A week with the Clydesdales: famous horses visit Switzerland County

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Editor’s Note: The 45th Swiss Wine Festival is now in the books, but it will be remembered for years to come for the appearance by the Budweiser Clydesdales. Vevay Media Group contributor Rosemary Bovard spent much of the week with the team and their handlers, and shares a day-to-day account of what the horses were doing while here in Switzerland County. Photo credits: Rosemary Bovard.

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Kirk Works had a vision for the 2016 Swiss Wine Festival, and that was to bring the world famous Budweiser Clydesdales to Vevay.

After a few months of negotiating with Budweiser, the vision was going to become a reality. Mike Flora, General Manager of the North Vernon Beverage Company, turned in the request to Budweiser – and the rest is history.

On Monday, August 22nd, three big red, 50-foot tractor trailers rolled into the Paul Ogle Riverfront Park. They carried 10 Clydesdales, one 1903 Studebaker wagon, eight handlers, hundreds of pounds of harness, and ‘Clyde’ the Dalmatian. The Clydesdale “hitch” had appeared at the Indiana State Fair and was in route to Darlington South Carolina.

The first order of business was to erect the stables under the big white tent where the horses would be housed for the week of the festival. After the stalls were put together, the horses were unloaded, watered and fed. One horse, ‘Levi’, was a little under the weather upon arrival. The handlers bathed him down and used alcohol to cool him.

After a couple hours, ‘Levi’ was back to normal.

A large crowd started appearing at the park when the word spread that the Clydesdales had made it to town. The handlers were quite cordial greeting their guests while working with the horses. They made the comment that the hospitality was great in Vevay, not like in the big towns.

Tuesday was grooming day. Joe Detweile flew in from Wisconsin to shod the horses. They each get a new pair of shoes every six weeks. The horseshoes weigh five pounds each and measure more than 20 inches from end to end.

On Wednesday, the “hitch” went to visit our neighboring county in Madison. The horses were unloaded and had a parade, starting on Broadway, traveling down the riverfront and then through downtown Madison where several people watched. When the parade was over, they came back to the Ogle Park and settled in for the night.

Thursday brought another busy day for the “hitch,” as they traveled to Belterra to make a two-hour guest appearance.

Guests of the casino and employees enjoyed the show that the Clydesdales put on – and then it was back to their home base in Vevay.

A “meet and greet” stable viewing with the horses was held Thursday through Sunday at the festival.

On Saturday morning the “hitch” went to the Ogle Haus, hitched up and was the Grand Marshal of the parade. Eight horses were hitched to the wagon with two drivers and the dog ‘Clyde. Their appearance brought hundreds of visitors to the parade and to the festival. Saturday afternoon, one Clydesdale and the wagon were featured in the beer tent, where complementary beer was poured from the cooler in the wagon.

On several occasions throughout the week, the horses could be seen strolling through the campgrounds and the park on their daily walk led by the handlers. The handlers would lead two or three of the “gentle giants” at a time like they were puppy dogs.

On Monday, August 29th, the horses were loaded in the trailers – which feature air cushioned, suspension floors with thick rubber lining for the comfort of the horses while traveling. There are also cameras on the horses during transit, so the truck drivers can keep an eye on them.

After breaking down the stalls, and loading everything up, the three big red tractor trailers rolled out of the park to their next destination, with the Clydesdales looking out the windows bidding a farewell to the festival, Vevay, and Switzerland County.

I was sad to see them go, but thrilled that we as a community had them for a week!

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A few facts about the Clydesdales:

– The Clydesdales originated in Clydesdale, Scotland; and were brought to the USA in the 1800’s.

– To qualify to be a Clydesdale, each horse must be a gelding at least four years old, 72-inches tall, and weigh between 1800-2300 pounds.

– They are required to have a bay coat, four white legs, black mane and tail and a white blaze. The horses get a weekly bath, hair trimmed and new shoes every six weeks with a leather insert between the hoof and the shoe.

– Dalmatians have traveled with the Clydesdales since 1950 as companions to the horses and also to guard the wagon during deliveries. ‘Clyde’ is with the team from St. Louis, Missouri. ‘Chip’ and ‘Brewer’ are with the teams from New Hampshire and Colorado.

– The official home of the Clydesdales is in St. Louis Missouri on a 100-acre complex. Visitors can tour the complex and see the horses when they are not traveling.

– There were four “hitch” drivers traveling with the team to Vevay. The drivers go through a strict training process to qualify to drive the team.

– Manny Raber is the lead handler who was with the team at the festival. He has been with the Clydesdales since 1995 and travels with them around 300 days a year. Dennis Knett is one of the handlers originally from Indiana and he said, “it felt like home coming to Vevay.”

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There are hundreds of appearance requests a year, for the Clydesdales, and each request must go through a wholesale distributor in the area. Mike Flora, General Manager of North Vernon Beverage Company handled the request for the Swiss Wine Festival. Flora stated, “Kirk Works was the driving force in the proposal to bring the Clydesdales to Vevay. I am elated to be able to have them appear here. It was a seem less effort and all the members of the festival committee and volunteers need to be commended for this great festival.”

– Rosemary Bovard