'Magnificent': Visually impaired meet Clydesdales up close

Sandra Wisner stretched her hand out to feel the smooth coat of Master, an 8-year-old Clydesdale.

"Holy cow, it's huge!" she said. "So magnificent."

Though Wisner's been around horses most of her life and had always wanted to see the Budweiser Clydesdales, she lost much of her peripheral vision 11 years ago.

Now legally blind, she can only see six to eight degrees on each side, compared to the 200 degrees one would get with typical vision, she said.

But on Saturday, June 15, she got a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with the iconic horses when Brewery Products welcomed VisionCorps employees to meet them at its Springettsbury Township location.

VisionCorps — a nonprofit focused on independent living for vision-impaired individuals, which serves Lancaster, Lebanon, Chester, York and Adams counties — provides rehabilitation services to more than 1,200 people each year.

"We thought, 'How neat would it be for us as a group to visit with the Clydesdales,'" but they realized not everyone would get the typical interaction without being able to see the horses, said spokeswoman Amy Giangiulio.

Sandra Wisner, a Mechanicsburg VisionCorps employee, pets a Budweiser Clydesdale horse in a special opportunity set up by Brewery Products in Springettsbury Township Saturday, June 15. (Photo: Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

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Regional wholesaler Brewery Products, family owned for 50 years and based in the township since 1979, hosted about 3,000 people each day this week to meet the Clydesdales as they made a stop on their national tour.

But this visit was special, as guests typically do not get to interact with the horses.

Handler Lane Soendker said that although sometimes people can pet them in a one-horse show, when they're working, it's a different story.

"When they're hooked up, they got the blinders on," he said, and if people come up to the horses, the animals could get spooked.

Budweiser Clydesdale handler Lane Soendker shows employees of VisionCorps the underside of a hoof during a special visit Saturday, June 15. (Photo: Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

Brewery Products fleet manager Tom Keasey used to work for the York County Blind Center — which later became VisionCorps — and knew the company's president and CEO Dennis Steiner.

Keasey connected Steiner to the company last summer, and a team was able to organize the visit.

Getting to pet the horses added another level to the experience so Wisner and other employees could see them like everyone else.

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It was "something different," said Karen Heath, a former employee at VisionCorps' York County office.

Her husband, Tony, who currently works in the York office, remarked on how big the horse was and said it "almost gave me a kiss," while it was breathing in his ear.

Employees from VisionCorps, serving several counties including York, meet with the Budweiser Clydesdales in a special visit arranged by Brewery Products, in Springettsbury Township on Saturday, June 15. (Photo: Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

Steiner — who is also legally blind — said he was really grateful that his employees could have the experience, noting that if they were not able to get the perspective of how big the horses were before, they certainly do standing right next to them.

"I want to get on him and put on a saddle and ride him," joked Wisner, a Mechanicsburg employee, adding that she would need a small ladder. "How ridiculous would that be?"

Tony Heath, a York County VisionCorps employee pets a Clydesdale horse during a special visit at Brewery Products, in Springettsbury Township, on Saturday, June 15. 

VisionCorps president and CEO Dennis Steiner (right) looks on with another employee, Leora Wiest (middle) and handler Lane Soendker (left) (Photo: Lindsay C. VanAsdalan)

"I will never forget this day," she said. "This was so cool I could cry."