Gypsy Cob History
The history of the Gypsy Horse, also known as the Gypsy Cob or some call them Gypsy Vanner (which is just a registry name); is steeped in the traditions of the Romany people of Europe. More commonly referred to as Gypsies in this country, the Romany people (which does not refer to Romania as many people think) take great pride in their horses. Unfortunately, due to the lack of written records on the breed, most of what is known of the Gypsy Horse has been passed down from generation to generation through the spoken word.
What is known about this wonderful breed is that they were developed to meet the demanding needs of a nomadic people. With heavy wagons that served as the Gypsies' home, a sturdy, strong horse was needed. At the same time, because the families lived in these wagons and kept all their treasured possessions such as fine china within its confines, a horse that would never go running off was a must. Finally, because the children were often put in charge of caring for the horses, an animal that was gentle enough for youngsters to handle was an absolute necessity. Of course, a nomadic lifestyle meant that food was often simply what was available at the side of the road, so the horses had to be easy keepers. The result of all these requirements was a possible breed combination of the Clydesdale and Shire for size and strength, plus the hardy qualities of the Fell and Dale ponies.
The Traveler breeders, dedicated to breeding the best cobs, carefully selected the horses according to their needs and fixed the traits that they wanted. Soon, the Gypsy Horse gained a reputation in Europe as a strong, steady, dependable, easy-going horse that could subsist on very little food.
Once primarily a solid-colored breed, this changed in the twentieth century when the English government began to conscript horses for the army. Nobody was exempt from this need to fill the cavalry's ranks, and so the beloved horses found themselves being taken away. The military, however, only took the solid-colored horses as the pinto pattern was too obvious in the field. Within a short time, the dominance of the solid horses subsided, with pintos replacing them at the front of the Gypsy wagons.
Today the Gypsy Horses has developed into a very recognizable breed and comes in all colors and patterns, including solids. First imported into the United States in the early 90s, it is estimated that there are fewer than 20,000 of these horses currently living in our country. Those making the long trip to the United States come from many countries in Europe.
After many generations of selective breeding for the qualities that would meet the needs of the Gypsy lifestyle, a horse emerged that was consistent in temperament and conformation. Many people, upon seeing these unique horses, refer to them as spotted draft horses, but that is incorrect. Coming from a mixture of draft and pony blood, the Gypsy Horse has characteristics of both. They are medium to heavily-boned with a well-proportioned head that has a broad forehead and a large, well-defined jaw. The neck of these horses is compact but not short, and carried with a nice arch. The chest of the Gypsy Horse should show the powerful muscling they are known for while the shoulders are expected to be well-sloped and again show the powerful muscling that allows these horses to pull the heavy caravans of their owners. The body is normally short and compact with well-sprung ribs and the back too, should be short.
The hindquarters of the Gypsy Horse are well-rounded across the croup with a nice long hip. The legs will show the strong, muscled qualities needed to carry such a distinguished animal. They are set well under the body and also exhibit ample hair and feather. As for coloring, all colors are found including bay, chestnut, sorrel, dapple gray as well as the more common variations of pinto which include black and white, gray and white and bay and white. "Solids," explains Jo Griffin, a member of the North East Gypsy Horse Association, "are sought after by true breeders both Traveler and non- Traveler, as when combined with a pinto pattern sire or dam, the offspring, if pinto, exhibits more color than when breeding two pintos together because white is dominant."
The height of the Gypsy Horse can vary greatly from pony-sized, under 14.2 hands to gentle giants of 15 hands and more. Each size has its devotees and is valued for what it can do. Overseas, the larger ones are used to pull the wagons, while the smaller ones make wonderful riding horses for both adults and children.
What distinguishes this breed and causes so many to fall in love with them? One of their most popular attributes is their incredibly docile personality. Having been handled by the young children of the Gypsy families over time, only the most gentle horses were allowed to breed on. Jan Easter, the President of the Gypsy Horse Registry of America, recounts the story of a friend and her first encounter with the Gypsy Horses. "She was in Spain, and the Gypsies had come to the village where my friend was staying. The horse that had been pulling their wagon had been unhooked and was resting. The children were climbing all over the horse, pulling on its feather, climbing up its legs, sitting on top of the horse and the horse was just standing there. This is what is so entrancing about these animals; their temperament is wonderful. They are gentle, gentle, gentle!"
Another distinguishing trait of the Gypsy Horse is their eye-catching movement. They exhibit high front action at the trot which really gives them a stylish look. What is probably even more impressive is their long-strided extended trot. Continues Jan Easter, "They have a really nice extended trot which was bred into them because of the way they traveled. You can just letthem trot and go. If you look at some of the old photographs of them in Europe going down the road, you'll sometimes see that nobody is driving. The people would be in the back of the wagon doing something. This certainly isn't recommended," laughs Jan, "but it gives you an idea of how dependable the horses are. You just set them down the road and they know what they are supposed to do. This extended trot is valued by the Gypsies because it is a fast moving gait and is economical, meaning the horses can continue for a long time and cover a lot of ground."
One of the biggest misconceptions of the Gypsy Horse is that abundant feathering is preferred over excellent conformation. It must be understood that conformation comes first and foremost in this breed. Feather is a wonderful extra with the Gypsy Horse!
Many breeds of horses sport feather, the long, ground-length hairs that hang from the back of the hoof. But few can match the truly thick and full hair that Gypsy Horses have that completely surround the hoof, both back and front. Explains Jan Easter, "If you see a horse coming at you, trotting down the road and the feather is flying, it will take your breath away! The feathering is just massive and when they trot, the feather doesn't just flash back and forth. It does all kinds of things; it flows up in the front and you get all kinds of action out of that feather and it makes the horse look so flashy. Sometimes in this country, you won't see a lot of feather because our grass is different. With so much rain in Europe, the grass is more plumb and soft. Over here the grass may break the feather."
In addition to the feathering, Gypsy Horses have an abundance of mane and tail hair. They also have a lot of facial hair that gives them a lovable appearance. Known as a beard, this hair includes a lot of jaw hair, and some of them carry heavy mustaches, which means hair on the front of their lips, on either side under the nose. Adds Jo Griffin, "To the Travelers, a moustache is believed to be a sign of good luck."