11 Incredible Gypsy Vanner Horse Facts

Gypsy Vanner Horse Breed Facts

Gypsy Vanner Horse Facts

I’ve long been fascinated by the beautiful Gypsy Vanner breed, and it’s been a dream of mine to one day call one of these horses my own. Until then, I’ve been settling for learning all I can about this fascinating breed, including its whimsical history.

What are some incredible facts about the Gypsy Vanner horse? Gypsy Vanners are known for their unmatched beauty – their flowing mane, thick tail, and abundant feathering. In addition, their dispositions and intelligence are just as impressive as their looks. The breed is relatively new to the world, and they have a rich history, developed by the infamous Romani travelers.

Keep reading to learn eleven fascinating facts about the Gypsy Vanner!

Fact 1 – The Gypsy Vanner Is A Young Breed (Less Than 30 Years Old!)

Some horse breeds have been around for centuries (or longer!), and the Gypsy Vanner breed is still in its infancy when compared to them. Gypsy Vanners did not become an official breed until they were first imported into the United States in 1996. That’s right – the breed only became official 28 years ago! 

In 1995, Dennis and Cindy Thompson took a trip from their home in the US to England. It was while passing an English pasture that they became captivated by an elegant draft horse that was the size of a riding horse.

They stopped to speak to the farmer who was keeping the horse and after finding out where the horse belonged, spent the rest of the day with the friendly Romani breeders. 

Thus began the Thompson’s lifelong passion for this exotic breed. The couple purchased the very same stallion that had caught their attention and brought him home the following year after the Romani breeders had completed their breeding plans with him. Though this all occurred less than thirty years ago, the Gypsy Vanner is now popular around the globe.

Fact 2 – Gypsy Vanners Were Developed By Crossing Draft Horses With Ponies

Because the Romani traditionally kept only oral breeding records, the exact lineage of the breed is uncertain at best. That said, the Romani have mentioned several breeds that were used to create the Gypsy Vanner: the Shire, the Clydesdale, the Dales pony, the Welsh Cob, and the Fell pony.

Specifically, the Romani breeders are quoted to have said that the Dales pony was “thick, strong… active yet a great puller”, implying that the Dales is the horse to have had the most impact on the Gypsy Vanner breed. 

Fact 3 – The Gypsy Vanner Is A Horse with Many Names

Dennis and Cindy Thompson, upon creating the official registry, had to first come up with a name for the new breed. They did this by bringing a few ideas to renowned Romani breeder Fred Walker (known as the “King of the colored horses”), who gave his blessing for the name “Gypsy Vanner”.

Aside from its official name, however, the breed has a remarkably long list of “unofficial” names considering its young heritage. You may hear other names for the Gypsy Vanner – including the Gypsy Cob, the Romani Cob, the Irish Cob, and the Tinker Cob (or the Tinker Horse, as it is officially known in the Netherlands). 

The term “vanner” means “a horse suitable to pull a caravan”, which is an apt name for the breed, having been bred for just that purpose. Coincidentally, the word “vanner” was removed from most dictionaries in 1995 due to a lack of use, only to once again become relevant the very next year in the Gypsy Vanner.

Fact 4 – Gypsy Vanners Were Bred To Be Family Horses

In creating the Gypsy Vanner, the goal of the Romani breeders was to create a strong, showy horse to pull their decorative caravans. Because these caravans were the homes of the Romani families, it was imperative that the horse be gentle, patient, and level-headed.

Traveling families had no barns – their horses were like family and had to be comfortable with children running at their feet. For this reason, horses who did not have the right disposition were removed from the breeding programs.

In addition to pulling the family caravans, Romani children learned to ride on the backs of their horses, where even further patience was required.  

Fact 5 – The Gypsy Vanner’s Beautiful Markings Were Once Considered “Undesirable”

The initial Romani breeders may have appreciated their flashy horses, but they were generally alone at the time. Gypsy Vanners were developed post-World War II.

At the time, solid-colored horses were considered fashionable, and horses with markings were generally removed from breeding programs and sold at a discount – a discount that the Romani took advantage of. Because of this, most Gypsy Vanner horses have pinto markings, with only a small percentage of registered horses having solid coloring.

Fact 6 – Gypsy Vanners Traditionally Received “Special” Training

Gypsy Vanners are highly intelligent and trainable and are shown in a variety of disciplines today. Traditionally, however, the Romani used training methods that were unique to caravan-pullers. They started their horses quite young, leading the horse in a harness at the side of an older, trained horse.

Until he was comfortable, a hat was used as blinders on a timid horse’s head so that he wasn’t able to see the caravan “following” him. Additional training was employed for the horses, including the teaching to never stop when traveling uphill (lest they were unable to start back up).

Fact 7 – Gypsy Vanners Are Known As “People-Size Draft Horses”

Gypsy Vanners have earned the nickname “the people-size draft horse”. They have the strength and the build of draft horses, but stand only 13 to 16 hands high, whereas most draft horses stand 16.2 to 18 hands high.

This allowed the Gypsy Vanner to not only pull the Romani caravans but also to serve as family riding horses. Their shorter stature also makes them slightly more economical to keep (and feed).

Fact 8 – Gypsy Vanners Are Known For Their Abundance of Hair

One of the most notable features of the Gypsy Vanner is the abundance of hair. Gypsy Vanners have thick, lustrous manes that reach a significant length (and therefore require a lot of care). Their tails are equally thick and long.

This abundance of hair doesn’t end with their manes and tails though. According to the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society, “the first characteristic often noticed is the abundance of feather flowing from behind the knees and hocks…” – Gypsy Vanners are known for their beautifully hairy legs, which they likely got from their Clydesdale heritage.

Fact 9 – Gypsy Vanners May Have Mustaches

You read that right – Gypsy Vanners can even have mustaches! This is believed to be related to the gene that causes their profuse feathering, mane, and tail.

Not all Gypsy Vanners grow mustaches, but for those that do, both males and females are equally affected. Interestingly, the horses will grow their mustaches for the Winter, which will disappear in the Summer. 

Fact 10 – It Is Frequently Argued That The Gypsy Vanner Is Not A True Breed

Because there is so much variation allowed within the Gypsy Vanner horse registries, there are some who argue the Vanner is not a true breed.

I would counter-argue, however, that there are many horse breeds that allow for significant differences in height, color, and even body type. I would also ask what makes a breed a true breed.

The Gypsy Vanner was intentionally bred over many years for a specific purpose and by a specific design, has modern breeders across the globe, and has associated breed registries (or associations) – this seems pretty official to me.

Fact 11 – Gypsy Vanners Are Traded And Shown At Horse Fairs

Gypsy Vanners are often traded and shown at breed-specific horse fairs, the largest of which is the Appleby Horse Fair in Appleby, England. This small town, which has a population of 2,500, sees more than 10,000 Romani travelers and over 30,000 visitors every Summer at the fair.

This is known as a traditional “gypsy fair”, with no intentional schedule. The horses are shown, some are sold, and there are markets erected that sell traditional wares and souvenirs.

I’ve always wanted to attend one of these fairs, and if I ever make it to this region in England, I’m going to make sure it’s around the time of the Appleby Horse Fair!

Bonus Fact: Gypsy Vanners Have It All

There are certainly specific horse breeds that excel in specific disciplines. If your passion is show jumping, you may want one of the European warmbloods. If you’re into horse racing, you’re going to want a Thoroughbred.

Outside of specific disciplines, however, the Gypsy Vanner really does have it all. While they are known for their magnificent beauty, they are also highly intelligent, very trainable, friendly, patient, and forgiving.

They make excellent mounts for advanced riders, and they are also solid horses for beginners. The Gypsy Vanner is an exceptionally well-rounded horse, and that’s probably the reason that the breed has gained such a dedicated following, especially when considering that it is such a “new” breed.

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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