The gorgeous Gypsy Horse! We are celebrating them as our September Breed of the Month on YourDressage! Did you know that dressage riders who choose Gypsy Horses as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as Gypsy Horse Registry of America (GHRA) & The Gypsy Vanner Horse Society are both participating organizations?
The Gypsy Vanner, originally developed as a caravan horse, is widely known for their strength, intelligence, docile nature, athletic abilities, and their colorful coats. Hailing from the Gypsies of Great Britain¹, the breed was carefully curated through selective breeding practices, with the ultimate goal of producing the perfect caravan horse. This selective breeding included genetic contribution from the Shire, the Clydesdale, and the ponies native to the British Isles, including the Dales Pony.
While the Gypsy Vanner is widely recognizable by their colorful coats, this is not a requirement of the breed. Gypsy Vanners actually carry a variety of coat patterns, including solid, tobiano, and splash. The Gypsy Vanner is often referred to as a “people-sized draft”, generally standing between 13.2-15.2 hands, and sporting the heavier bone and body-type of the full-sized Drafts from whom they hail. In addition to the heavy bone structure and body type, the Gypsy Vanner also sports the flowing mane and tail, and feathered legs that dreams are made of. The length of the head of a Gypsy Vanner is pivotal to measuring the proportions of the rest of the body (the neck should be equal to one head length; the point of the shoulder to the point of the buttock should equal 2.5 head lengths; front heel to the whither should measure 2.5 head lengths; etc). These proportions produce a horse whose appearance is balanced and harmonious².
Coupled with their compact bodies, the Gypsy Vanner personality has made them highly sought after as driving horses, dressage mounts, Western Pleasure horses, as well as trail and therapy horses. The breed is well-known for their unflappable nature, and friendly and engaging temperament. Notably, the breed gives an impression of intelligence, kindness, strength, and agility³. Their large eye and its placement (the Breed Standard maintains the eye should sit between 60-65% of the face length from the moustached nose) gives an impression of kindness and willingness to work with their human partner. The gaits include, as noted in the Breed Standard of the North American registries, a steady forward-flowing walk which reflects impulsion from the hindquarters, and a ground covering trot which creates a slight flick of the leg feathers at the point of extension (easily seen in photos). The canter of the Gypsy Vanner is a naturally flowing gait, easily performed when the horse is ridden in a collected, balanced frame.
Dennis and Cindy Thompson launched the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society on November 24, 1996, the same day they imported their first two Gypsy Vanner fillies, Bat and Dolly, from Europe. Following the arrival of the first fillies, the Thompsons imported Cushti Bok on Easter Sunday 1997, and The Gypsy King on Easter Sunday 1998. The first Certificate of Registration to be issued by the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society was for the piebald stallion Cushti Bok (The Old Horse of Wales x Callie) on December 15, 1997. TheGypsy Vanner breed’s official introduction in North America took place in June of 1998, in Louisville, KY, at Equitana USA by Dennis and Cindy Thompson, who had imported twelve more mares by this time. The Gypsy Vanner Horse Society maintains a studbook of purebred Gypsy Vanner Horses.
The Gypsy Horse Registry of America was subsequently founded in 2003, and maintains a working relationship with the Gypsy Cob Breeders and Founders of the Breed Standard in the United Kingdom. As such, this registry cross-recognizes registration with the Gypsy Gob & Drum Society, Gypsy Cob Society, Ltd, Gypsy Vanner Horse Society, Irish Cob Society (and affiliates), Gypsy Horse Association, and Traditional Gypsy Cobb Association. The Gypsy Horse Registry of America maintains both a Gypsy Horse Stud Book and a Gypsy Crossbred Stud Book.