More than Just a Budweiser Horse: A View from the National Clydesdale Sale

In a way, people who work with Clydesdale horses tend to be old souls, at least in part — people who appreciate and embrace history and the past. They recognize the value of a horse-drawn wagon, horse work in the fields and forests, horseback riding, and the beauty and majesty of a Clydesdale in a world of electric cars, tractors, four-wheelers, and computer screens.

Every April, Clydesdale breeders from across the United States and Canada (and more — this year, I heard a couple of Kiwis) celebrate the beloved bays and roans at the National Clydesdale Sale.

This year, the sale was held at the Michiana Event Center in Shipshewana, Indiana, not far from the Michigan border. There’s something about this area of the state that draws me in and invites me to explore the landscape and get to know the people. During the sale, I did both, exploring the landscape of these horses I had grown up around and known forever, and yet was just starting to understand, and meeting people whose names I had heard all my life.

Dad and I made the five-hour trip north on a Wednesday night in the last week of April, arriving at the hotel after midnight. It was worth it the next day. We began by walking through the barn, discovering a tea and coffee station that one of the exhibitors had set up. So we fueled up before a 10 a.m. workshop on preparing for exhibition.

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That afternoon, we visited a nearby stable where horses were boarded and bred. The owner brought out one of the stallions for us to see.

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Most of the horses there were Belgians. Even though we were Clydesdale people, they still came to say hi.

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Even some foals were born there.

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Back at the Michiana Event Center, we perused the trade show and were stunned by the handmade stagecoach displayed proudly near the doors. The detail was exquisite, the lettering, spokes, paintings on the doors, all lovingly crafted.

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Then, there was the tack sale.

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There were rows upon rows of almost anything one might need out in a barn (one can never have too many buckets).

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Or too many halters….We bought 21 of them, starting with the nine put up at 1:05. The “man in plaid” is Dad.

An old set of Anheuser-Busch harness, seven up (the eighth set was missing), rested in a water tank.

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In another ring, collectibles, old collars, decorative horse blankets, and more were sold.

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The Clydesdale horse nearly became extinct in the early 1900s. Anheuser-Busch was a major part of the effort to bring them back, and did so with their eight-horse hitches and breeding program, and the company remains actively involved in promoting and selling horses and working with the Clydesdale Breeders of the U.S.A., the breed association. They donate a filly for the sale, proceeds going toward a scholarship, and sponsor several activities and silent auction items.

During the banquet, the Anheuser-Busch marketing director presented the Best Stall Award, talking about how he took a daily walk down to the stables and talked to the stable manager, who kept the place spotless. “I have an idea for a commercial….”

“No,” the stable manager would respond.

“I think Clydesdales can play football.”

“No.”

And yet….

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The finale was the horse sale itself. One by one, each horse trotted in front of the crowd as the auctioneer took the bids.

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The sale broke records, with a $60,000 gelding and a $70,000 mare.

But if the sale price was a bit higher than your budget…well…the sale committee could help with that.

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For a horse that’s been on the brink of extinction, the sale is a triumph. It’s a celebration of what is old and treasured, a sharing of ideas and excitement for the future, and a gathering of a community that appreciates both.

And back home, these three beautiful creatures waited for me, smiling across the fence.

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“I like old things that time has proven good and fine.”

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