Fifteen babies so far, 13 to go. That was the score the day my sister and I visited Warm Springs Ranch to see where Budweiser's famous Clydesdales come from. We had a chance to meet all 15 babies, plus their mothers and a stallion or two, along with a devoted and knowledgeable staff.
Fifteen babies so far, 13 to go. That was the score the day my sister and I visited Warm Springs Ranch to see where Budweiser’s famous Clydesdales come from. We had a chance to meet all 15 babies, plus their mothers and a stallion or two, along with a devoted and knowledgeable staff.
A good nursery should be a peaceful place, totally devoted to caring for and nurturing of the babies who are being raised there. Warm Springs Ranch is just that, but it also welcomes visitors six days a week (with reservations).
This has two purposes as far as we could tell. First, it’s a great public relations opportunity for Anheuser-Busch/InBev. But it’s also a place where the smallest Clydesdales get to meet their first fans.
Located on 340 rolling acres of white fences, paddocks and red barns just off Interstate 70 and 10 miles east of Boonville, Warm Springs Ranch exudes calm — and why not?
The whole purpose of the place is to produce and nurture happy babies, never mind that the smallest, newest ones weigh in at about 150 pounds.
Mares and babies have their own pastures and small barns for inclement weather. The stallions’ areas are a short distance away, behind the breeding barn. In all, the ranch is home to about 70 horses at a time, all bearing the rich bay coats, white stockings, white blazes on their faces, black manes and tales.
Those who eventually become part of the Budweiser hitch will stand at least 18 hands (6 feet high) at the shoulders and weigh between 1,800 and 2,300 pounds.
From the minute these horses are born, they are celebrities. Their whole lives are about learning to be gracious to fans and exacting in their duties, whether it is breeding new Clydesdales or pulling the signature red and gold Budweiser wagons.
A few minutes after we arrive, we ride a tractor wagon from the big red breeding barn (where we later get to sample a cup or two of beer), to one of the paddocks where the big bay and white moms and their smaller, lighter-colored babies are nibbling grass and enjoying the day. As our wagon pulls through the gate of the paddock, the horses stroll over to make our acquaintance, many of them close enough to reach out and pat.
The mares with their big brown eyes and soft noses are welcoming and friendly. The foals are curious, at least curious enough to come up close before retreating behind their mothers. The visitors, of course, are entranced.
The small herd is particularly attentive to red-jacketed John Soto, the affable manager of the place, and a 30-year veteran of driving and caring for the famous horses.
“The Budweiser Clydesdales are a worldwide symbol of Anheuser-Bush’s heritage and commitment to quality,” he says proudly as a foal investigates his cap. “Being able to give people unparalleled access to these majestic animals is a one of a kind experience.”
His face is serious until someone asks him a question about a specific horse, like Hope, the yearling mare who was a star of the 2013 Super Bowl commercial and is on hand this day to greet visitors up close and personal.
When Soto begins talking about his charges, his face changes and his dimpled cheek and broad smile are a sure sign that he would rather be at Warm Springs Ranch than anywhere else in the world.
Soto has been with the company more than 30 years, driving the hitches as a young man, then moving on to breaking the gentle giants, breeding, and now overseeing all care for the mares, foals and visiting stallions. He lives in a red brick house at the edge of the ranch and is also the person on call when an alarm sounds notification that a pregnant mare is going into labor.
Soto tells us that each of his Clydesdales eats about 40-50 pounds of hay each every day and spends a lot of time outdoors, even in very cold weather, although they always have a warm shed nearby.
A few minutes later, back at the 25,000-square-foot breeding barn, he tells us about the all-natural breeding process, birthing and care of baby Clydesdales.
The mares, he says, are all Budweiser Clydesdales. The stallions, who bear the traditional markings, are borrowed from farms around the country to breed with the Warm Springs mares. This assures that the herd is homogeneous, but not in-bred.
Once a baby is born — actual foaling generally takes only about an hour — the foals stay with their mothers at Warm Springs Ranch for seven months. At that time, they move to Grant’s Farm in St. Louis, where their training begins.
At age 3, those selected to be part of the famous Clydesdale hitches go from Grants Farm to a Clydesdale facility in Vermont, where they are trained to the hitch and begin their careers, headquartered in either St. Louis, Fort Collins, Colorado, or Merrimack, New Hampshire.
Our tour of the breeding barn extends from the hospital-clean breeding room to the maternity stalls to the washing area where, this day, Duke, a handsome gelding, is hosed down before posing for us with his handler in front of a Budweiser wagon.
And since we are, after all, at a Budweiser facility, we have a chance to sample cups of beer before we leave the premises.
Warm Springs Ranch is open for 90-minute tours at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Monday through Sunday from March through October (closed on Wednesdays). Reservations are required. Cost is $10 per person. Children under 2 are free. www.warmspringsranch.com
Hours of operation are subject to change. Visitors are encouraged to call ahead for current days and
hours of operation.
Lunch at Fred’s
Fred’s restaurant in Boonville’s old Hotel Frederick is a gem of a place, hearkening back to the hotel’s opening in 1905. A pressed tin ceiling, slowly rotating fans, C.B. King Indian prints, plenty of big plants, comfortable chairs and white tablecloths are a perfect backdrop to the delicious but affordable food.
The restaurant is located just off the lobby of the 109-year-old hotel, and both the hotel and restaurant are decorated to evoke the place’s early days. Sitting in that period dining room on a bright spring day, I felt as though I should be wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat trimmed with a pink and yellow flower. The space was comfortably busy; other diners appeared to be a combination of local ladies-who-lunch and tourists. Actually, no one wore a hat.
The food is good — a variety of ambitious dishes and favorites. For example, the menu features small plates (things like a meat and cheese plate, pork belly confit egg rolls, prosciutto and seafood wontons), gourmet salads, homemade soup, sandwiches and build-your-own burgers.
I enjoyed tomato-basil soup and a three-cheese grilled cheese with tomatoes and caramelized onions. My companion also had the soup, which was marvelous, and salmon patties.
For dessert we passed on chocolate bread pudding and split a crème brulee. We ate slowly and visited. There was no sense of rushing or being rushed.
While you’re at the Hotel Frederick, don’t pass up a chance to look around the hotel itself. Restored in 2004, the hotel is furnished and decorated with 19th-century antiques and period-style furniture.
Wall decorations include some of the hotel’s own maps and photos from the New Deal’s Historic American Building Survey. The lobby is full of comfortable chairs and couches just begging a visitor to plop down and perhaps order something to sip from the lounge around the corner.
Lunch: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Sunday brunch buffet 9 a.m.-2 p.m.
Dinner: Wednesday-Saturday 5 p.m.-10 p.m.
Lounge opens daily at 4:30 p.m. Lounge menu served daily 5 p.m.-10 p.m.