I know of a lot of people looking for the just-right horse. Something strong, kind, versatile, gentle, mature-minded, nice moving, enjoyable for all levels of riders and, of course, beautiful. Is it possible? 

Enter: the Gypsy Vanner.

My first experience with the Gypsy Vanner breed is my good mare Buttermilk (who has also graced several entries on this very blog). She is registered with the Gypsy Horse Registry of America as a crossbred (half gypsy, half Quarter Horse) and I bought her on Craigslist nine years ago. She’s been my trusted using horse, teacher, broodmare, kid’s horse and friend, among others. Most folks that saw me on her doing a job, with her big mane, wild color and feathered feet, figured she was some sort of bucking horse reject. 

Gypsy Vanner horse trotting
Photography by Jenny Ramsey of Clarion Call Farm

Fast forward to today and that’s no longer the case. Due to their incredible dispositions, versatility and good looks, the Gypsy horse has gained leaps and bounds in popularity and notoriety in the recreational horse world. 

There are several programs that identify and register Gypsies in the United States, but two of the major associations are the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society and the GHRA. Both strive to recognize, develop, preserve and promote the breed. A Gypsy, a Gypsy Cob or a Gypsy Vanner are all words to reference the same type of horse. Other names they go by are Galineers Cobs, Irish Cobs or Tinker Horses. As many of us have seen via online sales and auction results, Gypsies are valuable horses to raise, train and sell. Because of this, there are a lot of folks who are happy to call any gentle, cold-blooded, draft-type of horse a Gypsy, for marketing purposes. However, the GVHS and the GHRA both adhere to strong breed standards and guidelines for confirmation, disposition and movement on their registered horses and it’s important to note that, just because there’s a lot of hair and bone, it doesn’t mean they are automatically some sort of Gypsy Vanner (or cross!), without the proper documentation. 

These horses come in an incredible arrangement of colors, though it is not a “color” breed. The breed was originally created by traveling – nomadic folks in the United Kingdom wanted to develop the perfect horse to pull their gypsy caravans. This meant breeding for strength, personality, intelligence, trainability and a little bit of flash. In 1996, the breed came to the United States and were dubbed “Vanners,” as they pulled the caravans in the United Kingdom. They are, in short, a smaller, user-friendly sized draft with a steady, friendly, patient and engaging personality. They are selectively bred to preserve and better these genetics into a horse that both lifelong expert horsemen and newcomer equine enthusiasts can respect, admire and enjoy. 

Kelli and her gypsy vanner, Buttermilk
Kelli and Buttermilk. Photograph by Barbara Metcalf Schneiderhan.

On a personal note, ever since I bought Buttermilk to resell (and quickly loved her too much to ever do so), I have incorporated the breed into my personal program. I own a couple of registered horses and raise some registered crosses. They bring a ton of eye appeal, intelligence, strength, forgiving personalities and a whole lot of mane and tail to my horses. Many of the ones I have owned and known have a unique, smooth yet powerful way of traveling, too. 

Is there a downside to owning a Gypsy? Well, it depends on what your desires are. Although they are surprisingly athletic overall, they are not the quickest or fastest breed, so they can be a little slow for jobs that require nimble feet and bursts of speed. All of their feather, hair and grooming is often more high-maintenance than our average lightweight riding horses. The ones I’ve known have also had relatively slow metabolisms, thus, making them “easy-keepers,” so their diet needs to be regulated and specific. 

They are not here to replace our beloved, quick-footed cowhorses, but rather, they bring a fresh, fun, beautiful and safe addition to our Western world. 

Gypsy Vanner horse walking toward the camera
Photography by Jenny Ramsey of Clarion Call Farm

Now that the secret’s out and just about everyone has witnessed the permanent appeal of the Gypsy Cob, when I’m mounted up on Buttermilk, I hear a lot less, “Is that an ex-buckin’ horse?” and more of, “Now that horse is just about right, isn’t she?” 

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