The beauty and versatility of the Gypsy Horse, also known as the Gypsy Vanner Horse, makes them one of the most sought after equine breeds in the world today. This gentle and alluring horse makes you feel safe when you ride, and leaves you in awe when you watch one compete. Their calm temperament and intelligence make them the ideal horse for beginners to ride. Whether you are a new or experienced rider, everyone can enjoy the adventure of a Gypsy Vanner Horse!
Gypsy Vanner Horse Characteristics
Although the Gypsy Vanner is a relatively small horse breed, they have broad chests and shoulders, allowing them to easily pull carriages or carts. They are best known for their spotted and mixed color coats.
The most common colors they come in are either piebald (mixed black and white) or skewbald (mixed brown and white). Gypsy Horses are easily recognized by their long, flowing manes and tails, as well as heavy feathering below the knees.
Gypsy Horse Size
The average Gypsy Vanner measures about 12-16 hands, or about 48-64 inches tall. They can weigh anywhere between 1,000-1,800 pounds, with those on the heavier side having more draft horse blood. Male and female Gypsy Vanners are very similar in size, with females being just slightly smaller.
Gypsy Horse Personality
Gypsy Vanners are among the most popular horse breeds today because they are intelligent, docile, and easy to train. They are a great beginner horse and often the favorite option for families. They have a well-mannered nature which allows them to bond with children easily.
In recent years, trainers have also begun to use Gypsy Vanners for therapy treatments or equine therapy. This breed has become the ideal horse for therapy because of its easy-going personality. They have treated people from special needs patients to military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Gypsy Horse History
The Gypsy Vanner is a breed with a deep and rich history, originating with the Romani people from Great Britain around the 1850s.
At the time, the “fashionable” or popular horses in Great Britain were solid-colored, and owners would often remove the mixed color horses from the main herd. However, the Romani people considered the piebald (mixed black and white) or skewbald (mixed brown and white) horses to be more valuable and would take the unwanted ones for themselves.
The Romani people wanted a horse breed that was beautiful, mild-mannered, easy to ride, and strong enough to pull their caravans throughout the countryside. By selectively breeding different horses the Romani began to create a suitable breed.
They chose the Shire and Clydesdale horses for their strength and feathering and Welsh Cobs and the Dales Pony for the smaller sizes. The resulting horse breed became what we know as the Gypsy Vanner Horse. In fact, the word vanner means “a horse suitable to pull caravans” in Old English!
The first Gypsy Vanner to arrive in America was in 1996, brought over by Dennis and Cindy Thompson. While they were on a business trip to England they became increasingly fascinated with the breed.
After their travels, they researched the horse’s background and how the Romanis selectively bred this gentle but sturdy horse. The Thompsons then established the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society, the world’s first registry dedicated to the in-depth study of the breed.
How to Care for a Gypsy Horse
With its calm disposition, the Gypsy Vanner Horse is one of the most straightforward breeds to train. However, they require a particular diet due to their slow metabolism, which causes them to gain weight quickly.
Gypsy Horse Training
Many seasoned trainers have attested that Gypsy Vanner Horses are the easiest to handle and manage. Gypsy Horses are smart and intelligent, but like most horses, they need plenty of time and understanding to hone their talents.
Nutrition & Feeding for a Gypsy Vanner
Many owners opt for a high-fat, low-sugar diet to combat the issue of slow metabolism in this breed. Their slow metabolisms can be beneficial because Gypsy Horses need less food to maintain their weight.
This breed may need to be restricted with a grazing muzzle in the springtime when the grass grows quickly. Because activity level influences every horse’s caloric needs, performance, and competition Gypsy Horses may require a high carbohydrate and protein diet as well.
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Coat Color & Grooming
Gypsy Vanners require consistent and dedicated grooming. If they live in a rugged environment, dirt or mud can get stuck in their coats or feathering. The buildup can cause the feathering to become knotted, so owners will have to pay this breed constant attention. The feathering can also cover up swelling or attract moisture, so it’s important to clean as necessary.
A common way to clean a horse’s feathering is using shampoo and conditioner. This can be time-consuming as the feathering will still need to be checked daily if the horse owner wants to keep the hair in good condition. Braiding is also an alternative to limit the amount of dirt collected. If the feathering continues to get dirty often, the owner can decide to shave it off if needed.
The Gypsy Vanner Horse is strong and robust but can be prone to certain health conditions if not cared for properly. If dried dirt or mud gets caught in the feathering, it can often lead to many cuts and scratches on the legs. These cuts and scrapes can cause significant health issues, such as deep swelling or even lameness.
An over-production of keratin, or hyperkeratosis, is also a significant risk factor for Gypsy Horses. Keratin is the protein responsible for the breed’s long mane, tail, and feathering. Too much keratin can cause thick, crusted growths to form in the feathering.
Mallenders and Sallenders
Keratins growths can lead to mallenders and sallenders, scabs that form in the back of the legs, or the front legs, respectively. These growths need to be checked for and removed early on to prevent bacterial or fungal infections.
Owners will need to be watchful for these infections since repeated cases can cause lymphedema in horses. The infections can cause intense discomfort for the horse, causing lesions, scabbing, and deep swelling in the skin. Sometimes, it can even lead to maggot infestations if not treated early.
How to Get a Gypsy Vanner Horse
As one of the more popular horse breeds today, Gypsy Vanner Horses are becoming increasingly expensive. They are in the $10,000 price range, with purebreds going for more. However, they can be a lot harder to find.
People have started to breed more Gypsy Horses to match the increasing demand, so it is essential to find a reputable breeder for a healthy and strong horse.
Check out the Gypsy Horse Association for more information about this wonderful breed. They offer memberships for all levels so join today to share your love for Gypsy Vanner Horses!
More About this Breed – Gypsy Vanner Horse
A popular breed often associated with Gypsy Vanner Horses is the Drum Horse. However, these two breeds are not the same. Gypsy Vanners must be bred with a larger feathered horse such as a Shire or a Clydesdale to get what we know as the Drum Horse today.
In 2017, Lexlin Gypsy Ranch, the largest Gypsy Vanner Horse ranch in the US, donated 65 Gypsy Horses to the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.).
They estimate that these horses will provide over 175,000 therapy sessions per year and can offer millions of sessions throughout their lifetime. As the success of horse therapy begins to pick up, more people will start to realize the usefulness and versatility of the Gypsy Vanner breed.