Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Warm Springs Ranch

Who doesn't remember this 2013 Superbowl commercial?  I still tear up when I witness the love between an animal and his human... even if it is staged for "Hollywood"

Warm Springs Ranch is the breeding facility for the world-class Budweiser Clydesdales, and we are fortunate enough to live only two hours away from its location in Boonville, MO.  But if you are ever traveling through the midwest, I would strongly encourage you to alter your route in order to pay a visit.

Because it is a working ranch and not simply a tourist destination, reservations must be made in advance.  It is an effortless process on their website, but weekend visits are popular, so don't procrastinate or you will risk a sell out.  The price is ten dollars per person plus a one-time transaction fee of $3.00 -- money well spent!  There are two tours offered each day, 10:00AM and 2:00PM, and each one accommodates approximately sixty people.  We attended the afternoon session on our way home from visiting our son and his wife in Nashville over Labor Day Weekend.  We were fortunate to have beautiful weather - sunny with a high of 82 degrees - but be sure to pack contingency clothes as the tours are never canceled due to weather.

While the ranch is conveniently located about five minutes off the I-70 highway, there is no signage or commercial advertising to direct you to its exact location.  Be sure to plug the address into your GPS system before making the exit (25270 Highway 98, Boonville, MO 65265)  The gates to the ranch remain closed until a few minutes prior to each tour when one of the four trainers will meet each car, double check the reservation roster, and allow admittance.

The long driveway to the main building is edged on either side with white picket fences, and there are plenty of clydesdales roaming the pastures to greet visitors in an authentic way.  The well-manicured lawn, coupled with the traditional fencing and red barns help to recreate a postcard image of days gone by - a time when life proceeded at a slower pace and simple joys were truly appreciated.

Pregnant mare ... due any day
The tour begins at the main building inside what is called the "breeding room" - and yes, it is exactly what it sounds like.  I will let the tour guide give you a play-by-play description of the five minute process, but the room is often used since there are approximately 40 breeding mares kept on the ranch.  The gestation period is approximately eleven months, after which the mares are allowed thirty days to recover and then they are ready to mate again.  The ranch also houses 3-4 stallions who seem rather pleased to have secured such a plumb job.

After a general overview of the breeding process and the inner workings of this ranch, the tour proceeds to the Pre-foal area where pregnant mamas are preparing to give birth.  There is a separate exercise area outside for these mares to roam, but as you can imagine, they are more interested in resting in the shade.

Bathing area
The next stop is the washing area, where we were shown how the clydesdales are bathed.  Their white legs are washed daily, and they are given a full bath about once a week.  The trainers give the tours and so they are quite knowledgeable about all aspects of these beautiful creatures.  Guests are encouraged to ask questions throughout the tour, and at times the trainers seem disappointed if none are forthcoming.

Pebbles and Paris
The tour then returns outdoors where the trailer trucks that transport these animals are parked.  Warm Springs Ranch is strictly a breeding farm; training occurs in New Hampshire.  If a colt is selected to be worthy of becoming a Budweiser clydesdale (he must have the right coloring, be the right height, and have an appropriate disposition) he is first neutered (poor guy...) before proceeding to training.  Once ready,  these geldings are then dispatched to one of three different "hitching" sites:  Merrimack, NH - Grant's Farm, MO - Ft. Collins, CO.  Those colts who do not make the cut are sold; they cannot be used at Warm Springs due to inbreeding issues.  The fillies remain on the property to begin the mating process when they are old enough.

The highlight of the tour, however, occurred at the end when we were fortunate enough to see a two week old filly and her mother.  We learned that the naming process of the foals is unique in that the first name of each baby begins with the same letter as its mother.  In this case the mare, Pebbles, gave birth to Paris.  Paris was asleep for most of our tour, but she did wake up long enough to nurse for a few minutes.

We were also able to visit Hope in that same hallway - the filly from the Super Bowl commercial.  I have a feeling she knows she is something special, but the fame has not gone to her head.  She was a little camera shy, but seemed at-ease with visitors.  We were allowed to remain in this area as long as we liked, since it was the last stop on the ninety minute tour.  We concluded by returning to the breeding room where free beer was distributed to those who wanted it and met the minimum drinking age.  In addition, a photo opportunity was available with the handler and one of the champion stallions.

Those who know me know that I am an animal lover.  And while I have a soft spot for dogs, I must say this visit to the ranch has helped me to appreciate the grandeur and splendor of horses as well.  I have a feeling I will return to Warm Springs on another visit to St. Louis or Nashville, and I am sure that it will be just as special as this one.

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