When freshmen students first come to University of Findlay, they nearly always have big plans for where their education might take them. The dreams they have early in their college years, however, sometimes aren’t even comparable to those that actually happen for them upon graduation. In some instances, exciting careers are out there that might be on students’ radars, but that seem to be almost too good to be true. Such was the case for Zane Grafton ’12.
Grafton works for Anheuser-Busch, which, in and of itself, is exciting enough, as the company is iconic in America. Even more recognizable, though, are the Budweiser Clydesdales, those massive and elegant animals that represent the brewing company. Whether it’s from watching the handful of famous television commercials aired over many years, or, if one is lucky enough to witness them personally when teams have been boarded for a rest period between destinations at UF’s western farm, the horses have been known to drive even the toughest people to tears. Grafton, who graduated from UF with a degree in animal science and equine business management, gets to spend more time than most with the animals as a member of the west coast team of handlers that travels with the horses.
Grafton said that when he came to UF, his big dream was to become a veterinarian. “I grew up in a small farming community of Worthington in western Pennsylvania,” he said. “I was always fascinated with the idea of helping animals and their owners, and UF has high acceptance rates for vet school. I felt as if I had a decent handle on what needed to be done in order for me to be a successful veterinarian.” But, in college as in life, things don’t normally move in a straight line. Grafton changed majors and dreams during his senior year at Findlay, replacing his visions of a life as a veterinarian with aspirations of managing a ranch and owning a cattle business. Currently, in addition to his job with Anheuser-Busch, he has a partnership on a bull with professional bull rider and Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier, Cord McCoy. “It is a stepping stone into the rest of my future of breeding, raising, and training these great animal athletes,” he explained.
Working with the Budweiser Clydesdales, Grafton said, is both rewarding and laborious. He, along with a team of six others, is on the road, he said, roughly 330 days per year, and when they are home at the “base” of the west coast team in Fort Collins, Colorado (there is an east coast team based in New Hampshire as well), it’s never for many consecutive days. Loading up all ten horses, the two Dalmatians that they travel with, and all of the other equipment needed, takes up the space of three semi-trucks. “One truck hauls the wagon and the harness; the others haul the horses – six in one and four in the other. We travel around 500 miles on a travel day,” he said.
And that’s just Mondays.
Tuesdays, Grafton noted, are preparation days when the team feeds, waters, exercises and bathes the horses. They polish, buff, shine and primp until the horses are ready, and then use Wednesday through Sunday as show days. It takes around six hours of preparation, and that doesn’t include the time it takes to disinfect every stall, since, Grafton added, the horses’ health is obviously of utmost importance.
But, as it was with his time at UF, the hard work leads to great reward. Grafton disclosed that the best part of the job is “getting to see the smiles, hear the cheers, and witness the ‘wow factor’ that the horses bring to everyone, young and old. I have been lucky enough to see two Super Bowl parades, three World Series victory parades, one Stanley Cup victory parade, two NBA Championship parades, five Rose Bowl parades, four Super Bowl commercial shoots, and much more. It’s been so fulfilling.”
As for how he got to be in the position which he’s currently both working hard at and enjoying, Grafton said that UF certainly paved the way. “I consider UF to be very important to me career-wise,” he said. “It gave me so many opportunities with the hands-on aspect of the animal science barn that many other universities can’t offer. It made me a more well-rounded person and opened my eyes to the many different opportunities that life presents.”
Meaningful lives and productive careers can take many shapes for UF graduates, but it takes hard work to reap the benefits, Grafton said. “For students in the equine program and animal science, since they’re so hands-on, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and put in some effort at the barn classes. It will all pay off in the long run,” he added.
And, as an Oiler alumnus with a career that’s an animal-lover’s dream, Grafton knows a thing or two about hard work paying off.