By Debbie Adams
Ten beautiful young women in gorgeous horse-drawn carriages will be leading the 2022 Vinton Dogwood Festival Parade on April 30. This will be the second year that the newly crowned Dogwood Queen and her Court (all seniors at William Byrd High School) will be riding through the streets of Vinton in carriages from the Lexington Carriage Company.
During the 67 years the Dogwood Festival has been in existence, in most years the women on the Dogwood Court and the Queen rode in chairs on a special float. In the first year of the pandemic, they rode in convertibles – and they made up the entire parade themselves – driving down Washington Avenue from the Vinton War Memorial, then circling back up, and in the month of July because the traditional April parade had been cancelled.
In 2021, there was still no official parade, but the Dogwood Queen was crowned at the Municipal Building. Afterwards, she and her court boarded horse-drawn carriages in front of the building and circled the downtown streets twice, led by the Vinton Police and a carriage company attendant on foot.
Vinton Dogwood Festival President Beth Abbott started the tradition last year with a call to Shana Layman who owns Lexington Carriage Company. And in 2022, the full parade is on again and the Dogwood Queen and Court will lead off the parade in two of their carriages.
The Dogwood Queen will be crowned at the Vinton Municipal Building at noon on April 30. The parade with the Dogwood Court and carriages will kick-off from the Vinton War Memorial at 2:30, proceed down Washington Avenue, make a left onto Maple Street, a right onto Cleveland Avenue, another right onto Pollard Street, and then left onto Gus Nicks Boulevard, ending at the Billy Byrd apartments and field.
One of the carriages is a “limo” which will transport six girls; the other will carry the remaining four. All are “convertibles” with tops available in case of rain.
The carriage company was established in 1985 to support the historic downtown district with narrated tours through the business district, college campuses, and historic residential area of Lexington.
Layman started out working as a driver for eight years for the original owner and then bought the business in 2004. She will be one of the drivers in the Dogwood Parade. Layman says she attended the University of Virginia and started out in the medical field but kept coming back to the horses – each year whenever the weather got warm, she heard the call.
She says the carriage company is basically a family business. The horses are pastured on her mother’s farm; her sister, nieces, and nephews drive the carriages. Her husband goes along to assist with larger events, which now include local parades, festivals, weddings, seasonal events (like Roanoke’s Dickens of a Christmas), birthday and anniversary celebrations, and more.
Lexington Carriage currently owns five pairs of experienced teams, all used to working in crowds. Each carriage is pulled by a matched-horse team – this year Arron and Abe, and Jenny and Jake. The company does not breed horses themselves but looks elsewhere for matched pairs of horses that are related. Arron and Abe are brothers; Jenny and Jake are brother and sister. (Other pairs are Nip and Tuck, Woody and Weepy, Maxx and Mutt.)
Arron and Abe are Haflingers, the smallest breed of draft horses and bred in the Alps. Layman says they are not only beautiful but have a great demeanor for their work. They have been with her for eight years. Three of her teams are the blond Haflingers.
Jenny and Jake are Percherons, a French draft breed frequently used in Amish communities for planting and plowing, and also known for their calm temperament and stamina. These two have been with Lexington Carriage for 20 years.
Layman says her horses are thoroughly spoiled – which you can ascertain by a glimpse at the Lexington Carriage Company Facebook page. There are pictures of the horses frolicking in pastures, in addition to performing at events. Their treat of choice is a Pop-Tart – any flavor. In fact, Layman will be warning the girls on the Dogwood Court to keep their flowers out of reach – the horses will munch on most anything.
The horses and carriages will be transported to Vinton via trailers. Once they arrive, the carriages will be decorated with dogwood blooms by Friends of Nancy Horne, Roanoke County Commissioner of the Revenue.
The horses wear diapers in the parade, so there is no mess to clean up along the streets. Layman says that is a law in Lexington.
Lexington Carriage Company operates historic tours each year from April through October. They are available for special events throughout the year. Check out the website at http://www.lexcarriage.com/home.html and the Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/lexcarriage.