In what may best be described as Sedalia’s biggest block party, a crowd of more 3,000 people lined Barrett Avenue Wednesday night to witness the parade of the iconic Budweiser Clydesdales.
The event was part of a contest sponsored by County Distributing where 10 winners of a random drawing were awarded home deliveries of cases of Budweiser and one individual was given the chance to ride on the 1903 Budweiser Studebaker hitch.
“The project was something that we thought was a neat thing to bring to Sedalia,” Joe Beykirch, of County Distributing, said. “It had been started in other markets and it was suggested to me to try it here.
“I thought it was a great way to bring the Clydesdales to the kids for them to see and enjoy. My family is grateful for all of the support the people of Sedalia have shown us through the years and we felt this would be a great way to give something back to the community.”
Kathy Heman, who won the opportunity to ride atop the hitch, was allowed to pick one person to share the experience of the ride.
“I asked my daughter Kelly (Black) to ride with me,” Heman said. “It’s been an indescribable opportunity.
“I haven’t slept for two days,” she added. “The first thing I though was, ‘Oh, God, I can cross this one off my bucket list.’”
“This is definitely a once in a lifetime experience,” Black added.
The experience and the crowd equally impressed the employees of the Clydesdale team.
“The excitement has been awesome,” Rudy Helmig, a handler for the team, said. “We do a lot of the home delivery events each year, but I don’t think we have had a crowd this large and supportive in years.”
Something of this scale does not happen without a great deal of work behind the scenes.
The Clydesdales are driven to the site in air-conditioned semi-tractor trailers. The trailers contain all the equipment for the parade including the hitch.
“What a lot of people don’t understand is that we have to be trained in all aspects of the event,” Helmig said. “We do everything from having to drive the semi-trucks and the hitch, to caring for the horses.”
That care involves everything from grooming and bathing the horses to braiding the manes and polishing the brass and caring for the harnesses.
“We have a saying that we want the horse to look as good as our beer tastes,” Helmig added.
Helmuth said the upkeep is $10,000 per Clydesdale. Anheuser-Busch has 250 total Clydesdales.
“Only a select few Clydesdales are chosen for the three hitch teams,” Helmig said.
Fifty foals a year are born in the breeding facility in Boonville. The horses who are selected stay with the team until their mid-teens.
“The horses that are retired spend the remainder of their lives at our retirement farm facilities,” Helmig said. “These animals are our pride and joy and are ambassadors so we strive to take excellent care of them throughout their lives.
“Events like this are rewarding for us all,” Helmig added. “We don’t have opportunities like this to see this many people at something like this. We are looking forward to both the remainder of our time in Sedalia and at the Missouri State Fair.”