Former handler Ashley Faith Evans shares a tearful reunion with Duke, a Budweiser Clydesdale who fell onto hard times after Anheuser-Busch was sold to InBev. Duke is recovering at Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue and awaiting a new home. Photo credit Sarah Grote Photography
A star is born into a prominent, incredibly wealthy family. Through a murky series of tragic events, the star—now a mere shadow of his former self—winds up sick, friendless and facing certain death. And then, fate intervenes, literally in the nick of time. A heroine steps in to save the day. It is the kind of riches to rags to redemption story that Hollywood screenwriters practically turn out in their sleep. Except this story is true.
The star is a horse named Duke, with a distinctive blaze pattern that makes his story even more incredible. Duke had lived a privileged life, born into the famous Budweiser Clydesdale stable. Life was good. He was part of the team of Clydesdales working at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA. And then, global forces turned his world upside down.
“We were contacted on a Monday morning that a Clydesdale had been dropped off at the New Holland Auction,” Dr. Stacey Golub explains. Golub, a Cornell graduate with a soft spot in her heart for draft horses, is the founder and President of Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue (CDHR). A woman from Charming Acres Rescue in Gap, PA had called Golub’s organization. “She called me to see if we were able to take him,” Golub says. “We try not to bid against private buyers,” she explains, but in this case the other bidder was planning to take the horse to slaughter.
Golub says she authorized the woman from the rescue to buy the horse for CDHR. “When she went to the office to pay for the horse,” Golub says, “she ran into the sellers who said the horse was a Budweiser Clydesdale.” Of course, every horse is special in its own way, and whether Duke was a real Clydesdale or not had no impact on his new owner. It was hard to imagine the horse’s former existence, judging from his condition. “He was a few hundred pounds under weight, and had oozing sores on his back and bare patches of skin. He also had a mite infestation on his legs,” Golub says.
At CDHR they posted pictures of the horse on their Facebook page, asking the public for help to pay for his care.
I Know That Horse!
In no time, CDHR got a call from a woman who said she thought she knew the horse. Duke has a unique spot on his blaze and the caller recognized the blaze. It took a couple of days but finally, Golub was in contact with Anheuser-Busch. “They asked us to check for a microchip,” Golub says, and sure enough, Duke’s mystery was solved.
Almost immediately, CDHR received an anonymous donation for Duke’s care. Golub did some research and found that the donor was the manager of Clydesdale Operations for Anheuser-Bush. “When I spoke to him afterwards, it wasn’t a Budweiser donation,” Golub says. It was his personal donation. She says that Anheuser-Busch didn’t want any publicity, even though they are committed to doing the right thing for Duke and for all their horses.
Downsizing Is Not Just For People
Anheuser-Busch plays many roles in America’s culture. There’s the beer. And there are the horses. The iconic, heart-tugging, cinematic Super Bowl commercials are almost as popular as Santa Claus. When the Belgian company InBev paid $52 billion to acquire Anheuser-Busch in 2008, it was a deal that shook the world of beer drinkers and stunned investors. Shortly afterward, the company now known as AB InBev sold some of its assets, notably Busch Gardens. Like many corporate strategies, this one resulted in downsizing and Duke was downsized.
“They sold Duke in 2009,” Golub says, “when Anheuser-Busch downsized. He was sold with a contract that included a first right of refusal.” That means that the buyer was supposed to contact Anheuser-Busch if he or she planned to re-sell Duke, to give the company the opportunity to buy him back. But the buyer didn’t contact the company. “Duke fell into the hands of someone who couldn’t take care of him.”
The Plot Turns Again
Golub is pleased with how well Duke is recovering. “He’s gained weight, his legs are healing and he has grown back the hair he lost.” And in September one of Duke’s former handlers from Busch Gardens came to visit. “She had been looking for him for years,” Golub says. The two old friends had a happy, heartfelt reunion at CDHR’s farm.
It was a combination of the microchip, Facebook and Duke’s unique blaze that ultimately reunited him with someone who had been searching for him for years. He is now part of the family at CDHR, awaiting what comes next. Whatever that “next” is, he is guaranteed to be safe. There are about a dozen horses currently at CDHR, and a few more out in foster care, Golub says. She says that not all horses are likely to have the stars align so perfectly. She has become an advocate of microchips for horses. And warns people that what happened to Duke could happen to any horse.