Some days you just feel like throwing in the towel, packing up all the very important stuff in your life, hitting the road, and waving goodbye to everything behind you. That is exactly the kind of feeling most Gypsies had. They were free to roam about, making their own way and their own lives, and enjoying the freedom of the open road.
I often dream about doing the same, especially since there are so many modern ways to update a gypsy caravan wagon to make it quite comfortable and functional. A few solar panels would provide all the heating, cooling and electricity you might need, and rest stops offer toileting as needed too. The only major purchase beyond the caravan wagon itself would be a gypsy vanner horse.
The gypsy vanner horse is the epitome of freedom. These elegant horses with their fine feathered feet immediately bring to mind the images of multiple gypsy wagons traversing Europe. If you are not familiar with the breed, you should become familiar because they are beautiful, wonderful symbols of a unique way of life.
The Gypsy Horse
Then gypsies were rousted from their homeland of Romania, they packed up all they had in wagons and left. They had no home country to go to because they were not allowed to return there. Instead, they turned to a Bohemian way of life, wagoning everywhere and stopping at night to cook, eat, drink, dance, and possibly make a little money. Over time, they learned to do certain carnival acts, like fortune telling, to make money for supplies they could not otherwise barter or borrow.
In their travels, they needed a small draft horse capable of pulling their wagons long distances. These horses had to be muscular and strong, but not so large as to overshadow the small wagons the gypsies called home. Their entire lives were in their tiny houses on wheels, and their horses had to look as though they weren’t going to dash those wagons going too fast around a curve.
Thus, the gypsy horse was born. It took a while to breed a Shire horse with a Clydesdale, and then breed a Clydesdale with a quarter horse or other smaller native draft horse to get an equine that was the perfect size and appearance for wagon pulling. The end result was the vanner, also known as the gypsy horse, the Irish Cob, the tinker horse (as some gypsies would tinker and fix things to earn money), and a host of other names.
The Breed Standard
For a very long time there was no breed standard for the gypsy cob. As such, the horses could not be registered as such or shown in competitions for driving, racing, jumping, dressage, Western, or English riding. In 1996, a standard was set so that these horses could be registered as a purebred animal, they could be judged on conformation and appearance, and they could be a horse breed that breeders would want to invest time and money in breeding.
Essentially the standard states that this equine has to appear as a small draft horse, one that is easily rideable if saddled. It should appear like a large-boned pony, or a lean and pared down draft. It should not be too fat, too big-boned, or too thick in any one area of its body. It should have lots of “feather” from knee and hock to hoof, giving it a fluffy sort of look when the horse picks up and moves its feet. The mane and tail need to be long and flowing, and a lot of judges like to see some of the mane braided.
The Typical Temperament of the Gypsy Vanner Horse Breed
The typical temperament of the gypsy vanner horse breed is mellow. These horses are rarely rambunctious or hostile. They show no signs of being hot-blooded and are very quiet and docile animals. It makes them a favorite with anyone who wants to introduce a young horse lover to horses, and a perfect first “pony” for newbie riders.
The only time you may see them act out is during mating season, or if something really startles them. Extremely loud noises like a gun going off may be enough to freak out a vanner, but they can also be trained to ignore loud noises. Many of these horses were used in mines at one point, where loud booms from dynamite occurred regularly. The animals were trained to ignore the dynamite explosions and thus remained calm. If you get a horse of the gypsy persuasion, watch for noises that startle it. Then you can train it to ignore those noises.
The Whole Cob Label on Gypsy Horses
People often think that “cob” or “Irish cob” is a horse breed. It isn’t. Referring to these horses as “gypsy cob” is actually a reference to its body composition. Any cob regardless of what other labels are applied means that the animal is short in stature, only slightly stocky due to a muscular build and are a very hearty sort of animal with great endurance. It also describes similar breeds with sweet dispositions.
Common Confusions and Misconceptions About the Gypsy Vanner Breed
The gypsy vanner breed is often confused with other equines. For example, it is assumed that these horses are paint horses because they frequently have pinto markings. However, any breeds can have the pinto markings, and only paints are a registered purebred animal. To reduce the confusion, many a horse lover familiar with the vanner breed will just refer to the markings by coloring (i.e., black and white, brown and white, etc.) and then to the vanner breed itself.
A purebred may also be confused for a drum horse. However, a drum horse is half a Clydesdale or Shire horse and half gypsy horses. The drum horses are an American invention gaining ground in registered horsey circles, but are not, as of yet, a fully recognized “purebred” on its own because of its mixed bloodlines.
Another animal for which the vanner horse is frequently confused is the Dales pony. Unfortunately, the Dales pony is just a pony, whereas the vanner horse is a little less stocky, slightly taller, and has a lot more feather around its legs and feet than the Dales pony. Some tend to consider it the “British gypsy,” but it is much older than a gypsy vanner horse and the “British gypsy” really doesn’t contribute to the genetic makeup of its lookalike cousin.
The Care of These Horses
A more holistic approach to the overall care of these horses goes a long way. Their feet and feathering, for example, requires extensive cleaning and daily grooming to keep it from getting matted, tangled, filthy, covered in burrs, crawling with blood-sucking pests, etc. They are beautiful, but they are also high maintenance for that very reason. Keeping them shod and trimming the hooves helps keep their feet healthy as well.
These animals will have very thick coats most of the year. It thins out a little in summer, but because they are draft animals, they are used to growing longer coats to stay warm in colder months. You will need to brush and curry them often. To keep the flowing manes and tails looking as they should, constant brushing and combing is needed.
As for diet, they are quite hearty. Oats, hay, apples, etc., are all good in adequate quantities, but these horses are happiest grazing late in the day and early afternoon. If you work with them pulling a gypsy caravan wagon, carriage, or in a competitive sport, be sure to water them often with clean and pure water for optimum health. They love to serve you, and are willing to train. Reward them with small treats and they are loyal and hardworking all their lives.
During mating season, keep the stallion out of the pen and away from the mares until you are ready to create some cute little foals. A stallion may become quite aggressive and jump the fence, so keeping him in the barn may be a good idea when a mare is in heat. For extra guidance on breeding, consult Gypsy Gold, a gypsy-vanner foundation farm in Florida that has been in this business a long time now. You will be able to buy and sell healthy, sound animals from them and get good breeding advice as you begin this kind of business. Gypsy Gold can help you register your purebred animals too.
If you want to start a breeding program but you do not want to buy a stallion outright, you can pay a stud fee to another farm and their breeding program. They will send you a complete injection of stud semen. You will need your vet to inject it into your mare when she is ripe for fertilization.
Colors of These Horses
Many of these animals are piebald or skewbald, indicating a white and other solid color pattern. To see a solid color animal is rare, which makes them very desirable among horse lovers wanting to own a solid coloured horse of this persuasion. If you do see a solid coloured horse, they are often black, bay, chestnut or brown. OF course, black and chestnut are the solid colors everyone really wants.
Equines by Any Other Names…
As previously mentioned, you might encounter someone calling these animals “tinker horses.” A tinker horse is really any animal willing to pull a cart for a tinker, someone who fixes many things for pay. Even a quarter horse could be considered a tinker’s horsey! However, it is not uncommon to hear this phrase interchangeably with references to different breeds associated with or mistaken for the gypsy vanner breed.
Living the Roaming Life
There are a lot of Brits that choose to take a year or retire from life completely and buy up a wagon and an animal to pull it and just go. While that has really seemed to take off over there, it is slow to gain speed in the U.S.. While you can definitely buy the horses, the wagons are a little harder to come by. If you are really bent and intent on becoming a free-roaming spirit with your own wagon and horsey friend to pull it, you will need to do some digging to find a wagon builder. They are out there, and with the number of breeders making more of these horses, it won’t be too long before everyone else gets a similar idea.
Can gypsy vanner horses jump? This breed was bred to pull wagons not necessarily jump. Their stocky build is not designed to jump easily. It doesn’t mean they can’t but you certainly wouldn’t want to acquire a gypsy for that purpose.
Are gypsy vanner horses cold-blooded? These incredibly adaptable equines are considered to be cold-blooded due to their heartiness and awesome disposition.
Are gypsy horses good for riding? Because of their incredibly laid back temperament, Gypsies can make great riding horses. They are more than suitable for trail riding, dressage, the English and Western discipline, and more.
Why are the gypsy vanner horses so expensive? Typically because they are not native to the United States. And they are in high demand because of so many admirable qualities such as being gentle, kind, docile, obedient, and versatile. They are all around a great family horse and wonderful to have around children.
Are cob horses good for beginners? Cobs can make an excellent horse for beginners and first-time horse owners. They have a docile and placid temperament which is great for the newbie to the horse world. Although, the Welsh Section D may not be as suitable to the beginner because that Section can be fiery and have a sharp ride. The Section D would be a choice of mount for a more confident rider.
How long do gypsy vanners grow? The vanner can take up to 5-7 years before they are done developing. They are considered slow developers, and very hardy though.