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Australian Draft

Shire Horse

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Gypsy Cob










The Gypsy Horse was bred by the Romani people of Great Britain to pull the vardoes in which they lived and traveled. The Romani arrived in the British Isles by 1500 A.D., Prior to that, they traveled in tilted carts or afoot and slept either under or in these carts or in small tents. The peak usage of the Gypsy caravan occurred in the latter part of the 18th century through to the first two decades of the 20th.

Some aspects of training, management, and characteristics of a horse used to pull a vardo are unique. For example, the horse is trained not to stop until it reaches the top of a hill; otherwise it may not be able to get started again due to the heavy weight of the vardo. Training begins at a very early age with the young horse tied "with a short rope from the head to the trace-ring on the collar of the shaft-horse", and led along on the off side. A horse used to pull a vardo which was a permanent home was usually in very good condition due to a combination of exercise, grazing a variety of greens, and good quality care; the horse was considered part of the family.  Since the family's children lived in close proximity to the horse, one having "an unreliable temper could not be tolerated". The Gypsy Horse was also used to pull the "tradesman's cart . . . used in conjunction with the caravan as a runabout and work vehicle and whilst on a journey".

The Gypsy Horse breed as it is today is thought to have begun to take shape shortly after World War II ended. When the British Romani had first begun to live in vardoes around 1850, they used mules and cast off horses of any suitable breed to pull them.  These later included "coloured" horses, piebalds and skewbalds, which had become very unfashionable in mainstream society and were typically culled. Among these were a significant number of coloured Shires. Many of these ended up with Romani breeders, and by the 1950s, they were considered valuable status symbols within that culture. Spotted horses were very briefly in fashion around the time of World War II, this pattern was derived from an infusion of the English Spotted Pony and this coat pattern can be found in the breed to this day. However, the spotted horse quickly went out of fashion in favor of the coloured horse, which has retained its popularity until the present day. The initial greater height of the breed derived from the influence of both Clydesdales and Shires, both of which possess feather. Feather became and still remains highly valued in the Gypsy Horses.

In the formative years of the Gypsy Horse, the Romanil bred not only for specific colour, profuse feather, and greater bone, but also for increased action and smaller size. To increase action at the trot, they turned to the Section D Welsh Cob, the Dale Pony, and Fell Pony to add a more animated trot to the breed without loss of other desired traits. Another trend in breeding was a steady decrease in height, a trend still present among many Romanic breeders. In the 1990s, the breed's average height still was in excess of 15hh, but horses of 14.3 to 15hh, were beginning to be viewed as more desirable, primarily for economic reasons. John Shaw, a carriage painter from Milnrow, Rochdale, Lancaster, was quoted in 1993 as saying, "Very big, hairy coloureds are now in vogue. They are status symbols . . . but they are not really an economical animal. They cost too much to feed, harness and shoe. . . and they don't stand up to the work. For that you want the vanner type of 14.3 to 15hh "; larger horses require more fodder than smaller ones, as well as larger harness and shoes.

The breed most used by the Romani breeders to set not only the reduced size but also the type of the modern Gypsy Horse was the Dales Pony, described as "thick, strong, . . . active yet a great puller". The Dales, a draught pony, preserved the bone, feather, and pulling capabilities derived from the Shire and Clydesdale breeds but in a smaller and therefore more economical package. The Dales and, to a lesser extent, the Fell Pony interbred with the Shire and Clydesdale provided the basis of today's Gypsy Horse.

In its native Great Britain, the Gypsy is still being bred by a number of well-established Romani breeders, many of whose families have done so for several generations. And the trend of breeding down in size continues with 11- and 12hh horses now common. Except for special occasions, these horses are typically not being used for their original purpose, pulling a living wagon, but are instead for riding ponies and light harness, they are viewed in terms of heirloom bloodlines and are a source of great pride to the Romani people.

Beginning in 1996, a series of registries, associations, and societies were formed in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Some of these with their foundation dates are as follows: Gypsy Vanner Horse Society (1996), The Irish Cob Society Ltd. (1998), Gypsy Cob and Drum Horse Association (2002), Gypsy Cob Society of America, later the Gypsy Horse Registry of America (2003), Australasian Gypsy Horse Society (2007), and the NZ Gypsy Cob Association (2012)