Last updated: March 20, 2023
I saw my first Gypsy Vanner at a recent horse show, and it was quiet an impressive looking animal. It made me wonder where they came from and what are equine events are they used for.
Gypsy Vanners are a small draft horse breed, with an easy-going temperament and sound conformation. The Gypsy Vanner and Irish Cobb are the same horse, they originated in Ireland and were developed by the Romani’s. They are robust and reliable horses, used for multiple purposes.
Gypsy Vanner’s are growing in popularity in the United States. If you are considering buying a Gypsy Vanner, there’s a lot of useful information here about the breed.
History of the Gypsy Vanner Horse Breed
European Gypsies developed a unique horse breed, and Gypsy Vanner, Irish Cob, and Gypsy Cob are a few of the names used to identify the horse. But regardless of their name, they are stunningly beautiful and reliable horses.
Gypsies didn’t record their history or the breed pedigree of their horses but instead passed the information from one generation to the next orally. European Gypsies, also known as Romani’s, are nomadic people who traveled around Europe in caravans of horse-drawn wagons.
The Romani’s migrated to Europe from northern India between the eighth and tenth centuries. They were mistakenly labeled Gypsies because native Europeans believed they came from Egypt.
Romani’s believed in freedom, and they claimed no national identity or ties to a homeland. Their history has been traced through language or written by other cultures.
In the 1300s written records from Ireland described a tribe of people, that never stopped in one place for more than 30 days. These tribes are believed to be the Gypsys. By the 16th century, they had spread through most of Europe.
Many European countries despised the Gypsys, and in 1510 Switzerland passed a law ordering any Romani found executed. Similar laws were subsequently adopted in other countries such as England and Denmark.
For centuries the Gypsy’s were scorned, killed, and persecuted in Europe. The extermination of the Romani’s continued through World War II, and close to 500,000 were put to death.
Because many Romani people were travelers or nomads, they relied heavily on their horses for their mobility. The Gypsy’s home was their wagon, called a vardo and it contained all their possessions.
The horse was not only a working animal but also an integral part of Gypsy’s family.
Gypsy Vanner breed characteristics
Gypsy Vanners are strong and don’t easily spook.
A Gypsy’s horse had to be strong and reliable. Strong to pull the heavy vardo, and reliable to not spook. A spooked horse could bolt, and if attached to a Gypsys’ wagon home could be devastating and create a colossal misfortune.
The Gypsy Horse also had to be calm around children. Often kids would crawl on top and all around the horses. A horse showing signs of ill will towards anyone was quickly culled. The horse was a trusted member of the family.
Gypsy’s without ample access to high-quality grain needed a horse that could maintain its strength on a paupers’ diet, and the Gypsy Horse can. Power, reliability, calm demeanor, pleasant temperament, and hardiness were the qualities bred into the Gypsy’s Horse.
Gypsy Vanner Colors
Gypsy Vanners were solid colored before WW II.
Prior to World War II Gypsy Vanners had solid colored coats. The multicolor coat were introduced to the horse breed, to detract their confication by Western European governments to use in battle. The attributes bred into the Gypsy steed made it a perfect battle horse.
The Army excluded horses with white color patterns because they were more visible to the enemy. To save their horses from confiscation, the Gypsy’s had to breed white into their horses’ coats.
Most Gypsy Vanners are black and white piebald
The most popular colors are piebald (black and white) and skewbald (brown and white), but can also be any other color with white or a solid color with a white splash or primary colors.
The Gypsy Horse Association provides a color chart of acceptable colors along with a written description. The Gypsy Vanner Horse Society likewise has its standards for horse registration on their site.
Gypsy Vanners have large draft horses in their pedigree
The modern Gypsy horse originated in Ireland. Throughout the centuries the Gypsies crossed numerous horse breeds to come up with the perfect horse for their purposes.
The Shire, Clydesdale, Dales Pony, and Friesians’ are the most predominant breeds found in the Gypsy horses’ bloodlines. The Romani people bred only horses best-suited for their needs and soon developed a unique horse.
The Gypsy Vanner breed standards include feathering.
Standards established for the Gypsy Vanner breed are:
- Short back in proportion to the overall body.
- Broad chest.
- Heavily, well-rounded hips.
- Dense, flat bone (flat at the knee) with ample hooves. Flat at the knees.
- Hair: feathers start at the knees in front, near the hocks in the rear. These extend over the front of the hooves, ample to abundant mane and tail. Ideal hair is straight & silky.
- A sweet head with a strong neck in harmony with the horse’s overall look: A sweet head is one that is refined.
- Disposition: The horse should exhibit traits of intelligence, kindness, and docility.https://gypsygold.com/
Gypsy Vanner’s height varies greatly.
Gypsy Horses have a wide range in their heights. The larger Gypsy horses are used for pulling, and the smaller ones are ridden.
The Gypsy Vanners’ average height is 14.2 hands tall. However, they can range from 12.2 to 16 hands. Gypsy’s below 13 hands are referred to as minis, horses 14 to 15 hands are called classics, and horses over 15 are considered grand sized Gypsy Vanners.
The Gypsy Vanner Horse Society has a breed standard in which it lists the height from 13.2-15.2 hands tall, but heights outside this are accepted. Gypsy Vanners commonly weigh between 1,100 to 1,700 pounds.
However, large-sized horses fell out of favor, and Gypsy began to introduce horses of shorter stature in the bloodline. The Dales pony fit the Gypsys purpose.
Dales ponies influenced Gypsy Vanners breeding
The Dales pony is native to the United Kingdom’s mountain and moorland area. They are known as strong, hardy ponies with great stamina and courage. They are an intelligent breed with a pleasant disposition.
The Dales pony was initially a working pony, used extensively by the British army in both World War I and World War II. Today, the Dale pony is considered a rare breed and listed on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust as critical and “threatened” by The Livestock Conservancy.
The Dales, allowed the Gypsy to maintain the heavy bone, feathers, and ability to pull big loads derived from the Shire and Clydesdale breeds but in a smaller and more economical package.
The Dales and interbred with the Shire and Clydesdale provided the basis of today’s Gypsy Horse.
Gypsy Vanners are predisposed to certain diseases.
The gypsy vanner breed is prone to develop polysaccharide storage myopathy (PSSM). PSSM is a particular disease in horses caused by their failure to properly horses metabolize sugar and starch.
Horses with this disease don’t effectively use glycogen for energy. Instead of burning glycogen when needed for energy its stored in the horses muscles.
Because the glycogen remains in the muscles, it often causes the animal to develop cramps (tie-up) and muscle tremors, especially after exercise. The symptoms of PSSM can be controlled with diet and exercise.
Horses with PSSM should eat low sugar and low starch diet and get regular exercise. You can learn more about this disease here: Prevalence of polysaccharide storage myopathy in horses with neuromuscular disorders
Gypsy Vanner uses
Gypsy Vanners are draft horses
Gypsy Vanners were specially trained by the Gypsy to pull their home on wheels, called a vardo. One unique training method taught the horses was never to stop pulling on a hill. The Gypsy’s believed, rightfully so, that if the horse quit while traveling up an incline, it may not get the vardo moving again.
Gypsy Vanners are used in dressage.
The Gypsy horses are used for more than just pulling; they are also used in jumping, dressage, western pleasure, and English eventing as well. The athletic ability of the horses gives them great versatility.
Are Gypsy Vanner Horses Good for Beginner Riders?
I know most large draft breeds have the temperament needed for a good beginner’s horse, but did those traits pass to the Gypsy Vanner? Are they good horses for novice riders?
Gypsy Vanners are good horses for beginner riders, they are athletic, have an excellent temperament, and are willing to work. The Gypsy horse was bred to pull wagons but also to be ridden by children. They are gentle and patient.
The Gypsy horse also has a willingness to please his owner and learn quickly. For an inexperienced rider, a Gypsy would be an ideal horse. To read more about beginner horses click here.
Gypsy Vanner Horses are a cold-blooded horse breed.
The Gypsy Horse is considered a cold-blooded horse. Cold-blooded horses typically have massive bodies and calm demeanor, and most are draft horses that originate from colder regions.
The Gypsy Horse checks most, if not all, the boxes. The only exception is the athletic ability of the Gypsy Horse is more closely resembles a warm-blooded horse than his cold-blood family.
Gypsy Vanner, Irish Cob, and Gypsy Cob are the same horse.
There is no difference between a Gypsy Cob and a Gypsy Vanner horse. The horses the Gypsy’s developed over the years weren’t known as a specific breed. Americans formed the first breed registry for the Gypsy horses.
Two Americans traveling in England noticed a spectacular looking horse. They learned about the horse from his Gypsy owner and purchased him and brought him to the United States.
Since the horse wasn’t part of an official breed, they established the first official breed registry for the horses. They named the new horse breed Gypsy Vanner.
Vanner being an old English term defined as “A horse suitable to pull a caravan,” and Gypsy for the people who developed the pedigree. In Europe, the Gypsys’ horses are sometimes called Irish Cob or Irish Tinker horses.
The Irish cobs’ roots can be traced to the 18th century but is often considered a type, not a breed, and varied somewhat in characteristics.
Generally, a cob horse, is a small, solidly-built horse and is often, but not always black and white. Some people, more often Europeans, will refer to a Gypsy Cob/Gypsy Vanner as an Irish Cob.
What Does an Average Gypsy Vanner Horse Cost?
Because of the Gypsy Vanners’ elegant presence and rare presence in our region, I expect them to be expensive. These thoughts prompted me to check how much would one cost.
Twelve thousand five hundred dollars is the average price for a Gypsy Vanner Horse. These are expensive horses. However, just like with any other breed, you may be able to find one for a more reasonable price.
Age, gender, training, conformation, and pedigree all factor into the price of a horse. Remember always to have a horse vet checked before purchasing. To check the prices of Gypsy Vanners, visit equinenow.com, a website that lists horses for sale.
Are Gypsy Vanners Gaited?
The heavy feathering on a Gypsy Vanners legs draws your attention. They move gracefully, which made me wonder if they are gaited horses.
Gypsy Vanners aren’t a gaited breed. They have a short step to their trot, but it’s not a gaited movement in the traditional sense. Although the Gypsy Horse isn’t gaited, it maintains it’s head high and travels proudly.
Gaited horses travel in a specific footfall pattern that is instinctive to their breed. Some popular gaited breeds include the Tennessee Walker horse, Icelandic horse, and Paso Finos.
If you’re interested in gaited breeds check out my article: Paso Fino Horse Breed: Gaits, Origins, and Characteristics
Do Gypsy Vanner Horses’ Have Mustaches?
There are some funny pictures of Gypsy Vanner horses on the internet with mustaches. They look fake, so I decided to find out if Gypsy Vanners really have mustaches or not.
Some Gypsy Vanners do have mustaches. And not just a little bit of hair on their muzzles but an actual full mustache in the Yosemite Sam vain.
How Long do Gypsy Horses Live?
Large draft breeds don’t typically live as long as smaller horse breeds. Since Gypsy Vanners have draft heritage, I wondered if they also have a shorter lifespan.
Gypsy horses’ life expectancy is not much different than the average horse, 24 years. If you are interested in learning more about how long horses live, click on the highlighted words.
Gypsy Vanners are available for adoption.
There are always animals in need, Equine Now has a site advertising rescue horses for adoption and specifically list Gypsy Vanner rescue. Check out their site here https://www.equinenow.com/gypsyvannertexasrescue.htm.
If you have any interest in retired racehorse rescue, you can click on the link to review some good resources. retired-racehorse-adoption-guide-all-you-need-to-know/
Gypsy Vanners have an annual race in England
Every year in early June, about 10,000 Gypsies and Travellers, along with their horses congregate in the town of Appleby-in-Westmorland in Cumbria, England. Among the many horse-related activities are unorganized carriage races.
The annual event is an excellent place to visit if you are interested in buying a Gypsy Vanner. It is most likely the largest gathering of Gypsy Vanners in the world, and most of the horses are available for purchase.
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Meet Miles Henry
An avid equestrian and seasoned racehorse owner, Miles Henry brings his extensive experience to the equine world, proudly associating with the AQHA, The Jockey Club, and various other equine organizations. Beyond the racetrack, Miles is an accomplished author, having published various books about horses, and is a recognized authority in the field, with his work cited in multiple publications.
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