When the name “Budweiser” is mentioned, several things may come to mind: beer, tailgate parties, or “Whassup?” What about the Budweiser Clydesdales? Do they remind you of wholesome, feel-good commercials shown during the Super Bowl? How about mutilation, torture, and pain?
It’s a scandal that can be called a true tailgate.
PETA went undercover at Warm Springs Ranch in Missouri (the official breeding facility for the Budweiser Clydesdales), visited Grant’s Farm (where the horses are trained), and talked to handlers who travel with teams of the adult horses. We uncovered that Anheuser-Busch Companies LLC, which produces Budweiser beer, amputates the tailbones of the famed Clydesdales—primarily so they’ll look a certain way as they pull the wagon.
Clydesdales, like all horses, need their tails to protect themselves from biting insects—including those that carry West Nile virus and other pathogens. Their tails are also important for balance, mobility, and communication:
“The tail supports and facilitates insect defense, comfort, welfare, reproduction, and disease prevention. It is abusive and inhumane to deprive a horse of their tail. Tail amputation results in a lifetime of impaired balance moving at speed running and turning. It is animal-abusive and medically undignified to deprive a horse of their tail, except in cases of medical necessity.”—Equine veterinarian Sid Gustafson
Amputating a horse’s tail (commonly called “tail docking”) is so cruel that this needless cosmetic procedure is prohibited in 10 U.S. states, unless medically necessary, and several countries. The American Association of Equine Practitioners “condemns the alteration of the tail of the horse for cosmetic or competitive purposes.” The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) agrees and says, “The procedure violates the AVMA’s Principles of Veterinary Medical Ethics. Veterinarians performing the procedure in the United States are in violation of the ethics code.”
Tail amputation involves what one equine veterinarian calls “surgical abuse.” When the Budweiser Clydesdales are still foals, the bones of their tails, which are part of their spines, are completely or partially severed, either with a scalpel or by putting a band around the tail to stop blood flow. Eventually the tail drops off.
According to veterinary experts, both procedures are very painful and the band method is especially excruciating. The suffering caused by tail amputation can persist for the horse’s entire life, as pointed out in a 2018 article published in Scientific American:
Many people who raise draft horses partake in the brutal practice of tail-docking, in which a horse’s tailbones are severed, mostly for aesthetic reasons. Our work shows that a horse’s tail isn’t just an ornament. It’s their main line of defense against biting insects.
Look at these Clydesdales in constant distress, unable to protect themselves from insects:
“The procedure is painful for weeks afterwards, and many draft people perform the horrid procedure without anesthesia, and by the application of strong rubber bands which result in lack of circulation, and a slow and painful death of the tail. … Tail amputation is a despicable, disgraceful procedure that inflicts irreparable, irreversible harm to the horse.”—Equine veterinarian Sid Gustafson
Some of Budweiser’s representatives mislead the public about what’s done to these horses, and their statements add to the “tailgate” scandal. Staff at Warm Springs Ranch claim that they simply “pull” the tails—which means thinning the tail by wrapping hairs around a comb and pulling them out—in order to keep them clean during breeding and birthing. At a parade in Annapolis, Maryland, where the horses were making an appearance, one Clydesdale handler denied that the horses’ tailbones are amputated.
Budweiser Clydesdale Handler 1: If they’re long they can grab the line … it’s a safety thing.
Investigator: Do they dock the tail?
Budweiser Clydesdale Handler 1: No, we just trim them weekly. They still have their tails, it’s just we trim the hair.
Investigator: Oh, so they’re like the full tails still, they’re just tied up?
Budweiser Clydesdale Handler 1: Yup.
But some other reps were willing to talk, including a tour guide at Grant’s Farm:
Yeah they are cut early on. I know that. And that’s for hygiene reasons. It’s also when they get prepared here, they make that into a bun and put that bow on it. And it’s just so they don’t get tangled up in the reins and things, so they do cut the tail, ’cause they would go all the way to the ground.
A different Clydesdale handler at the Annapolis parade also told a PETA investigator that the horses’ tailbones are removed:
Investigator: They are docked?
Budweiser Clydesdale Handler 2: Yup … I’m not exactly sure when Budweiser does it, but typically when they’re pretty young.
The alleged “safety” reasons for this abuse don’t hold up. Braiding the hair of the horses’ tails and then wrapping the tail in bandaging material, as is frequently done when horses are transported, would prevent it from getting caught in the wagon-hitch equipment:
“The practice originated from human laziness. It was easier for animal-inconsiderate draft horse people to cut the tail of their draft babies inflicting a lifetime impairment of normal behavior, rather than taking the time to braid or tie up the tails and utilize the correct harnessing tack as is the custom of animal-sensitive folks. Any and all perceived problems by humans regarding the tails of driving horses can be adequately, humanely, and effectively managed. There are no safety issues with horses having their tails fully intact.”—Equine veterinarian Sid Gustafson
PETA contacted Anheuser-Busch and urged the company to ban tailbone amputation immediately. But no one has bothered to respond.
So PETA is going public with its own Clydesdale ad …
… and billboards: