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A true Gypsy Horse, is one with a long history. That history is well known and has been passed down by the Gypsies, from those of yesteryear and on up until today. By that, I do not mean that all Gypsy Horse lines (pedigrees) are well documented on paper. That is a myth, since the majority of their horses were never given names and most Gypsies could neither read nor write.
Be aware, that some might try to sell you a horse with a "made-up" pedigree. Do your homework before purchase.
Even though there are a very few photos of the greats in the breed, their names are still well remembered today. Sadly, many passed on, before the advent of DNA, so we can only go by the memories of the older generation of Gypsy men, who bred and still remember, these horses. In the future, with DNA proof of breeding and as more serious breeders research and keep pedigrees on recent horses, we will come to know all the horses in our pedigrees. However, tales and stories of some of the great ones, are still told to each generation within Gypsy communities and happily passed along to the new fanciers of the breed.
The Gypsy Horse can be found in all colours and patterns. This obviously because of the many breeds which went into the makeup of the breed originally. Most commonly known, is a spotted (tobiano) horse of Black and White or Brown/Red and White. However, the breed can be found in many colours and one to suit every taste.
The Gypsy Horse is a Horse with a solid background of Gypsy Horse ancestors. One which breeds true, generation after generation. Unfortunately there are many breeders about today, who breed spotted horses of mixed breeding, with little or no feather, light boned and weedy and sell them as Gypsy Horses. They are not Gypsy Horses. Nobody can make an instant Gypsy Horse. There is a lot more to the breed than colour and a tuft or two of feather.
The true Gypsy Horse, is a traditional horse, which has been bred and used by Romany and other Gypsies in Europe for hundreds of years. However, the horse we have come to know today, most certainly found his roots in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. He will be probably stand between about 13 hands and about 15 hands tall - give or take a little at either end. Certainly some were much larger, but they were and are, not what is referred to as a Traditional Gypsy Horse. While the very ancient history of the Gypsy Horse is unknown, they are probably descended from several early draft horse and pony breeds. There is no doubt that Shires, Clydesdales, Dales Ponies and Galloways/Gallowers, found their way into his early makeup. In Wales and now all over the world, there is a breed known as the Welsh Cob. One must be careful to not consider them and the Gypsy Horse or Gypsy Cob, as one and the same breed, although no doubt, in the early days, many shared some of the same ancestry.
Gypsy Horses are sometimes also known as Gypsy Cobs, Romany Horses, Coloured Cobs, Gypsy Horses, Gypsy Vanners and Irish Cobs. On the European Continent, they are more often referred to as just "Tinkers". Regardless of what one wishes to call them, if they indeed come from the original Gypsy Horse background, they are all the same breed. To help sort it all out, let's look at some facts and myths.
Original Gypsies didn't call themselves Gypsies, nor did they call their horses Gypsy Horses. Those nomadic peoples from Ireland were referred to as "Travellers".
Those nomadic tribes of Romany descent, called themselves "Romanichals". The Travellers of Ireland and later the Romany people of the British Isles, called their horses Coloured Cobs, Cobs, Coloured Horses or sometimes just Piebalds, since over time, the white Horse with patches of colour became most prized.
They also had ways and names of referring to the different qualities found within the breed - even though until recently, these horses were not actually considered a true "breed" by the general public. They often called their good quality horses, "Proper Cobs", "Good Cobs", "Proper Horses" or "Proper Piebalds". Sometimes they just referred to them as "The Gooduns", especially if they travelled and lived in and about the Norfolk and Cornwall areas. These were horses which displayed everything they prized and desired and would probably use as future breeding stock.
When referring to horses which turned out to be of lesser quality, ie. those who were too refined, lacked feather etc. surplus horses or horses they intended for sale, Gypsies of old, often just called them vanners, half-leggers, carters or bogies. Why such names? In ancient days, CaraVANNERS were those who travelled, often in pairs or groups across different parts of the world, often covering thousands of miles and were mostly merchants, buying and selling along the way. In the more recent old days, the word Vanners or Carters was the name given to those men who drove delivery wagons - called vans in the Villages, Towns and Cities of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. In some parts, Vanners and Carters were known as Bogies - named after the carts they drove known as a Bogey. No longer travelling in groups, the men who now drove delivery vehicles for private companies, didn't care about the quality of their horses as long as they could work. In recent times, some people of the UK have called any breed of large Draft horse, which happens to be still used to pull larger vehicles and waggons - a Vanner.
By selling off their surplus horses to the vanners and carters, the Gypsies were then able to purchase items they needed to live. Remember, to the Gypsies and Travellers, their horses were currency and they found a good market for surplus horses as Cities and Towns grew. Go to our Antique Photo page and you will see many old photos of Vanners and their horses. Did you know that in the large Cities of the UK years ago, there were no public baths for humans, but there were public baths for the Vanner, Carter and Bogey horses? It was on one of those horse baths that the first photo was taken. This is not to say that some city drivers didn't end up with some mighty good quality horses if they were lucky enough to find a Gypsy in need of some quick money, with a good horse to sell. Today a comparable name for a Vanner, Carter or Bogey, would probably be a delivery man.
Regardless of the name one might give these horses, they ARE all one and the same breed, if in fact they come from original Gypsy stock. Do NOT let anyone tell you that those known by one name, are somehow superior to those known as another! It's purely a myth put about by those who command outrageous prices and registered in one particular registry. There can be found, excellent, good and less than good quality horses, in all the registries and horses known by all names!
Don't let anyone tell you that the Gypsy Horse is "rare" in the US. There are many who state on their websites, that only 400 Gypsy Horses exist in the US currently. Not so. There are probably about 14,000 or more now. This "400" myth, purely is the number registered within one registry and often an advertising gimmick.
One which I find rather ridiculous and possibly dangerous, is the piece one often sees thus..."The Gypsy Horses are known as Golden Retrievers with hooves". This unfortunately, gives the newcomer to the breed, the idea that these horses almost are born trained and one can trust the smallest child with them, almost as soon as they step off the trailer. Obviously the Gypsy Horses, just as any other breed, can be very hot, wild, dangerous or sweet and calm. Especially considering that many of the horses we import, have never, ever been touched or handled, until they are loaded on to a plane to come to the US. This Golden Retriever with Hooves advertising gimmick bothers me a great deal.
The Traditional Gypsy Horse will have huge, flat bone. His body must be comparitively short. He will have a thick neck and a long shoulder, which should tie in well down his back. He should have a wide and powerful chest. His hindquarters should be round and large. He should sport a very thick mane and tail. His feet should be covered with an enormously profuse amount of long hair. This should start behind the knee or hock and fall to the ground. It is known as Feather. Feather can be noted as curly, woolly or straight and silky within the breed. Many prefer straight, silky feather but it is not demanded. What is demanded, is that there is profuse Feather which covers the hoof. It might also be noted, that many who use their horses for riding, cut the feather along the hoof or coronet line but it's pretty easy to tell if indeed the horse does have correct Feathering and it's just been cut.
The true Gypsy Horse should be kind, quiet, patient, tractable, solid in disposition and completely trustworthy. He should be able to do a day's work and have the strength, fortitude, power and heart, to travel many miles pulling a full load of necessary.
Should you desire a dependable mount for almost any riding dicipline, The Gypsy Horse will be your guy. He excells as an English pleasure horse, in Western pleasure, in low-level jumping and has lately found much favour among those interested in more advanced forms of Equitation such as Dressage. While not found here frequently (yet) in Dressage competition, in several European countries, he is a well-known competitor. Since he finds much pleasure in his human counterparts, it seems he rather takes to learning tricks also. We have even come across one who works cattle regularly and another who takes part in Team Penning. Those who take part in Vaulting, have found the Gypsy Horse an ideal mount, with his wide, flat back. This is a real "all round" horse with tremendous athletic abilites. At least a couple I know, are competing with their young riders in Junior Rodeo.
When considering purchasing a Gypsy Horse, do your homework regarding the History of the Breed. Learn what to look for in a good example of the breed. Research as many current breeders as possible and in all countries. Try to learn about the greats of the breed since they appear often in most pedigrees. When you have chosen a breeder or importer, learn about their history in the breed and find pictures of young stock they have already sold. It's pretty easy to do these days on the internet. Did they mature as you would have liked? Were the new owners happy with their purchase?
Whatever you do, don't put your hard-earned money in the hands of someone out to make a quick dollar by breeding mixed breeds with a little feather and colour and calling them Gypsy Horses or Vanners. Gypsy Horses they are not! They are purely a mixed breed. A true Gypsy Horse will have a Sire and Dam of the same breed and will be the end result of that which the Gypsies of the UK have been breeding for generations.
Some of the best Gypsy Horses are today are still found in the British Isles but these days, more and more good ones are also finding their way into the US. If you wish to import a Gypsy Horse, seek out someone who is thoroughly involved with the breed, someone who knows all the Gypsy breeders personally and who make frequent trips to Great Britain to view the stock first hand, or have very reliable breeders/agents who purchase for them. We will be happy to recommend reliable importers, exporters and breeders for you. Learn everything you should know about importing a horse if you so choose to do it yourself. It's not quite as easy as you might think and the cost of importing a lone horse, can be $10,000 or more, once all the bills have been added up and that doesn't include the selling price of the horse. Should you not feel comfortable importing a Gypsy Horse, there are many wonderful examples of the breed in the US from which to choose and many new foals being born here in the US yearly. As time goes on, I think we will be seeing less and less imports as many more domestic stock appear on the market.
I would like to mention here, a little about Embryo Transfer foals.
There are a few within the Gypsy Horse community in the US. whom I feel are abusing this and are popping out loads of identically bred foals each year. I am amazed that newcomers to the breed, having obviously not done their homework, are paying incredible amounts of money, for horses with many identically bred siblings, all born in the same year. In my opinion, the more full siblings available in a given year - the less expensive they should be. With an older, very good stallion or mare, I can see the reason to try a couple of ET's with him/her in their later years, but to breed many identical foals, to me it's just pure greed on the part of those who do it.
Today, in the US., the extremely large spotted heavy horses, (those over 16 hands) are called "Drum Horses" and while some have a Gypsy Horse in their background, they are condsidered a separate breed. While many are still used for heavy work, parades etc., the name "Drum" came from the fact that this huge, often spotted, heavy type horse, was the horse of choice which carried the drummer and the enormous Kettle drums during Royal and other parades in England. Sadly, a few years ago, during a parade in London, some mentally deficient individual in the crowd, actually shot one of the Queen's favourite Drum horses, in full view of thousands of stunned onlookers. Knowing how we English feel about our animals, I am surprised he was not torn, limb from limb by the surrounding crowd. There are now a few quite wonderful examples of Drum horses in the US. However, they are still fairly rare. However, there are many breeders in the US. who are now breeding these big, beautiful horses.