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Breed Standards

1. Color:
The Gypsy Vanner Horse® is not a color breed - it is a body type, therefore all colors, markings and patterns are acceptable. In honor of the British Gypsy heritage of the breed, the following names will be used to describe a Gypsy Vanner horses color.
Piebald: Black & white
Skewbald: Red & white, brown & white, tri-color
Odd Coloured: Any other color
Blagdon: Solid color with white splashed up from underneath
2.  Height:
There are three height classifications, all having the same standards.
Mini Vanner: Under 14 hands
Classic Vanner: 14 hands up to but not including 15.2 H
Grand Vanner: 15.2 H and up
3. Body:
The Vanner has the look of a small to average size horse with a draft horse type body.
Back: Short coupled and in proportion to overall body
Withers: Well rounded, not high and fine
Chest: A deep, broad chest with well sprung ribs.
Shoulder: Sloping shoulder with well developed muscle
Hindquarters: Heavy, powerful hips with a well muscled rounded croup, tail not set to low. Slab sided or severely sloping hindquarters are considered a fault.
Neck: Strong and of ample length, stallions must display a bold look with a rainbow (well arched) crest.
4. Legs:
Clean, heavy to medium heavy bone set on medium to large hoof.
Front: Set square, muscular with broad flat well developed knees.
Rear: Hocks that are broad and clean, a Vanner will have the modified closer hock set of a pulling horse, but not as close as the modern draft horse. Set back or sickle hocks are a fault.
Hoof: large round hoof, open at the heels with well developed frogs. Small contracted hooves are considered a fault
Leg movement: Clean, straight and true with energy and a distinctive and effortless trot.
5. Hair:
Ideal hair is straight and silky, with some wave, curl and body being acceptable, kinky hair is a fault.
Abundant feathering should begin at the knees on the front legs and at or near the hocks on the rear, extending over the front of the hooves.
Mane, forelock and tail should be ample to profusely abundant, double manes are common but not required.
6. Head:
A sweet head is a more refined head than a typical shire might have, set on a strong neck in harmony with the horses overall look.
Throat and jaw: Clean throat-latch and jaw.
Nose: Flat and tapered, a slightly roman nose is acceptable if it goes with the horses overall look. A heavy roman nose is not acceptable.
Eyes: Any color, wide set, bright, alert and kind.
Ears: In proportion to the head, not too large.
7. Nature:
A Vanner should be alert and willing with traits of intelligence, kindness and docility, a Golden Retriever With Hooves®.
It is in the mission of The Gypsy Vanner Horse Society to respect the spoken words of Gypsies who have dedicated lifetimes in the pursuit of breeding the perfect Vanner/caravan horse. The breed standards were reviewed and approved in detail by a Gypsy who has maintained the same genetics born from his Vanner vision for over 56 years. He has raised several of the breeds most famous sires and dams and was instrumental in choosing the name Gypsy Vanner Horse® for his breed.
His name is Fred Walker. Upon reviewing this breed standard, Fred said, “I couldn’t have said it better myself.” Fred Walker, a.k.a. King of the Coloured Horses. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!



Eden still exists.  Not as a garden of earthly delights, but as an English river where some of the most captivatingly colorful horses in the world cross before being paraded and traded for their beauty and strength at a 300 year-old tradition known as the Appleby horse fair.

Appleby-in-Westmorland, in northwest England, is a quintessential medieval village, overlooked by an ancient Norman castle, where the River Eden winds through its sleepy, emerald valley, and each June, summer’s torpor is shaken off by the sound of thousands of hooves splashing through water, the groan of caravan wheels, and an international cacophony of shouts and laughter. This is the Appleby Gypsy Horse Fair.

Upon arrival, travelers traditionally bathe their horses in the river, giving visitors (and potential customers) a chance to assess animals before the fair begins. It remains one of the largest gatherings of gypsy and Romany tribes in the country, and one of the last vestiges of the late, great art of horse dealing.  At this year’s fair, horses washed in the waters of Eden fetched upwards of $100,000.

The Gypsy Cob Society of America, Inc., (GSCA) founded in 2003 to preserve these Romany bloodlines, says that nomadic people, known as “gypsies.” have traveled the roads of Europe and the United Kingdom in ornately adorned wagons for centuries.  To maintain this wandering lifestyle, they created a horse with enough endurance to pull a caravan (or “vardo”) all day, subsist on whatever grazing it could find roadside, and keep a calm demeanor, since a moment’s panic could result in the destruction of its master’s home.  Centuries of selective breeding led to a beautiful, powerful, and gentle animal – the Gypsy.

“The horse is fantasy-realized for young, and old, horse-obsessed girls,” says Jenny Edbrooke, who keeps three at Feather Drum Farm, in Merrimac.  “Gypsy attributes are tenfold:  their uncanny ability to connect with humans, kind, refined intelligence, and breathtaking beauty contribute to the legend.”

Name Brands
Their itinerant owners have been known by as many names as the borders they have crossed:  Gypsy, Traveler, Roma, or Romany.  As colorful as their caravans are the charming little draft horses pulling them:  piebalds, skewbalds, palominos and roans are typically in harness.  Completing the fairy tale appearance of these medieval creatures are their Rapunzelesque tails and manes, and cascading hair, or “feather,” draping the lower half of the legs, front and back.

The horses have as many names as their owners:  Coloured; Irish, Gypsy or Romany Cob; Gypsy Vanner; Tinker; or Travelers Horse.  They bear the blood of Scottish Clydesdales, English Shires, and perhaps Dales and Fells Ponies.  Perhaps is the operative word, since gypsy people, unencumbered by a permanent address, do not load wagons with such jetsam as breeding records.  Breeding history remains an oral tradition, shared from generation to generation, like good stallions among neighboring tribes. 

“Most Romany do not read or write.  Records are kept much like the Native Americans kept their history, by word of mouth,” explains Jeff Bartko, of Black Forest Shires and Gypsy Horses, in Colorado.  Paperwork formalities do not a breed make, nor does its lack impede creation.  “British and Irish gypsy horses have been bred for generations by a unique group of people on a few small islands.  A breed that has been bred for generations, and breeds true, is the fundamental definition of a breed, papers or no.”

U.S. interest prompted the formation of registries encouraging the preservation of breed standards and lines, but in pinning down a name to identify the breed, registration has not necessarily brought clarification.  The GCSA chose “Gypsy Cob” because “cob” is most commonly used in the United Kingdom.  Rarely heard in American lexicon, cob refers to a type, rather than specific breed, of small, heavy-boned, crossbred horse or pony, under 15.3 hands and capable of carrying up to 200 pounds.  Originally, it meant a hack for heavyset riders. GCSA registers Section A for under 14.2 hands; Section B for 14.2 hands and over; and Section C for Crossbreds (one parent must be a purebred Gypsy Cob). 

“Irish Cob” is used in southern Ireland, while outside the U.K., Europeans refer to the horses as Tinkers (also used to denote the Irish Traveler people).  “Technically, there is a difference between Irish or Coloured Cobs, and Gypsy horses,” says Jeff.  “A Gypsy will have generations of breeding behind it, and a pedigree known among gypsy breeders.  An Irish Cob can be a horse without a past.  Many are light crossbreds and not well feathered.  Gypsy horses have specific characteristics gypsies breed for, i.e. small size, ‘sweet,’ refined heads, compact bodies, good bone, and heavy feather.”

On this side of “the pond,” it is no slight to call them Gypsy horses. Given the American propensity for preferring larger animals, a proper U.K. horseman might cock an eyebrow at a reference to a 15.2 hand “cob.”  But the Romany may have had the right idea:  once paperwork gets involved, what you call them does start to make a difference.

Proper Vanners
One familiar term is Gypsy Vanner. Much like “gypsy,” it means different things in different places.  Black Forest Farm has worked closely with these nomadic dealers and in 2004 Jeff became the first American to drive his own wagon across northern England to a gypsy horse fair.  “Among gypsies, ‘vanner,’ means a lighter-boned, larger crossbred (or “half-legger”) for riding or light driving.  A true gypsy would never call a traditional, heavy gypsy cob a ‘vanner.’  One of the most respected breeders in England summed it well, ‘If I called the lads to tell them about my best filly, I would be doing her no favors if I called her a ‘vanner.”

Yet it was in deference to a people, its horses, and its cultural vision, that prompted Dennis Thompson, of Gypsy Gold Farm in Florida, to establish in 1996 what he called “the world’s first registry for a selectively bred horse raised by gypsies – The Gypsy Vanner Horse Society.”  Dennis and his late wife, Cindy Tergerson Thompson, launched GVHS after finding – and importing to the United States – the gypsy-bred stallion, Cushti Bok, sired by The Old Horse of Wales.  “The task of choosing the perfect name was critical.  The choice was between Romany Horse and a reference to ‘the traditional gypsy vanner’ (Cindy found) captioned under a photo in The Coloured Horse and Pony, by Edward Hart.  It was the only book we found that referenced ‘coloured horses raised by Gypsies.’ Our effort uncovered (their) vision to create the perfect caravan horse.” 

The GVHS recognizes the Classic Vanner, from 14 to 15.1 hands; Mini, under 14 hands, Grand from 15.2 hands and taller.  All should retain the look of a small Shire, with more feather, and a ‘sweeter’ head.  Seven characteristics considered for registration as a Gypsy Vanner Horse ™ include color, height, body, legs, hair, head, and nature.  The motto, “A Golden Retriever with Hooves” ™ to describe its docile nature, is also a registered trademark of GVHS, which does not accept crossbreds and frowns upon crossbreeding registered Vanners.

Drum Beats
The British Drum, or simply, Drum Horse, is the best-known and loved Gypsy crossbred.  The product of a Gypsy Cob and Shire or Clydesdale, they stand over 16 hands, and are the most popular horses in British pageantry.  No royal procession is complete without at least one Drum Horse, and many of today’s geldings (and one mare) trace their lineage to HRH Queen Elizabeth’s former Drum breeding stallion, the 17.1 hand Galway Warrior.  Drum Horses must be strong enough to bear a grown man plus two 90-pound, kettle drums and equipment (upwards of 450 pounds), and dependable enough to be controlled only by the feet of the drummer during a parade or procession.

“I trained smaller Gypsy horses, but did not know a taller version existed until later, and when I saw them, I knew I needed a few,” says Sarah Hollis of Tintagel Enterprises, Ltd. of Westhampton, whose Drum mare, Sequin, is bred to Galway Warrior.  A Drum colt, Siegfried, is by King Rocky out of her Friesian mare, Zoelynette. “I would like to keep one as an exhibition horse. Their flash, color, and calmness should make for fun trick and specialty work.”
The difference between a Gypsy or Drum horse, and a North American Spotted Draft or other spotted, draft-type horse, are genetics and feather. Feather is a recessive trait, and the only way to preserve its lavish, genetic opulence is to breed to true, “feathered” breeds.   “For a horse to be a Drum, it must have feather,” says Jeff.  “Breeding a non-feathered horse to a feathered one will not produce a Drum Horse.  If you breed a Gypsy stallion to a draft mare without feather, you get a Spotted Draft.  If you breed a Gypsy or Drum stallion to a light breed mare, you get a warmblood/sporthorse.  It takes several generations for feather to return once it has been bred out.  There is a trend in the U.S. for some dealers to call Spotted Drafts, ‘Drum Horses,’ to try and cash in on the market.  Don’t be fooled.”

But don’t be dissuaded from considering a colorful athlete.  Drum horses, crossed with warmbloods or Thoroughbreds, make sane sport horses with a dash of color, perfectly suited for taller, heavier riders. When crossed with another feathered breed, the offspring will likely be Drum type and eligible for registration in the Gypsy Cob and Drum Horse Association (GCDHA) and/or American Drum Horse Association (ADHA). 

Formed January 2006, the ADHA is the only registry dedicated to the Drum Horse in America, and outlines, “The Drum Horse must be a combination of Shire, Clydesdale, and Gypsy Horse.  We cannot stress enough, a Drum is not a large Gypsy Cob or Vanner.  A Gypsy Cob/Vanner is not limited to size, and a Drum Horse under 16 hands is not re-classified into a Gypsy Cob category.”

So what’s in a name when registering one?  Slightly different criteria and marketing approaches:  the trademarked Gypsy Vanner ™ Horse Society and “Golden Retriever with Hooves™” motto, are for selectively bred, pure stock only.  The Gypsy Cob Society has categories for full-blooded and crossbred Gypsy horses, and the Gypsy Cob and Drum Horse Association registers purebred Gypsies and several categories of Drum Horses.

Caveat Emptor
Warnings about those wanting to “cash in on the market” are not to be taken lightly.  These feathered friends are being called the “new Friesian” in popularity. 
“I worry that they have become the ‘horse du jour,” says Jenny, “and would suggest to anyone considering a Gypsy to seek a reputable breeder/owner.”

In Massachusetts, we have two GCDHA-member farms, four registered with GVHS, and eight belonging to GCSA.  Nationally, according to VannerCentral.com, there are about 700 Gypsy Horses, of which 400 are registered as Gypsy Vanners.   Breed shows are few and far between but here in Massachusetts, the Northeast Friesian Club invites Gypsy owners to participate in its summer show at the Topsfield fairgrounds.

“I have been to the Topsfield show because they offer classes for the Gypsy,” says Julie MacKinnon, of Nautilus Gypsy Cobs and Drum Horses in Plymouth. “It would be very beneficial to see more judges carded for the breed.  In Open shows, judges do not seem sure what to do with them!”

Gypsy gold has been said to “neigh in the night,” and like that precious metal, the horses do not come cheaply. Doug Kneis brought several, including a stallion, Warlock, to a luxury lifestyle car show where, “The men milled around the Ferrari and Maserati sports cars while the women and kids petted the Gypsy Vanners.  When Warlock was marched up the red auction carpet, no one was sure he would sell, but it seemed like a good break from the high-powered car action.”  Bidding on the stallion escalated from $45,000 to $125,000.

Dennis Thompson says established prices of selectively bred horses (if you were to purchase directly from a gypsy breeder without an importer) range from $3,000 to $14,000 for a stallion-potential colt.  Fillies start at $6,000 and average $20,000 or more, citing an outstanding mare sold with a filly at her side, from one gypsy to another, for $84,000.  Importation costs can add thousands more.

But like a Chanel purse for sale on a New York City sidewalk, beware of cheap imitation.  Some Massachusetts Gypsy horse owners, unfamiliar with the breed or importation regulations, worked with facilities that acted as middlemen, were familiar with English and U.K. gypsy culture, and knew reliable breeders and dealers, and shipping details.

“I did much of my research on the Internet,” says Anne Casavant Chaney, of Fox Hill Farm in Paxton.  “There were several breed registries, which was confusing at first.  But I was fortunate to identify a large importer who was able to help identify the ideal horse for me and facilitate the importation and delivery process.  All went smoothly.”

“Many people getting into importing gypsy horses are new to horses in general, and very new to draft-types,” notes Jeff at Black Forest.  “Most do not realize that over half the horses available for import into the U.S from Europe originate at auctions.  If you would not buy a horse that way in this country, don’t get fooled into buying one that way from there. You should buy from someone who goes directly to gypsy breeders, not someone who goes directly to the auction house.”

Julie imported her first two mares from England in 2004.  “I went to a breeder in England to buy, and used a broker to transport them to the U.S.  I made some mistakes trusting people, and learned a great deal in the process, along with losing some money.  I would not buy another horse from someone I didn’t know without having someone more knowledgeable oversee the process, but all in all, the horses were represented truthfully and I am happy with their quality.”

The wild Web frontier has led to “internet farms” claiming to be importers, and/or real gypsy breeders.  “There are stories of unsuspecting Americans sending money overseas and never hearing from the ‘seller’ again,” says Jeff.  “In one case we know of, the horses never existed.” Another danger is falsified documents.  “There have been horror stories of horses accompanied with false papers, and buyers facing large fines or jail time.”  To identify a trustworthy representative, select one who works from your own country and offers firm, credible guarantees.

“A 30-day, money back guarantee was very comforting for me since I was buying a horse without seeing it first,” says Anne.  Her Gypsy mare, Ruby, was imported from England as a weanling.  “I had confidence that the representatives who checked out my filly were able to select well and negotiate a fair deal.”

Locally Grown
Another option, as rewarding to the equine economy as “Buy Local Produce” is to our agricultural industry, is purchasing, or breeding to, U.S.-bred horses.  “A majority of Gypsies we see are imported but over the next few years, that direction will shift toward domestic-bred stock, as import costs and exchange rates are not favorable,” predicts Beth Hyman, of SquirrelWood Farms LLC in New York.

In addition to proven national sires like Galway Warrior and Cushti Bok, more stallions are standing locally, like Rock Ridge Dalton in Hampden or King Leo in Merrimac (MA), Connors Malachi in Vermont, Shantaigh in New Hampshire, and Desert Jewel Playboy in New York, the highest scoring, GCDHA-inspected stallion in America.

“We have high hopes for Dalton, and time will tell how worthy a stallion he will become by his future offspring,” says Anna Mascaro, of Rock Ridge Gypsy Farm.

“Our horses are both imports and U.S.-born,” say Caryl and Larry Giard of Painted Hills Farm in Leyden, who have eight Gypsy foals and broodmares, including one who appeared in California’s Rose Bowl Parade. “We imported one from Ireland, two from imports through a breeder, and others were from farms here.  The horses were represented well, and we have had good luck dealing with the import process and purchase.”

Like the Appleby fair, horse dealing face-to-face can be rewarding for the buyer and seller.  Caryl, and Tasha Snow of Snow Eden Gypsies in Bernardston, are friends who share a fondness for the breed.  So when Painted Hills Farm added six horses, after some coaxing, Tasha convinced Caryl to sell her Misty, a three year-old mare from the U.K.  Tasha then went to Bette Butson of Thistledown Cottage LLC in New Hampshire, to breed Misty to her golden palomino Gypsy stallion, Shantaigh, for 2008.

Each Hair a Sovereign
An outstanding attribute of the breed is its feather – the thick, full, ground-length hair (as gypsies call it) that should completely encircle the hoof, front and back, from the knee and hock down.  To gypsies, there is no such thing as too much feather.  The phrase often used is, “Each hair is a sovereign,” or in American lingo, each hair is worth a dollar, on mares as well as stallions. 

If you are looking at a horse with less than full feathering around the front of its hooves, it is likely a first generation crossbred, and not a pure Gypsy horse. The same applies to Drum horses.  Assuming they are Shire or Clydesdale-crossed with Gypsy, they should have at least as much feather as their draft parent, with full hair growing around the front of each hoof.

“Did you know a desirable characteristic is a moustache on your Gypsy?  Last winter, my filly, Serenade, grew a ton of hair above her lip seemingly overnight,” says Anna, who was confused by the outgrowth until research assured her that hair, even there, was typical Gypsy.  “It was so cute, and even curled up on the ends, like a handlebar moustache!”

Upkeep of that hair is essential.  “If this is the breed you want, taking care of all that hair is a big responsibility.  You have to be diligent about running your hands through every time you groom,” advises Jacquelyn Guertin, who works at the Crop and Carrot Tack Shop, and keeps her U.S.-born gelding, Roamie, at Canterbury Acres in Spencer.   Possibly one of the best known Gypsy horses in America, Roamie was the “centerfold” for his breed in Horse Illustrated magazine.

“They are susceptible to scratches (equine dermatitis, also called “bog burn”).  I found it on Roamie’s legs and it took all summer to clear up.  The only thing that worked was MTG, an oil-based product with sulfur.  I did have to shave his beautiful feather off to treat him, but they have grown back.” 

Beauty Inside and Out
In addition to its good looks, the breed’s magic is in its nature.  “I have found Gypsy horses to be among the easiest to train,” says Missy Wryn, of (W)holistic Natural Horsemanship, who trained The Lion King’s Blue Boy, after Sun-Up Farm imported the young stallion from England.  “I require 90 days minimum to start a horse under saddle.  Blue Boy progressed so quickly that he was home in 60 days.”  The two performed in August at the Oregon State Fair.

Missy explains why such trainability is no small feat.  “Keep in mind, he had been imported, quarantined, shipped west, then shipped again to Sun-Up.  Imagine how upsetting it would be if you were taken from your family (herd), flown across the world, dumped into a pen in Florida, and then trucked here and there, with different people handling you, and not understanding what is going on.  Gypsies have a calm, rational disposition which makes them willing to learn, and accelerates their training.  In Blue Boy’s case, he went from zero to riding under saddle in two months.”

By whatever name you call them, Jacquelyn says, “Gypsies are a people horse.”  When Roamie arrived in Spencer, he had just been gelded, and kept her husband busy repairing fence lines along an adjacent mare’s pasture.  “Every few days, my husband would have to go out and re-nail the fence together where Roamie had knocked it down.”   Perhaps the horse began to feel guilty, because one day, Roamie decided to help.  “Every time my husband put the tools down, Roamie would pick them up, or move them with his nose if they started to fall over.  He put his head on my husband’s shoulder as if to say, ‘What can I do?’  How many horses do you know that would grab a shovel as it was falling over and try to prop it back up along the fence?  That’s smart.”

That’s a Gypsy.

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