While the slippery hazard of rain-slicked streets kept a visiting team of Budweiser Clydesdales from taking a planned walk down Elmwood Avenue, the weekend schedule ahead promises more opportunities for people and children to nuzzle the famously gentle horses, each weighing about a ton.
"They're just so easygoing. They love people. They love attention," said Barb Jesse, a horse handler traveling with the team of 10 from their base at a Merrimack, N.H.,brewery. "The draft horses were the heart and soul of the country at one time."
Jesse has been tending the horses at a barn in the Erie County Fairgrounds in Hamburg. In the mornings when she stops for coffee, the clerks see her Clydesdale jacket and ask where the horses will make their appearances.
"It seems like there's a lot of people that appreciate horses," she said of locals she's met.
The Clydesdales are scheduled to appear from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. today at Consumers Beverage Center, 6161 West Quaker St., Orchard Park. They also will be at Ralph Wilson Stadium from 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday for the Bills game.
Horse appearances were to begin Thursday when rain caused team supervisor Hans Jager to cancel the horses' walk down Elmwood.
"I hate when that happens," Jesse said. "The weather is the one thing that we have a problem with."
Instead, the horses were driven down the street in their tractor-trailers, with the doors open so people could see their brown heads looking out.
Rain makes it harder to slow down the horses and easier for them to slip and fall, and because their equipment is so expensive, it needs protection too, Jesse said. Each horse's leather and brass harness is worth $10,000. The 1876 Studebaker hitch wagon is valued at $250,000.
The horses got their start as a symbol for Anheuser-Busch in 1933. That's when Prohibition ended, and a team of Clydesdales that August Busch Jr. gave his father delivered the first batch of non-Prohibition beer to the White House, Jesse said.
The horses, originally bred in Scotland, could walk faster than most work horses. Brewers sought them out because they could deliver more beer farther afield, Jesse said.
Now the company has about 300 Clydesdales at three of its breweries, including its St. Louis headquarters.
Lancaster's Try-It Distributing Co. distributes Budweiser and hosts the horses once every few years.
"They're just gorgeous animals," said Trent Gavazzi, senior vice president of sales. He is charmed by the way they put their heads down so children can pet them. "It's very touching."