Clydesdales in My Midst

John McManamy Health Guide
  • I'm sitting in Milwaukee Airport, bound for Washington DC. To recap my last few days:


    Thursday: I'm in a Comfort Inn in Madison. An old farm pick-up rolls in. A redhead in red cowgirl boots, jeans, and a satiny red cowgirl shirt with a fringe climbs out. It's Sharon. She's driven up from her home in Missouri. I dropped in from a mental health recovery conference in Iowa. She's here for the World Clydesdale Show. I'm here to be with Sharon.


    Friday: The show begins today. Sharon is like a kid on Christmas morning. She is looking like a million bucks in her ostrich boots and cowgirl clothes. Look! she bursts out, stopping the truck. She points to one of the semi rigs that hauls the Budweiser Clydesdales from venue to venue. Instantly, she has her camera out and is snapping pictures.

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    Someone is walking a pair of the biggest horses I have ever seen. Clydesdales, part of the Budweiser team. Their humongous hooves go clop-clop-clop on the pavement.


    Or is it clomp-clomp-clomp?


    Sharon has five Clydesdales on her farm in Missouri. She has had horses since she was a kid. This is the first time in more than a century the World Clydesdale Show has been in the US. She is in Clydesdale Heaven.


    We're in what can only be described as the Budweiser team locker room. I get to pose with one of the big guys. I pet Bud, the Dalmatian. I don't know who's having more fun now, me or Sharon.


    A series of aircraft hanger-like buildings, unimaginatively called barns, provide weekend housing for some 600 Clydesdales. To Sharon, this is like being backstage at a Rolling Stones concert. Someone is blow-drying a Clyde's "feathers" - the trademark silky fluff to the lower legs that flare out into massive hooves. Sharon gets talking with someone, and next thing the person is offering to wheel out her prize beauty for us to pose with.


    CLOP! CLOP! CLOP! The hooves fairly reverberate off the concrete in the enclosure.


    This steed is about as tall as the Washington Monument and built like a brontosaurus that works out. Slabs of rolling muscle are molded into massive neck and shoulders that could make rubble of the Great Wall of China. These taper into sleek flanks and buttocks capable of wiggling into a pair of tight jeans. And the beast is high stepping like a drum major.


    CLOP-IT-EE-CLOP-CLOP! One ton of compressed horse flesh is literally tap-dancing. The handler brings the beast to a precision halt within inches of my foot. They say a Clyde's hoof is the size of a dinner plate. Close up, I would say a serving platter is more like it. The shoes are slightly-modified manhole covers.




    The pile-driver that the manhole cover is attached to has come within inches of rendering my sneaker-shod foot into Gerber's baby food. Later, I find out that when a Clydesdale steps on your foot, their leg literally locks up.


    In the main venue, we watch teams of Clydesdales strut their stuff. These guys and gals literally walk the walk. Whoo-whee! Sharon calls out, clapping and jumping out of her seat. Her expert eye keeps picking out things that delight her. I'm looking at beauty in motion, but Sharon is appreciating all the hard work that has gone into making that kind of beauty appear effortless.


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    The eight-horse Budweiser team is steppin' out. This is Fred and Ginger, the Bolshoi, the Rockettes, and the Grambling State marching band on hooves. Sharon is walking on air.


    Saturday: In the outdoor arena, a guy rides in with a wooden peasant cart hitched to a working draft animal. I just see a horse and cart. Then the guy starts explaining. The two shafts to the cart - the ones that are attached to the horse - are made of ash. Ash gives under a heavy load, rather than snaps, unlike oak. Other parts of the cart are made of either oak or elm, depending on what characteristics of the wood are required for the job at hand. The leather hitches and accoutrements could have been designed by a team of NASA engineers. Centuries - millennia - of peasant wisdom have gone into the production. I will never look at a horse and cart the same way again.


    Sunday: We listen to a veterinarian explain the importance of large hooves on a draft animal. You don't want small hooves holding up a ton of horse, she explains. Back in the main ring, I'm getting pretty good at judging the winners. I admire a lady rider's hat and pick her for first. Sure enough ...


    Horse sense - some of us are just born with it.


    I've experienced three solid days among people who were not there because of mood disorders. It's been a liberating and refreshing experience. Ironically, it's our common illness that brought me and Sharon together. Otherwise I never would have met her, never experienced the joy of being introduced to her world.


    Monday: Sharon drops me off at the bus station, where I will catch the bus out of Madison for the Milwaukee Airport. I've had two failed marriages and so has she. A long distance relationship is a first for both of us. She is headed back to Missouri. Personal business will keep her tied up there for three or four months. I have one more trip, then will hibernate for the winter. It may be months before we see each other again.


    But I don't tell her I will miss her, or that I will be lonely. We will meet again. We will cherish what we have. This is our relationship, we are in it. We part as if we will see each other tomorrow. Enjoy what you have right now. It's stupid to push for something more. This is as good as it gets.

Published On: October 15, 2007