What is a Gypsy Horse?

If you are a Gypsy Horse lover, you’ve come to the right spot. If you’re a horse lover, you’re in good company, because I am, too. You may be wondering, “What is a Gypsy Horse?”, well, hopefully I can help answer that question.

Oliver, owned the Coates family

“Gypsy Horse” is the term many people use when referring to the breed, Gypsy Vanner,  a breed of small (12HH) to medium (up to 15HH) sized draft horses. They are also called Coloured Cobs or Coloured Horses by the Gypsies who breed them.  The genetics that make up the breed come from Shire, Clydesdale, Dales Pony, and Friesian ancestry. They were bred to be an average sized horse with a draft body.

In his response to my post about a Gypsy cart for sale, Dennis Thompson wrote this:

The cart you are referencing is called a Turkish Gypsy Potter’s Cart.

Also, the information you have about what is a Gypsy horse is actually misleading. … I am the founder of the GVHS and discoverer of the breed.  80% of the horses that Gypsies raise are of unknown heritage and are not a breed.

A German came to my farm to ask how I got the money I get for a tinker horse. He said a tinker horse is not a breed it is a color that comes in all shapes and sizes. You can buy one for 1000 Euros in Germany he continued. By the time he left he understood what happened to his country and coloured horses. Horse traders inundated Holland, Germany and Scandinavia with what are called “trade horses” after the Vanner breed was introduced on the Internet. People were fooled into thinking horse raised by Gypsies simply went by differnt names. It was horse traders who called coloured horses tinker horses. They did not understand the breed or the people. Gypsies hate the name tinker…

(basically a “trade horse” is a horse bred primarily for meat, not for breeding, show, or pleasure. These horses will have very poor conformation and will not be bred for the high qualities that a Vanner is bred for, like their feather and temperament.)

Read my interview with Dennis Thompson here.

Although they are described as a “heavy” horse, Gypsies are also quite agile and adept at some of the more disciplined equine events, such as dressage, reining, fox hunting, as well as driving carriage and wagon. Mostly, though, they are wonderful family members, happy to be loved and will work hard at any discipline you desire.
You will also come across the term “Drum Horse.” A Drum Horse  is an American cross-breed, between a Gypsy Horse, and a Shire or Clydesdale, often to produce a colored, tall draft horse. The Drum Horse was inspired by horses used in the Queen’s regiment to carry the very large and heavy silver kettle drums. More info on Drum Horses can be found here.

A bit of history
This amazing blend of temperament, talent, substance and grace is a result of hundreds of years of selective breeding by the Romany, or Roma, people, commonly referred to as Gypsies (the term Gypsy stems from the mistaken belief that this nomadic culture originated in Egypt, but we now know that they emigrated from regions of northern India), and the Irish Travellers. Irish Travellers are a nomadic people that are believed to be descendants of the pre-Christian Celtic bards and minstrels who would have traveled between the different tribes, bringing news, and keeping the oral tradition of storytelling through music and poetry. They would also have goods and wares from other areas to trade, and usually held a craftsman’s trade of metal working, or “tinkering”, including farrier services, a common need for the journeyman. The Gypsy horses’ versatility comes from the fact that they had many roles to play. Pulling a heavy-laden “Living Wagon” (so-called because the Gypsies lived in, worked out of, and carried all of their belongings in them) also called a Gypsy Vardo. (click image for more info)

Once camped, the horses would be ridden and handled by all family members, including children, so a docile, even temperament would be a must. All the while, they would have to feed on whatever was available along roadsides and around the camps. Their hooves had to be hard and strong to deal with long treks on paved and unpaved roads.
The horses that Gypsies and Travellers relied on were many things to these people: partners, family members, and financial assets. Many a Gypsy will measure his wealth by the horses he keeps. The most prized stock are those with perfect conformation, a calm, friendly demeanor, lots of hair, and of course, feather. The feather makes the Gypsy horse. Feather is the term used for the long hair surrounding a draft horse’s hoof. On a Gypsy horse, straight, silky feather is preferred, but some wave or courseness is acceptable. It should start at the knee and fall to the ground, all the way around the hoof. Gypsy horses are also very hairy! Most will have a long mane and tail, some even have a double mane, where the mane is as thick and long on both sides of the neck. But they also have lots of body hair – beards, shaggy winter coats, long belly hair.

Some will have the coveted “lucky mustache”on their upper lip. A true Gypsy breeder would never clip or trim the mustache or beard, but some breeders in the U.S. tend to go for a cleaner look, and prefer to give the head more definition. A neat, pony-type, or “pint pot” head is desirable, with upright, pricked ears, and a kind eye. Blue eyes are quite common. Being primarily a draft breed, a traditional Gypsy horse should have a strong neck, short back, heavy bone, and a nice round rump, although some prefer the taller, more refined Gypsies, the body type should still fit the proportional Gypsy conformation.

If you’re new to the breed, I encourage you to do as much research as you can. The more you learn, the the more you grow to love these wonderful creatures. Check my “Lots of Links” page to visit more great sites!
An excellent source for Gypsy history: Gypsy Horse History
Here’s another great article: All About Gypsies
I could not hope to write a better coverage of Feather and its importance in the breed than this: About Feather
A fantastic outline of the Gypsy Cob Standard

Color and type
Gypsy Vanners can be of any color, and their height can range anywhere from the 12HH range to upwards of 15-16HH, but a traditional size is in the 14HH range.

Most Gypsy Vanners are Piebald, (Ringmaster)

Ringmaster

or Skewbald (Lucky Charm Ruby), although skewbald is less common.

Lucky Charm Ruby

They can be solid colors, appaloosa patterned, buckskin, chocolate, palomino, blue (black roan), white (gray), Chestnut (“Sorrel” to you cowboys), roan, bay, and a pattern known as Blagdon, (Bob the Blagdon)

Bob the Blagdon

which we would call an extreme Sabino pattern, where white is splashed up from the belly, and on the legs above the knee. Many breeders are trying to bring in more of the more “off” colored horses, (Bay Silver Dapple, on Desert Jewel’s Coates Silver Bullet)

Silver Bullet

some prefer the traditional black and white. Whatever you prefer, there is bound to be a Gypsy Horse out there for you!

For an example of seasonal color change, here are some pictures of Chroicoragh’s coat over the years (for more on Gray Factor read this post):

Her Gray Dapples are fading more and more every year. But the color is always there, it’s actually the color of her skin. It’s the hair color that fades. You can see it better when she’s not in the sun, or when you are giving her a bath.

For more Gypsy Horse information, please see my Lots of Links page,

or feel free ask me a question in the comments.

 

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7 thoughts on “What is a Gypsy Horse?”

  1. Hello
    I am hoping you can tell me what the fan like bit of hair at the top of some draft type horses and ponies is called. I always loved the mustaches on our draft horses by the way.

    Tails..meant at the top of their tails.

    Like

    1. Hi Cindy,
      I’m not quite sure what you mean about the fan-like hair at the top of their tails. The only thing I can think of is that my horses like to rub their tails and flanks on the fence, and when they do some of the tail hairs break, and they will have some shorter tail hairs that kind of stick up in the air sometimes.

      (and Lisa over at LexLin Gypsy Ranch told me it’s common for Draft Horses to be itchy, and rub on fences, trees, and such.)

      If you have a link to an image showing what you mean that may help.

      Or maybe another reader has a better explanation? Feel free to add to the conversation!

      Like

      1. Hello
        Thanks for the responses..I have no picture it is actually a trivia question and my only answer after really scraping my brain lol..is apron..which is wrong.. I read about that feature in some breed book long long ago and it struck a chord since some of our draft horses had it in the winter. Wish I had a picture and if I find it out I will post it here in thanks and revelation. lol

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      2. Hi. I have a gypsy vanner with the “fan” at the top. I’d like to know about it too. I have a picture but can’t seem to post it here.

        Like

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