Charlie Van Dien began working with Clydesdales when he went to work  for Budweiser in CaliforniaTo say that horses have taken Charlie Van Dien on a journey of a lifetime is no exaggeration.
Beginning with Saddlebreds – gaited, high-stepping show horses – when he was still in high school, Charlie has spent most of his life working, traveling and living with horses.
“I started riding a neighbor’s horses and he asked me if I’d ever considered showing horses,” Charlie explained on a cold winter’s day while feeding his rescue horses just outside of Rolla, Mo.  
Originally from El Paso, Texas, Charlie’s father, who worked for Chevron Oil, was transferred to Denver, Colo., while Charlie was still in high school.
“I showed Saddlebreds in Denver for years. That’s where I got all my horse experience,” Charlie recalled. And then he crossed paths with the Clydesdales.
“I was working with champion horses in Scottsdale, Ariz., and then I started working for Budweiser at the Santa Anita racetrack,” Charlie said. “We used the Clydesdales to pull the starting gate into place. I did that for a year and then they offered me a job, working and traveling with the Clydesdales out of New Hampshire. That’s what I did for the next 20 years and it was the greatest job ever. We did it all, grooming, handling, cleaning the stalls, driving the truck, always working with the horses.”
After retiring and while driving a truck through the area, Charlie fell in love with the Ozarks. Today, 15 years later, he works for Country Bob’s Café in St. James as a baker and cares for his Clydesdales, all rescue horses, as well as a few others and at least one rescued German Shepherd. His favorites are Loretta, and her foal, Joseph, both of whom he took in 13 years ago at Christmas time.
“They were a Christmas present to me. Loretta is 23 now and Joseph is 13.
“They are very good trail horses and we’ve used them for poles and barrel racing,” Charlie explained. “People just think of them in terms of hauling, but they are work horses. You can do anything with them that you’d do with a regular horse. They are starting to make more tack for them now so that’s helpful, too.”
Charlie is more than willing to share stories of his horses’ activities and antics.
“Right now it’s winter time and they are taking a break but they are busy all summer, with parades and fund-raising activities for groups from breast cancer to the Make-A-Wish foundation, to Wounded Warriors. They’ve raised thousands of dollars,” he added proudly. “Kids love them, of course, so anywhere they show up and we offer rides, they are a great hit. My daughters, Marin and Maddie, often go with me to help with the horses and everybody knows Joe. The horses have also been used in therapy situations with an autistic child and soldiers with PTSD.”
Keeping up with Clydesdales on a private farm does not come easy or cheap. Charlie stated that each horse consumes 30 to 35 gallons of water a day. While they graze on 26 acres of pasture, Charlie further supplements Joe’s diet with 16 pounds of grain a day, 20 pounds in the summer when he is working. Loretta gets an additional 12 pounds of grain daily.
“It costs $120 to shoe each horse as well,” he added with a smile. Despite the costs involved, it is obvious that Charlie doesn’t seem to mind.
When his son, Chuck, was still in school, Joe even made the trip down the hall and into the classroom for a Bring-Your-Pet-to-School event. “You should have seen those kids’ faces that day!” Charlie laughed at the memory. “When I was with the Clydesdales, we worked our way down the East Coast each year, ending up in Florida in time for the Orange Bowl at New Year’s. From there we’d work our way along the Gulf Coast. We never really saw winter.
“Horses have taken me to places I never would have been, never would have dreamed of,” he concluded. “I’ve just been along for the ride.”


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