Unmistakable thanks to their gorgeous manes, long tails, and heavy feathering, the Gypsy Vanner horse breed is one of the most popular (and most beautiful) horse breeds in the world. If the name isn't familiar, you might know them as the Gypsy Cob, Irish Cob, or Tinker Horse. Regardless of the name, this small draft breed has a reputation for being pleasantly tolerant, powerful, and hard working. Their versatility and beauty have contributed to their acclaim, and you can now find them in barns across the globe.
Keep reading to learn more about this stunning horse breed.
A Horse of Many Names
Gypsy Vanner, Gypsy Cob, Irish Cob, Traditional Cob, Tinker Horse, all of these names refer to the same horse breed developed in Great Britian. As the name suggests, European Gypsies, or Romani people, shaped the breed to how it is today.
A nomadic people, the Romani never stay in one area for long. They claim no national homeland, and their culture has existed for centuries. Instead of establishing permanent housing, the Romani people are constantly traveling. They pack their lives into wagons, called a vardo, and live in a traveling community of extended family and friends.
That family wouldn't be complete without horses. For centuries, the Romani relied on horses to pull their caravans. They were working animals, but they were also an important part of the Romani lifestyle. Children learned basic horsemanship at a young age and trained the horses for pulling, riding, and even general companionship. The traveling communities needed horses that were not only strong enough to pull heavy loads, but they also needed to be calm, friendly, and reliable. With those needs in mind, the Romani people began crossing different horse breeds to create their ideal horse: The Gypsy Vanner.
A Breed of Their Own
The Romani people knew what they wanted in a horse, and they didn't feel the need to stick to any of the long-standing breeds of their area. Instead, they began choosing horses based on desirable traits and pairing different breeds in hopes of developing offspring that met their needs.
They looked for horses that were strong, didn't spook easily, and were hardy enough to maintain their strength on a low-quality diet (most Romani couldn't afford high-quality feed). The most predominant breeds used in the Gypsy Vanner bloodline are the Shire, Clydesdale, Friesian, and the Dales Pony.
They chose individual horses for specific traits, and with time, they created an entirely new breed. In the Romani culture, however, pedigrees and bloodlines weren't written down. The information was passed on orally, and the Romani didn't even assign their new horse breed a name. The name Gypsy Vanner name didn't come until several decades later when two Americans noticed the beautiful breed and decided to buy it from the Romani.
They brought the horse to America in 1996 and established the first breed registry. They named the breed after the people who developed it and "vanner" is an old English term describing a horse trained to pull a caraVAN.
Identifying a Gypsy Vanner
Both farmers and travelers value large draft horses for their strength, but the nomadic people preferred a smaller horse that was easier to manage, hence the Dales Pony. The result is a small draft horse that is impressively strong for its stature. Often called "people-sized draft horses," Gypsy Vanners can range from 12.2 all the way to 16 hands high. The Gypsy Vanner Horse Society lists the breed standard between 13.2 and 15.2 hands high, but they also accept heights outside this range. A horse shorter than 13 hands is a mini, and any over 15 hands are grand sized.
Besides their size and strength, the most noticeable trait of the Gypsy Vanner is their hair. The most common colorings are piebald (black and white) and skewbald (brown and white). There are many other colors, however. The Gypsy Vanner is not a color breed, and they can be almost any other color as well as solid, tobiano, and blagdon.
If a Vanner's colorful coat doesn't catch your attention, their mane, tail, and feathering will. Most Gypsy Vanners have long and luxurious manes and tails. They also have feathering that starts at the knees and extends over the hooves. All that silky hair requires a lot of grooming, but a well-groomed Gypsy Vanner is always a thing of beauty.
Breed Fact: Prior to World War II, most Gypsy Vanners were solid colors. The switch to the tobiano coat pattern happened as a way to keep the prized horses out of the war. Their strength and unflappable nature made them ideal war mounts, but military officials preferred their horses to be solid-colored.
Versatility at its Best
While the small draft horses were bred to pull heavy wagons, their skills are far from limited. They are also great for riding, and they've since expanded into almost every equine discipline.
You'll see gorgeous Vanners succeeding in cart competitions and casually pulling wagons and carriages. They also compete in other sports including jumping and dressage. They make excellent Western and English pleasure horses, and they're some of the most beautiful pasture ornaments you can find. Because of their friendly nature, they also excel in therapy programs working with children and people with special needs.
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