A history of Budweiser Clydesdales

April 1933 was a big month for beer lovers. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had repealed the Volstead Act, ending prohibition on the drink. Two brothers, August A. Busch Jr. and Adolphus Busch III, found an unusual way to celebrate the occasion: they presented their father, August A. Busch Sr., the CEO of the Anheuser-Busch brewing company, with a wagon beer mug, complete with half a dozen Clydesdales to pull it off.

The company quickly realized that the horses would be a powerful marketing tool. They sent another six-horse team to carry a crate of beer to the Governor of New York, who had fought to end Prohibition. The Clydesdales became the stars of a promotional tour through New England and the Mid-Atlantic, during which they delivered a batch of Budweiser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Crowds began to gather observe the horses at their stops throughout the journey. Soon the breed – previously known as hardworking farm animals in the Clydesdale region of Scotland – became associated with the American beer brand.

August A. Busch, Sr.

August A. Busch, Sr., recognized the Clydesdales’ potential. / History/GettyImages

Anheuser Busch began breeding their own Clydesdales in 1953. Their program, which continues today, helped the breed thrive in North America; the company currently has over 200 Clydesdales boarded at stables across the country, and their main breeding facility houses around 70 horses.

Not all Clydesdales are made for the job; in fact, being a Budweiser Clydesdale horse comes with a strict set of requirements. To be considered, the horse must be a gelding (neutered male), be at least 4 years old, be at least 18 hands (6 feet) tall, and have a bay coat with a white blaze. Each Budweiser Clydesdale wears a handcrafted harness that weighs 130 pounds. When paired with their iconic 3.5 ton red, white and gold beer wagon, they truly make for an unforgettable sight.

Continuing the tradition established in 1933, Budweiser Clydesdales teams still travel across the United States and internationally, making hundreds of media appearances a year. They are sent out in groups of 10 (eight to pull the eight-horse carriages the company currently uses, two to act as back-ups), with a trusty Dalmatian in tow. The animals were given dogs as their mascot in 1950, when a Dalmatian was introduced to the Budweiser Clydesdale clan to mark the opening of the Newark Brewery. (Historically, Dalmatians have played a protective role for horses, shielding fire engines from other animals during transit and helping to keep equines calm during potentially chaotic events.)

Although many members of the Budweiser herd are often on the road, some of the horses have different marketing jobs: they are the ones being trained to appear on TV. For decades, the Clydesdales have appeared in wholesome and heartwarming holiday commercials, often trotting through the snow. The company’s decision to remove horses from its 2014 holiday ads in an effort to appeal to younger audiences caused a stir; they have since made appearances in recent years.

But horses are best known for another event: In 1986, Budweiser Clydesdales began appearing in the company’s Super Bowl commercials. The brand’s popular 1996 Super Bowl commercial, which featured the horses playing their own game of football, cemented their legacy as beloved members of the game’s long-awaited list of commercials.

The tones of the ads have changed over the years – some were light and playful, while others, like the one that aired during the 2002 Super Bowl and featured the Clydesdales bowing to the New York skyline, look darker. A few advertisements even focused more on their Dalmatian mascots than on the horses themselves.

Budweiser Clydesdale horses may be associated with the Super Bowl, but they haven’t appeared in every game. In 2021, for example, the company pulled its ads for the first time in 37 years, opting to use the money instead to help spread awareness about the COVID-19 vaccine. The horses have returned for the 2022 Super Bowl, however. Anheuser-Busch plans to advertise in this year’s game, although it’s currently unknown if the iconic Clydesdales will be featured.

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