(Photo by Scott Welton, Staff)
SIKESTON -- This year's Cotton Carnival Parade will have a hitch -- and a world famous one at that.
For the first time ever, the Budweiser Clydesdales will be featured in Sikeston's annual parade.
"They are one of the most recognizable corporate icons in the world," said Pete Petersen, hitch supervisor. "Budweiser has been using the Clydesdales for pulling the wagon for 75 years -- this is the 75th anniversary. Ever since the Prohibition was repealed they have been using the horses."
Based in San Antonio, this is one of Anheuser-Busch's five "hitches" that travel around the country 10 months out of every year, according to Petersen. A sixth hitch that does not travel stays at Sea World in Orlando, Fla.
"Last year we were out a total of 320 days," Petersen said. "Generally we show four or five times a week. We only show one time a day."
As seen in countless advertisements over the last 75 years, the hitch of eight horses will pull a turn-of-the-century red, white and gold beer wagon.
Harnessing the horses and hooking them to the wagon is an event in itself, taking 45 minutes.
"We'll stay hooked up to the wagon for about two hours," Petersen said.
The horses in this particular team are named Carter, Chad, Sterling, Doc, Diamond, Mark, Yankee, Marshal, Jeff and Mitch. The names are kept short to make it easier for the driver to give them commands.
"We travel with 10 geldings," Petersen said. "We just rotate the horses around so everybody gets days off."
The Budweiser Clydesdales are often referred to as "gentle giants" -- and with good reason. At about six feet tall at the shoulder, "these guys will weigh an average of 1,800 to 2,200 pounds," Petersen said.
Anheuser-Busch has very specific requirements for its hitches.
"They all have to be a bay, which is a dark brown; have a black mane and tail; four white legs; and a white blaze on their face," Petersen said.
The horses start training at age 4 and retire at about age 15-16, according to Petersen. "The youngest ones we have here are 5 and the oldest are 12," he said.
Taking the eight-horse hitch and its beer wagon on the road requires three 50-foot tractor trailers along with a full-sized passenger van for transporting the crew and their luggage to and from hotels.
Accompanying the Clydesdales is a crew of seven that drives the trucks, grooms and harnesses the horses and drives the beer wagon.
"We also have Dalmatian dog," Petersen said. "His name is King."
Known as "coach dogs," Dalmatians have traveled with each Clydesdale hitch since the 1950s.
Those watching the parade should be able to easily spot King during the parade as he is seated up next to the Petersen on the beer wagon as he drives.
The best part of the working with the Budweiser Clydesdales is "just traveling around, seeing the expressions on people's faces when we hook them up and take off," said Petersen, who has been doing this for 16 years. "Most people have only seen them on TV -- a lot of people have never seen them in person. People are always thanking us for bringing them."
In addition to being featured in Saturday's parade, the Budweiser Clydesdales can also be seen at the Food Giant in Chaffee from 3-6 p.m. today and at the former Marketplace Building on South Main from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday.
Immediately following the Cotton Carnival Parade on Saturday, the Clydesdales will make a stop at the Sikeston Depot.
"Come out and see us," Petersen said.