The King of Clydesdales
December 25th, 2015 by Victoria Hampton
Parnell Ranch trainer Ben Shupe takes one of his charges out for a trot. Photo by Mike Teegarden

Parnell Ranch trainer Ben Shupe takes one of his charges out for a trot.
Photo by Mike Teegarden

One of the most anticipated aspects of the Super Bowl is the commercials. Every year, Budweiser stands out among its competition with a minute-long commercial starring the one horse breed that has become synonymous with the company: the Clydesdale.

Budweiser Clydesdales are a tradition stretching back to the 1930s. With a massive breeding operation and a reputation for quality horses, it may come as a surprise that Sandpoint, Idaho, rancher Jack Parnell has been a key figure in the continuation of the breed.

At 80 years old, Jack is the owner of Parnell Ranch. He breeds and raises Clydesdales for customers nationwide, including Budweiser.

“They use a couple of our stallions in their breeding program in Missouri,” he says.
Michelle, Jack’s wife, says their relationship with Budweiser is more than just business.

“I’d like to call them my friends,” says Michelle. “When you say Budweiser, I say Clydesdale. They do everything top notch and they have nice people.”

Budweiser has a large-scale breeding program. Michelle says they produce 60 foals a year from their leading stallion.

“What takes us 10 years to do, they do in two,” says Michelle. “They do their own thing on a big scale. We are just a dot in their program, but our dot has had a significant impact.”

The impact the Parnells have on the Clydesdale industry is their dedication to producing high-quality horses with stellar confirmation, markings and feathers—the hair that grows on the animals’ legs.

“You want them big enough, around 16 to 18 hands tall, bay horses with four white feet and a big blaze,” says Jack. “Conformation-wise, hind legs close at the hock, neck to come out of shoulder just right and with ample feather on their feet. We like that to be long and silky.

“Breeding horses, you’re basically putting genetic material together and making artwork. I want to leave this breed better than what it was.”

Jack’s childhood fascination with Clydesdales led him to becoming a horse breeder. He remembers being drawn to the horse barn at the Sacramento State Fair as a child. Jack would lean over the fence and daydream about the day he would have his very own Clydesdale.

Jack grew up in California on a dairy where they farmed with horses. Jack was the California Secretary of Agriculture for eight years under Governor George Deukmejian and the Deputy Secretary of Agriculture of President George H. W. Bush for four years.

“I was very honored to have served in those positions of leadership in this Great Nation of ours,” Jack says.

Jack and Michelle owned a cattle ranch, bred Clydesdales and farmed rice in Auburn, California, before moving to Sandpoint in 2002.

“My dad always talked about the Northwest and how wonderful it was, so I always believed I’d come up and take a look around,” he says. “I did and fell in love and been here ever since.”

Jack manages the ranch with the help of Michelle and trainer Ben Shupe.

The ranch typically has 10 to 13 mares and two stallions, one imported from Scotland and the other from Canada. They have six to eight foals a year.

An important component of the Parnells’ breeding program is promoting their horses at shows. They participate in halter classes, based on the horse’s conformation, and driving classes. Each year, they show at the Calgary Stampede in Canada; the Western Regional Clydesdale Show in Monroe, Washington; and the Draft Horse Show in Sandpoint. They also attend the triennial World Clydesdale Show in various locations and the annual National Clydesdale Sale in St. Louis.

“The idea is to drive the Parnells’ own breeding and home-raised horses,” says Ben.

Ben looks forward to promoting the Parnell horses at the 2018 National Clydesdale Show in Madison, Wisconsin.

Even though the Parnells are not in Clydesdale country, the camaraderie of the industry knows no geographical bounds.

“The Clydesdale industry is a small industry,” says Ben, who moved from Pennsylvania to Sandpoint a year ago to work for Jack. “Everyone knows everybody.

“We have fun with each other at the shows. They are all friendly, and it’s a good group of people.”

Watching his herd graze on grass in his front fields, Jack is reminded that Clydesdales are more than an industry.

“It’s a privilege, more than a business, to be involved with these horses,” says Jack. “I think they’re very noble creatures. I think they are very special individually and collectively, and we treat them that way. God has given us the extreme privilege to breed them and care for them.

“If you can do it all in North Idaho where it’s so beautiful, you can’t ask for more.”