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Budweiser Clydesdales make stop in Eau Claire

This team of celebrities has a schedule that would put any other touring group to shame: They do four or five shows a week, 11 months of the year. They're ubiquitous on TV, especially during sporting events, and they travel the nation in three se...

This team of celebrities has a schedule that would put any other touring group to shame: They do four or five shows a week, 11 months of the year. They're ubiquitous on TV, especially during sporting events, and they travel the nation in three semitrailer trucks with their pictures emblazoned on the side.

And even though they don't get paid, these instantly recognizable superstars strut proudly in front of crowds wherever they go.

They are the Budweiser Clydesdales. On Sunday, the hard-working equine advertising idols showed off in front of a crowd of several hundred fans gathered in Eau Claire's Carson Park.

"They're magnificent," said Sandi Olson of Eau Claire, who came to watch and photograph the furry-footed eight-horse team. "They're so massive. They're so docile for being such big animals."

The visit was arranged by Eau Claire-based Park Ridge Distributing, which distributes Budweiser and other brews in the region.

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A day earlier, the so-called "gentle giants" made a private appearance for a backyard barbecue at the rural Holcombe home of Ruth Rudolph, who won the visit via a statewide contest.

Fortunately, Rudoph has a big backyard: She has 20 acres, including a pasture, as well as five horses of her own. About 100 friends and family members gathered for the barbecue.

"I was glowing the whole day," Rudolph said Sunday. "It was quite a sight, very impressive." For Rudolph, one of the highlights was getting to ride atop the wagon.

The Clydesdales have been ambassadors for St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch since 1933, when they were purchased to celebrate the end of Prohibition and sent on a publicity tour pulling a beer wagon. Since then, through countless appearances and TV ads, they've become synonymous with Budweiser products.

But the focus Sunday wasn't on fermented beverages (though there were samples available); it was on the draft horses themselves, all geldings that average about 2,000 pounds and stand about 6 feet -- or 18 hands -- tall at the shoulder. Between trips around the parking lot, the horses posed silently, regally bedecked in shiny leather tack decorated with golden Anheuser-Busch logos.

The eight animals who visited the Chippewa Valley are among the 250 the brewing company owns. Teams are based in St. Louis; Merrimack, N.H.; and Fort Collins, Colo.

Scott Morrison, one of six handlers who accompanied the horses, said he's used to fielding numerous questions about the animals' age, size and weight during public appearances.

"Everybody just wants to know as much as they can about them," Morrison said. People frequently remark about the horses' gentle demeanor, he added.

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The crowd included many "horse people," including Keith Lee of Elk Mound, who raises and shows Percherons -- another breed of massive draft horses -- and saddle horses.

"It's fun to see this many people come out to see draft horses," Lee said.

During their visit to the Chippewa Valley, the Clydesdales were stabled at Trinity Equestrian Center south of Eau Claire. It wasn't the first time the stable has had celebrity guests: The Lipizzaner Stallions stayed there a few years ago when they came to perform at UW-Eau Claire.

Jan Behm, co-owner of Trinity, said she was impressed by how unfazed the Clydesdales were despite the unfamiliar, active surroundings at the stables. But her first observation about the animals was much more straightforward.

"They're big," she said with a laugh.

Giffey can be reached at 715-833-9205, 800-236-7077 or tom.giffey@ecpc.com .

(c)2011 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.)

Visit the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.) at www.leadertelegram.com

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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