18 May Gypsy Vanner Breed Profile: Cost, Colors, & History
Gypsy Vanner Horse Breed Profile
The Gypsy Vanner is a striking horse, and if you’ve seen one in a pasture or on the trail you’ve likely done a double take (or you may have even stopped to snap a picture). They are the horses of fairy tales, with their long, flowing manes and tails and their abundant feathering.
What is a Gypsy Vanner? Gypsy Vanners are known not only for their striking appearance but also for their gentle and willing temperaments. Gypsy Vanners originated in Britain and to this day are used by Romani travelers to pull their wagons. Because of their calm personalities and their athletic abilities, they are popular today in both English and Western disciplines, in addition to their roles as companions and therapy horses.
Keep reading for more information on the Gypsy Vanner, including their history, characteristics, and how much you can expect to spend if you would like to welcome one to your barn.
History Of The Gypsy Vanner
The Gypsy Vanner has several aliases – this horse also goes by the name of Irish Cob and Tinker Horse, among other variations of “Gypsy Horse.”
The name “Gypsy Vanner” was earned as a way to practically and accurately describe the role of the horse – the breed was created by the Romani people (“gypsies”) to pull their caravans (“vans”) in the early 1800s though you may be surprised to learn that the breed was virtually unheard of in other countries before the late 20th century. The breed is believed to have strong influences from the Shire, the Clydesdale, and the Dales Pony.
The Romani people are well-known for their traveling lifestyle and their signature caravans that are colorful, elaborately decorated, and built with sloping and curved architectural lines. Their entire lives were in these caravans, and they needed an animal that was strong and athletic enough to pull them during their travels.
The Romani were (and still are, to some extent) a persecuted people, and record-keeping was not a high priority for these 19th-century travelers. For that reason, it is challenging to get an accurate depiction of the genetic path that led to the development of the Gypsy Vanner, but it is believed that the Romani spent more than 50 years developing this horse that was so well-suited to their lifestyle.
The Gypsy Vanner was largely restricted in terms of both region and purpose until the 1990s, when two American tourists, Dennis and Cindy Thompson, happened upon one of the Vanner stallions in a field.
They were fascinated by the horse and set out to learn as much as they could about the breed over the next four years. In 1996, the Thompsons imported the first sixteen Gypsy Vanners into the US, creating the first official breed registry that same year. Today there are Gypsy Vanner breed registries in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
Gypsy Vanner: Colors & Physical Characteristics
Some breeds of horses are challenging to distinguish from others with an untrained eye. This is not the case for the Gypsy Vanner. Gypsy Vanners are highly recognizable due to their stocky stature and their profuse hair.
They are known as the “people-sized draft horse,” having the build of a strong draft but maturing to only 14-15 hands on average. This gives them the strength to pull a caravan and the height to make riding comfortable.
Gypsy Vanners have very thick, long manes and tails. But possibly the most prominent physical trait is the profuse feathering below the knees. While Gypsy Vanners can come in just about any color, the majority of them are painted, often black and white (“piebald”). While these horses are breathtaking in their beauty, one must also consider their grooming requirements if looking to be responsible for one.
Those luxurious manes, tails, and feathering do not take care of themselves – they can get quite muddy, tangled, and filthy. They will require more grooming time than most other horse breeds. Braiding or other accessories may be helpful (or necessary, depending on where you live).
True to the build for which they were designed, Gypsy Vanners are very strong and muscular, particularly in the hindquarters. They are often described as having an “apple bottom” (and have the “boots with the furs” to go with it). Their bones are dense and strong, and their hind legs are typically pointed outward at the hip, similar to the conformation found in other draft or pulling breeds.
Gypsy Vanner: Temperament
According to the Gypsy Horse Association, “the [Gypsy Vanner] is renowned for its gentle, tractable nature and sensible disposition.” The Romani needed more than just muscle – they needed a horse that would be part of the family. Because of the nature of the nomadic life, there was no barn or pasture in which a Gypsy Vanner would be turned out or stalled while the family lived in their separate home.
The Romani horses lived closely with their human families, and a horse with a steady and dependable temperament was required for this living situation.
Romani travelers were not always on the move – they would stop and camp frequently. While at camp, the group lived together as one community, and the horses would stand close and graze while the children ran around and through their legs. Horses that would spook or exhibit any aggressive or defensive behaviors would not have been tolerated. Because of this, only the Vanners with the most docile and laid-back personalities were bred.
Fortunately, the preservation of the Gypsy Vanner’s easy-going temperament has been kept a priority through the last several decades, even though many Gypsy Vanners have never even seen a caravan today.
Gypsy Vanners are gentle, agreeable, and forgiving. They are patient and calm and tolerant of beginners. They are not generally spooky and are willing partners. They’re intelligent, easy to train, and confident. Gypsy Vanners make excellent riding horses for beginners and/or children.
How Much Does a Gypsy Vanner Cost?
If you have dreams of adding a Gypsy Vanner to your herd one day, start stuffing cash under your mattress now. Vanners are still relatively new to the United States and therefore are not as commonly found as other breeds of horse. That, combined with their desirability, means that these horses are not exactly inexpensive.
Depending on where you live, you may be able to find a foal or young horse for around $10,000. In this case, you will not be getting a turnkey animal – you’ll need to put in a lot of training and time in the case of a younger foal.
Horses should not be started under saddle until they are four or five years of age, though some breeds mature more quickly than others. If you’d like to purchase a seasoned, healthy Gypsy Vanner, you can expect to pay between $25,000 and $45,000. You may be able to find a Gypsy cross for significantly less.
What Are Gypsy Vanners Doing Today?
While there are still a large number of Romani travelers, the majority of the ethnic group are settled and are no longer nomadic – in fact, the United States is home to one of the largest populations of Romani in the world. Nevertheless, the Gypsy Vanner is more popular today than ever.
Their athleticism and stamina, combined with their eager and willing temperaments, allow these horses to excel in a wide variety of disciplines. You may find them in the dressage ring, at jumping events, pulling carts, and ridden in Western pleasure. You may also find them on trails or being used as therapy animals.
There are many Gypsy Vanners who have made a positive difference in the lives of patients with special needs and those suffering from PTSD, including military veterans. In 2017, LexLin Gypsy Ranch, the largest Gypsy Vanner breeder in the United States, donated 65 of their horses (totaling an estimated value of over $1 million) to the organization Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International.
The program uses these horses to provide an estimated 175,000 therapy sessions per year. LexLin President Eric Barton is quoted as saying, “We want to enable people in need around the U.S. to have access to these extremely tractable horses as its amazing to witness what this breed can do for improving health, skills, and overall improved healing and quality of life for many people.”
Many of us intricately understand the therapeutic benefits of being around horses, and Vanners are especially well-suited for this unique (and important) role.
The Beauty of Gypsy Vanners
Honestly, the Gypsy Vanner is one of my favorite breeds, and my husband and I plan to own one someday. While you can find their images splashed on horse calendars and posters due to their outward beauty, it is their personality, in my opinion, that really shines.
The Gypsy Vanner is the epitome of a family horse – unflappable and patient, easy-going and friendly. They have been said to genuinely enjoy the company of people and are even described as sweet and affectionate. It’s no wonder that these horses have stolen so many hearts in the last 30 years, including mine!