Gypsy Vanner: Horse Breed Profile

Training, Grooming, and Care Tips

Gypsy horse playing in turnout.

Karen Wegehenkel / Getty Images

Known for their excellent temperaments and recognized for their beautiful feathering and eye-catching coats, Gypsy Vanner horses are quickly growing in popularity today. These horses may have been raised to pull caravans, but they also make great riding horses, too. With their calm nature, Gypsy Vanners can be well-paired with children, as well as with beginner and advanced adult riders.

Breed Overview

Weight: 12.2 to 16 hands

Height: 1,000 to 1,7000 pounds

Body Type: Stocky, powerful, draft-type build

Best For: Riding and driving, and ideal for both beginner and advanced equestrians

Life Expectancy: 25 years

Gypsy Vanner History and Origins

The Gypsy Vanner horse’s history begins with the Gypsies of Great Britain, who sought a horse with the strength and build to pull their caravans. They wanted a horse that was not only strong, but that was also mild-mannered, gentle, and easily trained. The Gypsies carefully bred their ideal horse, relying on the Shire and Clydesdale for their size and strength, then incorporating the Dales pony and the Fell pony into the bloodlines.

With time, these horses became more refined and the breed started to solidify. Gypsy Vanners were first brought to America in 1996. That same year, the breed’s registry, the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society, was established.

Gypsy Vanner Size

Gypsy Vanners are relatively small horses, standing between 12.2 and 16 hands high. While they may be shorter than your typical draft, they are broadly built and are easily capable of pulling carriages and caravans, while also serving as riding horses that can support heavier riders.

Gypsy Vanner mare and foal trotting in the pasture.
 Zuzule / Getty Images
Gypsy Vanner cantering in a snowy pasture.
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Senior Gypsy Vanner posing in a pasture.
 Stephanie Hafner / Getty Images

Breeding and Uses

While the Gypsy Vanner breed originated to pull caravans, they’ve gained popularity thanks to their suitability for many other purposes. The Gypsy still makes an impressive cart horse, and you’ll find it competing at shows and driving competitions, as well as pulling carriages for pleasure.

The Gypsy Vanner also makes for a great riding horse, thanks to its laid-back temperament. Gypsies are ridden both English and Western, and they’re suitable for many different disciplines, from dressage to trail riding and more. Because they’re often so calm and well-mannered, they’re a popular option for a family horse, and have also found a spot in the world of therapeutic riding programs.

Gypsy Vanner and young girl doing groundwork.
 Wanderluster / Getty Images

Colors and Markings

Gypsy Vanners come in any color, including solid coats. However, the breed is most commonly known for its colored coats with:

  • Tobiano: White patches on a dark coat color
  • Skewbald: White patches on a base coat that is any color but black
  • Blagdon: A splash of white on the belly of a darker colored coat

The breed isn’t a color breed, so the breed registry will accept horses no matter what their coat color or pattern. 

Bay Gypsy Vanner cantering in turnout.
 kondakov / Getty Images
Gypsy Vanner mare and foal grazing in the pasture.
 Empato / Getty Images
Pinto Gypsy Vanner cantering in turnout.
 Kondakov / Getty Images
Black and white pinto Gypsy Vanner in turnout.
 Tutye / Getty Images

Unique Characteristics of the Gypsy Vanner

Gypsy Vanners sport characteristic heavy feathering starting at their knees and hocks. A long, full mane and tail are also common traits. This significant hair requires plenty of extra care and grooming, especially when preparing for a show. 

Diet and Nutrition

The Gypsy Vanner tends to have a slower metabolism than your typical lightweight riding horse, so they need to eat a specific diet. Their slower metabolism can cause them to easily and quickly gain weight, and it also leaves them susceptible to metabolic issues.

To combat these potential problems, many owners put their Gypsy Vanners on a high-fat, low-sugar diet. Many of these horses do well with a quality hay and a ration balancer, rather than a typical feed concentrate. Some Gypsies may need to wear grazing muzzles during the summer if they’re out on lush fields.

Common Health and Behavior Problems

While many Gypsy Vanners live very healthy lives, this breed is prone to a few certain health issues:

  • Scratches: These crusty scabs on a horse’s legs can lead to lower leg swelling and lameness.
  • Malleanders and Sallenders: If a horse’s body produces too much keratin (which is what drives the growth of the Gypsy’s thick feathering), it can cause thick, crusted growths on the front and hind legs that need to be removed and actively managed, or they can result in bacterial and fungal infections.
  • Chronic Progressive Lymphedema: This condition causes significant lower-leg swelling, as the skin on a horse’s legs can become thicker and lymph fluid starts to build up in the legs. There’s no cure for this condition and the swelling will continue to progress during a horse’s life.

Grooming

Gypsy Vanners require a significant amount of grooming to keep them healthy and comfortable. Their long manes and tails need particular attention, especially if horses are living in muddy conditions. Many owners decide to braid their horses’ manes to help prevent tangles and to keep the manes clean. The same is true of tails; Gypsy Vanner owners often use mud knots and tail braids to help prevent breakage and to keep the hair clean.

The Gypsy’s feathers also need frequent detangling and brushing. If the horse has white lower legs, the feathers will easily become stained or discolored, making preparing for shows more challenging. Regular grooming of the feathers is also important so that owners can quickly find any issues on the lower legs, like a cut or the beginning of scratches.

Pros
  • Suitable for children and adults

  • Excellent temperament

  • Easy to train

Cons
  • Requires higher-maintenance grooming

  • Can be expensive to buy

Champion and Celebrity Gypsy Vanner Horses

The Gypsy King is a well-known stallion who was imported into America in 1998. He’s been highly photographed and you’ve likely seen him in calendars, in magazines, and in articles about the breed. He was the inspiration for a Breyer model horse that shares his name.

Is the Gypsy Vanner Horse Right for You?

Docile, easy to train, and with a great temperament, the Gypsy Vanner sounds like a wonderful horse for just about anyone. But it’s also important to be realistic about what owning one of these horses entails, too. Be prepared to carefully manage your horse’s diet and to perform thorough, regular grooming that goes beyond the typical grooming your average riding horse would need.

Gypsies are well-suited for families and both experienced and inexperienced riders, alike. They’re great choices for both pleasure and for competition horses, and they’re ideal if you’re looking for a horse that you can both ride and drive. With their shorter heights, Gypsy Vanners are a good choice for adults who have health issues or pain that makes mounting and dismounting larger horses difficult.

How to Adopt or Buy a Gypsy Vanner

Because Gypsy Vanners are so popular, it’s becoming easier to find these horses in the United States. These horses are expensive to purchase, easily commanding $10,000 or more each, so they’re unlikely to end up in rescue situations where you could adopt a horse. If you want to add a Gypsy Vanner to your horse, the best option is to find a reputable breeder or a private seller in your area. 

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