The 11-day run of the 2008 Iowa State Fair kicked off last night with the annual parade through downtown Des Moines. One of the crowd favorites was the impressive Budweiser Clydesdales. The 8-team hitch will parade around the fairgrounds every day of the fair between 2 and 4 p.m., pulling the familiar red brewery wagon.

Handler Loren Knoche says the animals are tremendous in terms of both size and strength. "These guys average about 2,000 pounds and about 18 hands tall," Knoche said. "They’re really gentle giants, but they’re still animals." Each horse consumes 50 to 60 pounds of hay per day.

The Anheuser-Busch Company introduced the Budweiser Clydesdales in 1933 to celebrate the end of prohibition. Knoche says only certain horses are selected for an 8-team hitch. The ideal Clydesdales are brown in color, with a black main, a blaze of white on the face and white feathering on all four legs and feet. The most important feature, however, is a calm personality.

"These guys are really docile as a breed, but we’re around these guys nearly 24/7 and the disposition is a must," Knoche said. Clydesdales were brought to North America in 1842 and were used for delivery transportation until they were replaced by trucks at the turn of the century. Another signature piece of the Budweiser Clydesdale team is the Dalmatian dog. Knoche’s dog is named Bud.

"Actually when they did deliver beer in the old days, they did have a dog on the wagon to protect the horses, plus the cargo when the driver was in delivering the beer," Knoche explained. There are six traveling Clysdale teams based around the U.S. that appear in 500 events a year. Knoche’s crew is based in St. Louis.