The Gypsy Horse, also called the Gypsy Cob, Irish Cob, or Gypsy Vanner, has only relatively recently come to be recognized as a horse breed, but to the Romani gypsies (nomadic travelers) of Great Britain this horse is as old as their traditions.

Following the ravages of World War II, when the greatest numbers of Roma were displaced, the gypsies in Great Britain still clung to their nomadic lifestyle and staged carnival displays. They wanted to cement their identities in the turbulent times and so they developed the perfect horse to draw their caravans, seeking an individual that resembled a small Shire, with more feathering, more colour and a pretty head. Section D Welsh Cob blood was introduced to create slightly smaller animals with an active trot. They were quietly and selectively bred, unknown to the outside world for over fifty years until they were discovered by a couple of Americans, Dennis and Cindy Thompson, who undertook years of research to learn about the origins of this extraordinary type of horse before they began importing and breeding them. The Gypsy Vanner Horse Society was established by the Thompsons in 1996.

Gypsy Vanner horses, mare and foal in hilltop pasture in Great Britain

Mare and foal gypsy horses at Burton-on-Trent in the English Midlands. Bob Langrish photo

Why are these horses called Gypsy Vanners?

Romani, also known as Roma, are the Indo-Aryan people and traditionally nomadic itinerants widely known as Gypsies. The term is considered by some Roma to be pejorative due to its connotations of illegality and irregularity. By that same accounting, the term Gypsy Vanner is applied to their horses. The name Vanners denote their origins hauling the nomadic caravans. They are the horses of the original Caravanners.


How big is a Gypsy Vanner?

Gypsy Vanners are relatively small horses compared to other breeds. The typical cob only stands between 12.2 and 15 hands tall, but while they may be shorter than your typical draft, they’re just as broad and easily capable of pulling carriages and caravans while also serving as pleasure horses best suited to heavier riders.


What breeds developed the Gypsy Vanner?

Historians believe the primary breeds that were selected and which developed into the Gypsy Vanner are the Friesian by way of the Shire, the Clydesdale, and the Dales Pony. The Friesian horse is included primarily because it was involved in the development of all three of these other younger breeds.

A similar breed, the Drum Horse, is a combination of Shire, Clydesdale, and Gypsy Horse, where the Gypsy blood is at least 6.25% of the make-up of the individual but no more than half.


Are Gypsy Vanners good horses to ride?

The Gypsy horse was bred to pull wagons but also to be enjoyed by children. They are gentle and patient animals and easy to train. Gypsy Vanners are good horses for beginner riders; they are athletic, have an excellent temperament, and are willing to work. The Gypsy horse also has a willingness to please his or her owner and learn quickly.


How fast can a Gypsy horse run?

beautiful Gypsy vanner horse racing towards camera, all feathers and mane

Bob Langrish photo

A young and healthy Gypsy Vanner in its prime could gallop between 40 to 48 kilometers per hour (25 to 30 mph). The world record for a horse galloping over a short, sprint distance is 88 kilometers per hour (55 mph) by a Quarter Horse. Besides the three basic gaits, some Gypsy horses perform a two-beat pace instead of the trot.


How do you identify a Gypsy Vanner?

Gypsy Vanners are flashy animals with a thick mane and heavy tail, preferably with a short rump and muscular hindquarters, heavily feathered legs and big hooves. Their heads are typically more refined than most draft breeds. Heights can range between 12.2 to 15 hands depending on their type and the region in which they reside. Although there are no coat colour limitations, Gypsy horses are usually piebald, blagdon (solid colour with a white splash on the belly), or skewbald (irregular patches of white and another color, preferably not black).

Gypsy horses are by nature tractable, sensible, kind, and intelligent animals. They’ve been bred to be confident and reliable around crowds and courageous in their performances. Modern owners will find them willing and manageable; these horses are born with good manners.


Why are Gypsy Vanners so expensive?

Gypsy horses are relatively expensive in North America due to their rarity and appeal. They are not native to Canada and so they’re considered exotics, and they are coveted for their many wonderful qualities. They’re gentle, kind, obedient, and versatile enough to be great family horses, which is why they’re in such high demand.

The good news is that because Gypsy Vanners are so popular, it’s actually becoming easier to find them in North America.  But the bad news is that because they often cost $10,000 or more, they’re less likely to end up in rescue situations where you would be able to adopt one.


What are Gypsy Horses used for?

In the United Kingdom, Gypsy Horses are still used to pull gypsy caravans and are shown and traded at large horse fairs.
You can see these colourful horses pulling carts and carriages, ridden in the dressage ring, as well as over fences and as western pleasure horses
In North America, they are used as show horses, trail mounts, carriage horses, and can be ridden either English or western.
In 2004, the United States Dressage Federation began allowing Gypsy Vanners to compete in their dressage events.


For more information, visit:
Gypsy Vanner Horse Society