This story, originally published by the Bristol Herald Courier, was produced by the Virginia Folklife Program and is the latest in a series highlighting individuals working at the intersection of culture and community.
Rain kept the six Clydesdales tucked inside their 53-foot trailer, but the team from Bart Long & Associates, Realty and Auction were still a main attraction at the soggy Memorial Day parade in Marion.
Before the gleaming red trailer took its parade position, staff invited spectators to peek out from under their umbrellas to see the horses inside. Their forelocks were braided with red, white and blue ribbons, and their iconic white “feathered” legs were freshly washed and brushed with fine sawdust.
The Clydesdale team helped lead the parade, despite not being harnessed and hitched to their historic 1908 Studebaker wagon. The parade unfolded behind them, with local politicians waving on foot and from the comfort of their cars
“We really work so hard to have them. I think the point of it is to get them out and share them,” said Bart Long of Bristol, who, while disappointed in the weather, noted it was the first time rain had kept his Clydesdales from participating in a community parade.
While owning and tending to draft horses is usually a generational practice, Bart did not grow up with them. Rather, he remembers spending time with horses at an after-school program in a barn not far from downtown Bristol.
After serving in the Navy and spending four years working as a presidential guard in Washington, D.C., Bart came home to Bristol and began work as an entrepreneur, finding success in a variety of fields. His current businesses include towing and recovery, a cattle operation, and knifestore.com, in addition to his realty auction business—now one of the largest in the Southeast. He now owns that barn, Four Winds Farm.
Fifteen years ago he set out to distinguish Bart Long & Associates.
“I told my wife I wanted to advertise with something that has a heart, has eyes, has a personality — not just a billboard or a commercial,” he said.
His initial musings of purchasing a giraffe were set to rest when he saw Budweiser’s team of Clydesdales run the baseball field at the opening of the World Series on television. Days later, with lucky timing and thanks to his supportive wife, Long was at the World Clydesdales Show, setting out to buy his first two horses.
Today he has 13, all dark bays, a deep glossy brown with near-black manes, white blazes and white, feathered lower legs. As his operation has grown, so has his staff. He recruited Mark Boese from Anheuser-Busch to be operations manager. Bart has a lightweight training wagon in addition to the historical yellow Studebaker emblazoned with Bart Long & Associates.
He is also proud to own a custom set of harnesses by Shanahan Harness Shop in Ohio. The leather and metal craftsmanship on these complex gleaming harnesses is exceptional; the Shanahan shop can take up to a year and a half to produce a set and their waiting list is as long as nine years.
The Bart Long & Associates Clydesdales take up a turn-of-the-century advertising tradition.
“Coors Brewing had a hitch of Belgians, Heinz Ketchup had a hitch of black Percherons,” Long said. “The list goes on and on—Armor Meats had six dappled-gray Percherons.”
There are four main draft horse breeds: Clydesdales, Shires, Belgians, and Percherons.
“The Clydesdales and Shires were predominantly used in town, because they were flashy and showy,” he said.
Belgians and Percherons are put to work.
At the Blue Ridge Institute’s Folk Festival at Ferrum College, local teams compete to pull the most weight the farthest and fastest. Draft horses are predominantly kept in the U.S. Midwest and Canada. The nearest commercial six-horse wagons like Bart’s are in Charlotte and Atlanta.
Bart regularly brings his hitch into communities in his hometown of Bristol and neighboring cities. At Christmas, in addition to green and red dress ribbons, the horses don jingle bells and do a five-day run of local holiday parades down the main streets of Bristol, Damascus, Abingdon, Johnson City and Lebanon.
Prepping the horses for a parade is a multi-day process, involving cutting, clipping, and shaving their hair, several baths and scrubs, and special attention to their feathered legs.
During the pandemic, Bart and his staff even took the Clydesales to area retirement homes so senior citizens could see their impressive stature through the window.
The Bart Long & Associates Clydesdale team is becoming a community tradition Bart is proud to support.
“I think that technology is really taking people away from just having time with other people and spending time in their communities. The horses help draw out people that might not normally come to a parade. Being social with your community, your church, your school system … all those things are really important,” Long said. “Put your phone in the glove box. Go find one of these draft horses and spend a few minutes with it.”
It is the joy of sharing his horses with others — and letting them feel the magic of their presence — that makes it worthwhile, rainy weather and all.