Those “awww”-inspiring baby Clydesdales on the Budweiser commercials must come from somewhere. Now we know where: They make them here at Warm Springs Ranch, just 110 miles east of Kansas City.
Specifically, right here in the breeding room.
“We like to refer to this as the date-night room,” says Rebecca Showinsky, ranch tour guide, acknowledging that the “date” lasts all of five minutes. “The breeding process itself takes about 30 seconds.”
The newborn arrives about 340 days later, a detail that brings gasps on a recent tour, mostly from women. Soon, colt or filly is enjoying ranch life, sticking close to mom in the pasture.
That’s where the newest baby, 11-day-old Thunder, is frolicking on a blue-sky day in late April, along with nearly two dozen other youngsters and their moms.
The ranch makes for a picture-perfect day trip, particularly when coupled with nearby Rocheport — the Katy Trail runs through it — just across the Missouri River bridge.
Anheuser-Busch built Warm Springs Ranch to consolidate its breeding facilities, formerly in California and at Grant’s Farm in suburban St. Louis. The ranch, home to about 100 Clydesdales, opened to the public in 2009 and somehow has kept a fairly low profile. But word is getting out.
“It’s been on my bucket list,” says Sharon Baumgartner, here from Davis, Calif., with her husband. A friend saw the ranch on YouTube.
Baumgartner tolerates the Super Bowl so she can watch the antics of these grand draft horses with the white feathery hair on their lower legs: “I love the commercials. They’re so tender-hearted. I get teary-eyed.”
The tour starts in the big red barn, which sits amid 10 pastures, each with a shelter and outlined by 14 miles of white fence.
Showinsky tells the Budweiser Clydesdale story, which begins in 1933, when the Busch sons surprised their father, August A. Busch Sr., with a gift: a six-horse hitch of Clydesdales for pulling a beer wagon.
The horses were a marketing hit, to say the least. Now there are three eight-horse hitches. Each hitch makes about 300 appearances a year and travels with two backup horses.
The ranch tour stops at a pen outside the barn where two very pregnant mares, Amber and Christina, stand near the fence, looking even more enormous than a typical 2,000-pound Clydesdale. The newborns will each weigh 125 to 150 pounds.
When labor begins, an alert goes to John Soto, ranch supervisor. His house is on a hill nearby, so he can get to the foaling barn fast. His record: 52 seconds.
“It’s sort of like the bell at a firehouse,” Soto says. His job includes the pairing of stud and mare to produce the signature Budweiser Clydesdale look: a solid bay body color, white blaze on the face and white-stocking feet.
The tour includes views of the pastures, giant hitch trailers and a filly with her mom in a stall. At the end, visitors are offered two Budweisers each and a petting session with Duke, who’s 12 and no longer serves on a hitch.
Debbie Dinzebach of Webster Groves, Mo., brought her husband, Mark Dietiker, here for his 50th birthday, although she is the one taking a selfie with Duke. Next stop for the couple: Rocheport, population 240, just 7 miles from the ranch.
From Interstate 70, Route BB drops quickly into downtown Rocheport, a small collection of shops, restaurants and bed-and-breakfast inns.
The town began in 1825 and boasts some pre-Civil War buildings, like the 1837 brick, two-story Wilcox House. It’s home to Richard Saunders Inc., a gifts, home decor and antiques shop, and to Saunders himself. He invites visitors to enjoy his “secret garden” in the back.
Other favorites include Friends Together Antiques, Stockton Mercantile and Shirahaze Gallery, featuring ceramic art and pottery — and a meal at Abigail’s restaurant.
The Katy Trail, on the right-of-way of the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad, runs parallel to First Street. For a short hike, start at the east end of town at the Katy Depot, a replica, and pass Trailside Cafe and Bike Shop, which offers rental bikes.
Heading west, with the town on the right, the trail follows the bridge over Moniteau Creek and arrives at one of the neatest features of the 240-mile path: an 1890s stone-and-brick tunnel nearly 250 feet long.
Riding a tandem bike toward the tunnel are Melody and Scott Schwager of Higbee, Mo. They felt the rush of air at the tunnel’s mouth.
“Ooh, it’s cool in here!” Melody yells from the bike.
The river is hidden from this part of the trail, but there are two ways to see it. A boardwalk on the east end of the tunnel leads to a steep path to the top of the bluff. It’s a lung-buster climb but worth it for the 360-degree view.
And near the trail at about First and Central is a sign for the Rocheport River Walk, a wooded path that ends at the Missouri River and a view of the I-70 bridge, the Katy Trail and the soaring white bluffs above.
Day’s end? Between downtown and I-70 on BB, high on the bluff overlooking the river and the trail, Les Bourgeois Winery has a bistro and A-frame cafe for a sunset dinner or glass of wine.
Rocheport General Store has live music on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s a cafe owned by John Zondca, a man who wears several hats here, including mayor. And booster.
“I think this is the prettiest part of the Katy Trail,” Zondca says. “Folks riding the trail use Rocheport as a stopover. And we have a lot of St. Louis and Kansas City friends who meet here at the halfway point. It’s a great day trip.”
IF YOU GO
Warm Springs Ranch: Near Boonville at 25270 Missouri 98. I-70 exit is 111. Call 1-888-972-5933 or go to warmspringsranch.com. Ninety-minute walking tours are at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily except Wednesdays. Admission $10; reservations required. Note: No post-tour Budweisers on Sundays.
Rocheport: On Route BB. I-70 exit is 115. Go to rocheportmissouri.com for a visitor guide or call city hall at 573-698-3245.