clydesdale mascot.
"He loves kids and people," Ferguson said.
Ferguson has been a handler for 21 years. Six handlers work with the horses daily. Most of the handlers, he said, must have horse experience, public experience and a commercial driver's license.
Anheuser-Busch has two breeding farms and also purchases Clydesdales from other breeders.
"It helps us to better match the teams," Ferguson said.
The company owns a total of 250 horses.
Ferguson said the crew is enjoying seeing Alaska.
"They (Alaskans) are great hosts, curious and friendly," he said.
The Budweiser Clydesdales show is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. today, the final day of the Kenai Peninsula State Fair in Ninilchik.
The team also will make an appearance at the Alaska State Fair in Palmer at 11 a.m. Saturday.
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