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A Brief History of the Budweiser Clydesdales, America’s Favorite Super Bowl Icons

I'm a bartender in New England and I'm beyond sick of Budweiser, but goddammit do I love these beautiful fucking horses

Say what you will about Budweiser beer, but Anheuser-Busch is integral to the Super Bowl experience. First off, as someone who’s worked her fair share of Super Bowl Sundays (a majority of them in New England), I can say with the utmost confidence that nearly every bar with a television doubled their Bud Light order going into this weekend. Bud Light is the American beverage of choice for marathon drinking events.

The other reason? Those beautiful fucking horses.

Since the 1986 game, the Budweiser Clydesdales have galloped, romped, battled and snorted across television screens straight into our hearts during the Super Bowl’s legendary commercial breaks. I have laughed, cried and made all manner of cooing sounds (yes, often while at work behind the bar) during Budweiser’s ads, and if you’re saying you haven’t, you’re lying. The beer may be out of touch with the modern American palate, but the company behind it, Anheuser-Busch, has its finger firmly on the pulse of the national psyche and nothing shows it better than those horse-led commercials. (Well, maybe the “Whassup?” campaign, too.)

Here’s a look at the rise of the Budweiser Clydesdales from celebratory gift to national icons.

1933

Budweiser has been brewed in St. Louis, Missouri, since 1876, minus those pesky 13 years of Prohibition. It’s been family-owned and -run nearly ever since, with sons inheriting from fathers and so on down the line. If you think Prohibition hit drinkers hard, imagine what the outlawing of production and sale of alcoholic beverages did to a family whose entire history in this country was brewing beer.

The original 12 Budweiser Clydesdales, two six-horse hitches for pulling refrigerated carts of beer, were a gift from Busch brothers August Jr. and Adolphus to their father to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Legend has it that father, sons and horse drivers all sobbed with gratitude, joy and relief, prompting and coining the phrase “crying in your beer.”

The family of Clydes has remained and grown with Anheuser-Busch family and company ever since. While the number of horses on the family farm today is far more than 12, there will only ever be 16 horses to the official hitch team. That’s six to a hitch with two backups in case someone’s not quite feeling up to giddying.

There are strict standards to what makes a hitch horse for the Budweiser team: All hitch horses are geldings, or neutered males, and must be six feet high at the shoulder. The markings of each horse are important, too. Each member of the team must have four white legs, a blaze face and a dark mane and tail. Horses that don’t meet the physical standards for the hitch team are kept on Anheuser-Busch’s Grant’s Farm or sold to ranchers, farmers and horse enthusiasts across the country.

1950

In 1950, the Budweiser Clydes received their very own mascot, a Dalmatian, to celebrate the opening of A-B’s Newark brewery.

The Dalmatian-and-Clydesdale combination has appeared in many Budweiser Super Bowl ads (including the one airing tomorrow).

1954

The Clydesdales didn’t appear in a Super Bowl commercial until 1986, but this doesn’t mean it was all work and now play for the hitch horses. The team of geldings made — and still make — regular appearances at St. Louis sporting events. They compete in parades and festivals nationwide.

In 1954, the team’s “Meet Me in St. Louis” float won the inaugural Tournament of Roses Parade. The Clydes competed in the tournament each year for the next 57 years, taking a break from 2012 to 2013. The team returned in 2014.

1986 — First Super Bowl Appearance

The Clydesdales first appeared in a Super Bowl ad in 1986 and have appeared in 28 Super Bowls. No. 29 will be tomorrow.

This first Super Bowl appearance cemented the “This Bud’s for You” campaign slogan, which launched in 1979, as the brand’s long-running tagline.

1996

“Football”

The 1996 Super Bowl commercial was a watershed moment for the eponymous equines. The ad, “Football,” set the tone for the plot lines of many of Bud’s game day ads and made the Clydesdales a truly national icon.

2002

“Respect”

The 2002 “Respect” ad, with the Clydesdale team bowing to the post-9/11 Manhattan skyline, was controversial at the time it aired — and it aired only once — but is still one of the most powerful and heartfelt tributes to the lives lost in 2001.

2003

“Replay”

Just watch this one; you’ll appreciate it.

2008

“Team”

This one, too.

2010

“Fences”

In 2010, Budweiser almost broke what would have been a 10-year streak of Clydesdale ads — almost.

When the horses were absent from a preliminary lineup of game-day ads, the internet lost its mind. Budweiser launched a Facebook vote and the winner, “Fences,” complete with Clydes, won by a landslide.

2014

“Puppy Love”

Bud the Golden Lab puppy makes his debut; fans, in tears, rejoice.

2017

“Born the Hard Way”

Budweiser’s 2017 ad recounts the history of Anheuser and Busch, two German immigrants, forming their partnership.

While it could be a coincidence the immigrant-founded company chose to depict how two men from a foreign land are behind one of arguably the most iconically American companies and products a few short months after the 2016 election, I think we all know better.

Horses are not the central focus here, but they make a necessary cameo in the end of the ad.

2018

In 2018, Anheuser-Busch decided not to include the Clydesdales in its Super Bowl commercials. Once again, the internet was incensed.

But Budweiser was holding out for a good cause: This year’s Super Bowl ad highlighted the disaster relief, halting production to send canned water to Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and California in the wake of natural disasters.

A special bonus ad, “Beer Country,” featuring the infamous 12, was however released online shortly after the game.

2019

Tomorrow’s Budweiser ad will once again give airtime to the cantering Clydes, combining America’s love for these gentle giants with a very important PR move and message: Anheuser-Busch’s dedication to renewable energy.

“Blowin’ in the Wind”

I don’t even like beer, let alone Budweiser, but after all this I’ll never knock the brand again.