JUNCTION CITY -- For most, this was the closest they've been to a Super Bowl celebrity.
At 6 feet 6 inches to the shoulder and 2,200 pounds, the Budweiser Clydesdales dwarf NFL football's biggest linemen -- and make for a remarkable team that drew a crowd Thursday to the Bi-Mart parking lot.
"They're humongous," said Amanda Razee, 9, of Eugene, as she gazed up at the horses, nearly three times her height.
Brushed and pampered from head to hoof, the massive animals were led from two large trucks, then decorated with miles of leather straps, flowers and gold-tipped harnesses.
Anheuser-Busch owns more than 180 Clydesdales, sending teams of 10 horses to football games, fairs and parades around the nation. The animals are "regulars" in the brewing company's Super Bowl TV ads.
Doug Bousselot, a hitch supervisor who has been working with the Clydesdales for 26 years, said he spends about 320 days a year on the road with the horses. The biggest reward, he said, is watching people light up when they first glimpse the benevolent beasts.
"It puts smiles on everyone's face, and it's generational," he said.
Watching from afar, Justis Sitowski of Eugene said he knew the horses were big, but was still surprised to see how big the "gentle giants" were.
"I'm 40 years old, and they make me feel like a kid again," Sitowski said.
With eight horses pulling a 100-year-old red, white and gold beer wagon, the entire contingent weighs about 25,000 pounds. The majority of the horses are bred at Warm Springs Ranch, a 300-acre Missouri farm where 30 to 40 foals are born each season.
Only horses that stand at least 6 feet at the shoulder, weigh around 2,000 pounds, and have a bay-colored coat with four white legs, white blaze and a black mane and tail, are able to be a part of the hitch team.
"Duke," "Captain," "Jake" and, of course, "Bud" are a few of the names given to the horses -- kept short so the driver can more easily give commands during performances.
Anheuser-Busch receives thousands of requests each year from different venues hoping to host the Clydesdales, but the Eugene-based Western Beverage Co., an Anheuser-Busch wholesaler, helped the local area shoot to the top of the list by being named a top distributing center. Companies that win the distinction three times are considered "ambassadors" and are awarded a trophy that's "presented" to them by the Clydesdales.
Matt Michener, director of sales and marketing for Western Beverage, said his company feels lucky to have won the distributorship award in a community that's also dotted with numerous craft breweries.
Michener said Budweiser has a local tie that many don't realize.
Western Beverage was founded in 1928 by Weir McDonald, who knew the Busch family and was largely responsible for bringing beer out of St. Louis to Oregon right after the repeal of Prohibition, Michener said.
"Before there was the craft movement, Anheuser-Busch was doing business with the Northwest and buying its hops," Michener said.
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