BOONVILLE — Bits of straw stuck to the foal's still-spindly legs Friday as Little Ronnie nursed from his mother, Reva.
Satisfied, he took a few tentative steps, but loud and threatening storms soon sent the foal rushing back to the safety of his mother.
Visits will be offered on a daily basis from May through October, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Prices will vary.
For more information or to set up a tour, call 1-888-WS-CLYDE or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Little Ronnie is a new addition to the Anheuser-Busch family of Clydesdales, one of 25 foals born this spring at the company’s Warm Springs Ranch breeding facility west of Columbia.
As of Saturday, visitors will be able to see the foals. Closed to the public since Anheuser-Busch moved its breeding operations from California to Missouri in 2008, growing interest convinced the company to reconsider.
“We soon realized there was a demand, and thought, ‘why not?’” said Jim Poole, general manager of Clydesdale operations.
Scheduled during the warm months of the year, daily tours must be booked in advance and last about an hour and a half.
Touring Warm Springs Ranch
Poole emphasized that Warm Springs is a "working farm" — a fancy one.
"There are a lot of things for the people to see," he said.
Two full busloads of people were expected to tour the ranch Saturday, trainers said. These visitors would be among the first to get a behind-the-scenes look at the Warm Springs facility.
Inside the white steel fence around the property, it's easy to forget you're only about one mile away from Interstate 70 and just 25 miles from downtown Columbia.
The picturesque red barn, with its green and white trim, is tucked into 300 sprawling acres of lush, green fields. In almost any direction you're bound to see one or several of the stately Clydesdales grazing in a pasture.
Visitors will be able to see much of what goes into the breeding and care of the Clydesdales, which is overseen by Ranch Manager John Soto and his small staff.
People will also be able to interact with the Clydesdales, which trainers described as gentle, attention-craving creatures.
“Oh, you’ll be able to get real close,” Poole said. “Visitors can mingle and touch the horses, take photos with the Clydesdales, talk to the trainers.”
The ranch is home to two of the company's five traveling hitches, and tours will show the equipment used when the 10-member teams make appearances nationwide.
Tour groups can also see breeding areas, individual stalls, pastures and the veterinary lab. Trainers will be available to answer questions about the ranch and the Clydesdales.
“An important part of our heritage”
The opening of Warm Springs Ranch to the public is just another piece of the Budweiser Clydesdales' “long and storied history,” said Chris Hanson, Anheuser-Busch’s program manager.
The property was purchased in 2006 when Anheuser-Busch decided to move its primary Clydesdale breeding operations from Menifee, Calif., to mid-Missouri. In 2008, the company resettled more than 100 of its horses on the ranch.
Clydesdales have been a part of the Budweiser brand since 1933, when August Jr. and Adolphus III presented their father, August Anheuser Busch Sr., with a team of horses to commemorate the repeal of Prohibition. In the 77 years since, the company's Clydesdale program has grown to include more than 250 horses.
"The Clydesdales are truly a symbol of Budweiser's quality and an important part of our heritage," Hanson said.
Anheuser-Busch began breeding its own Clydesdales in the 1950s. The company has developed a standard that the horses must meet to travel with the hitch teams or star in one of the popular TV commercials. The chosen Clydesdales travel throughout the United States, making hundreds of appearances each year.
Official Budweiser Clydesdales must have a dark reddish-brown coat, a black mane and tail, a white blaze on the face and white "feathers" on all four legs. The chosen horses are usually tall and strong — about 6 feet at the shoulder and close to 2,000 pounds, Poole said.
Only male horses travel with the team; mares matching that description are kept for breeding. Poole said trainers start evaluating the horses at about one year to determine if they will look the part; those that don't match the strict Budweiser standard are usually sold or traded to other Clydesdale breeders.
Poole, who spoke about his lifelong passion for Clydesdales, said he hoped the opening of the ranch would be a "fun and educational" way for people to learn about the "iconic" breed.
A boon for Boonville
Representatives of Cooper County thanked company officials Friday for bringing Warm Springs to their district, adding that they hoped the opening of the ranch would speed economic growth in the area.
"Economic development in rural Missouri is almost at a standstill," State Rep. Kenny Jones, R-Calif., said. "This is a really good tourist attraction and economic development tool that we are proud to have here in Cooper County."
He said he was "honored" that the company decided to bring the breeding farm back to mid-Missouri.
"We choose to live here, and we're glad the company chooses to live here," Jones said.
State Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, echoed these sentiments.
"This is a great day, and a great day for Cooper County," he said. "This is a class facility here that represents a class product."
Stouffer described the ranch as a "perfect location and a perfect match" for the county.
Julie Thacher, newly elected mayor of Boonville, said she hopes the ranch will draw more people to the area and help boost tourism in her city.