Riding with the Budweiser Clydesdales
The View from the Top! Triple Crown Karen goes riding with the Budweiser Clydesdales.
If you know anything about the area of Florida that I live in, the Daytona Beach area, you are probably pretty familiar with us as the home of Daytona International Speedway and NASCAR! We do have, however, another little celebration every March here in Daytona called Bike Week. For motorcycle enthusiasts it is “their” week and our community welcomes, oh, about 300,000 of them into town to celebrate their version of horsepower and freedom. You may be wondering what on earth this has to do with horses… well stick with me!
While I would never dream of getting on a motorcycle, I do have my own reason for loving Bike Week and that reason is world famous Budweiser Clydesdale Hitch.
A big tradition during Bike Week is the trip the Budweiser Hitch takes right down Main Street surrounded by all those motorcycles. It is a sight that is awesome and inspiring. I was lucky enough to be invited up top on board the Hitch on its trip amongst the Bikers.
This opportunity came about via some good friends Frank Scott and Tracy Dillon who also happen to be DJ’s on the top classic rock station in the area, 95.7 WHOG-FM. When the station first came on the air about 16 yrs ago I got involved with an on air April Fool’s joke that involved something about Mr. Ed and continued on for a few days longer than just April 1st. One thing led to another and I started giving them commentary for the Triple Crown races and my radio name of “Triple Crown Karen” was born.
The station gave me the opportunity to actually ride on the Budweiser Hitch during Bike Week, and I think that was the best thing anyone could have given to this horse crazy lady. You’d have thought someone gave me the winning lottery numbers. I told all my co-workers and would you believe they weren’t even a little excited. Duh!?! You would think riding on the hitch was not an “event”. Now I know what the Harley riders mean when they tell people if they “have to explain you wouldn’t understand”.
When the day arrived, my husband, Mike, and I went downtown to a little side street in a residential area that had been designated as the parking place for the huge Budweiser tractor trailers and also the area they were going to get the team hitched and ready to go down Main Street. Can you imagine looking out your front window and seeing three huge tractor-trailers with the Budweiser Clydesdales painted on the side? I was so excited just to see these magnificent horses up close and get to talk to the crew. It was like Christmas for me!
We parked nearby and walked up to the parked rigs. Boy were they something to see. They were so shiny and clean that they gleamed like black diamonds in the Florida sun! I couldn’t imagine having to keep all those big horses so clean!
While looking at the trailers, the crew started getting things ready. First, came the familiar Budweiser Beer Wagon, carefully rolled out of its own trailer. Let me tell you, seeing it on TV and seeing it in person is a whole different experience. You earn a new respect for the Clydesdales who pull this massive wagon, and yes I know they are equally impressive in size, but seeing the wagon up close was unbelievable. Plus, those horses and driver make it look easy going down the road.
At the time part of the crew was easing the Wagon out of its trailer, they opened the doors to the trailers with the most important members of this team and my reason for being here–– The Budweiser Clydesdales!
Suddenly, there they were just looking out the door of their trailer and waiting patiently like any other horse does when they travel to shows, trails or wherever. But these weren’t just any other horses and in just a few minutes we were going to be driving into the crowds of hundreds of appreciative Bikers. Wow!
This particular team was based out of New Hampshire and they handle most of the East coast appearances. The Bud support team operates like clockwork. Each horse is taken off the trailer, (they are already braided) brushed off and gets their collar and harness placed on.
Each collar is unique to each horse for a custom fit. These are working horses after all and the fit and comfort is critical to their performance. They wear special shoes fitted with pads to ease the pounding on surfaces like pavement and there are borium patches on the actual shoe to aid with giving these guys a non slip grip on the road. No detail is overlooked for these stars. Of course once the team was hitched and ready. Their faithful mascot the Bud Dalmatian was brought up to ride along with us up top.
No sooner than I realized the team was hitched, and we were ready to roll. The only thing I had to do was get on top of the wagon. Let me tell you, it isn’t as easy as you think! There is no step ladder to get on this thing and it’s really tall, so it required a little effort to get up there. You have to sort of pick the spots on the carriage that look good to step up on and just kind of scramble up and get seated. Oh, and lest I forget, there are no actual seats up there or seatbelts for that matter. You sit on top of what was basically a flat top polished box that was a little slippery. But, no guts, no glory and with a little assistance from the driver, I was soon sitting on top of the world.
Now, one thing I did not realize about the hitch was that it brings it’s own theme music with it as it goes. As soon as the hitch was in action and rolling towards our destination of Main Street, Daytona Beach, the driver hit the music and the Budweiser theme song came out of thin air all around us. The horses actually trotted in time with their music. This was a goosebump moment and gave me a lump in my throat, all the while watching the traffic out the top of those lovely bay heads in front of me. Wooo Hooooo!
Befitting their celebrity status, the Hitch had its own Motorcycle Police escort as we drove down A1A headed to the heart of Bike Week on Main Street!
As if driving with a six-horse hitch of Clydesdales wasn’t exciting enough, the view as we made the turn from A1A onto Main Street was enough to knock me off the top of the wagon… if I wasn’t holding on so tight! As we turned down to Main Street the traditional “home” to thousands of visiting Bikers for the annual event, I was stunned to see just how many hundreds of bikes were parked along the side waiting for the Hitch!
We made the turn with the Budweiser theme playing from the wagon. The crowd of bikers waved, toasted us as we went by, and cheered the Clydesdales as they made their way up the street. There were people in the street, on the curbs and hanging off of balconies and these horses just trotted on up the street as if this was nothing! Well, I guess for them it’s just another day at work, but for me it was exciting to see so many people who loved the Clydesdales, and it was awe inspiring to watch them perform so flawlessly.
At one point in our drive, they stopped in the middle of Main Street so that folks could get pictures of them, and we could throw beads and Bud goodies to the crowds. What fun!
It seemed to only last for a couple of minutes but as we made our way down Main Street to the cheering of the crowds, I was so proud to be a small part of this parade. These guys are an American icon that pretty much everyone knows, but to see the hundreds of bikers cheering for these guys, well, you realize how loved and appreciated they are. I bet no other “corporate” symbol is so recognized as uniquely American than the Budweiser Clydesdales. You just can’t buy that kind of recognition. It has to be earned.
After spending the day with the Hitch, I have a whole new respect for their team, their drivers and renewed affection for the team of handsome bay Clydesdales who pull it. If you get a chance to see them in action in person you need to go. I was so impressed at being a part of this, that I’ll be exploring some other teams in the future. It was a fascinating and once in a lifetime day. You can’t see it, but I’m still smiling.
About the Author: Karen Prell, aka "Triple Crown Karen," came from a very non horsey, working class New Jersey family and started riding at age three. With over thirty years experience as a riding instructor, Karen is passionate about developing beginners into confident riders and compassionate horse owners. A favorite expresion heard often by her students is "It's ALL about the horse!" A lover of all things "horse," she is especially passionate about promoting the retraining of retired Thoroughbreds and adoption and rehoming of unwanted horses. Her ultimate dream would be to see the US Equestrian Team mounted on these great reclaimed athletes. Her career in media focuses on the everyday equestrian adventure and how a horse lover of modest means CAN make a difference for even ONE horse.