There are various types of gypsy horses still indiscriminately used and bred in the UK, Europe, the US and now the world over. They are recognized by several names such as Irish Tinker, Romany Tinker, Trade Cob, Traditional Cob, Gypsy Vanner, Gypsy Cob, Irish Cob, Romany Horse and the like. All names are used to describe the type of horse, which the Gypsies have bred and used in the British Isles for generations. Collectively referred to as Gypsy Horses; the main branch being what are most commonly known as Gypsy Cobs. The Rom themselves, tend not to give a name to their breed but simply call them 'cobs', not a fancy name, but an honest one.
The Irish Cob was obviously bred in Ireland and generally had a larger head, longer back with not as much feathering. Like the Romani Gypsies of the UK, the Gypsy's Cob also remained relatively shunned and despised until recently.
Traditionally Trade Cobs or Vanners were horses used to pull wagons. The title given to these horses reflects their job title, aka Vanners, often in the inner city of England. Working horses were not bred for long manes, tails and feather, but more out of necessity and lifestyle.
Dennis Thompson was one of the first known Americans to import this breed into the US back in 1996 and brought recognition to the breed. In his attempt to differentiate between the trotters that the gypsies also breed and the historically larger traditional trade cob, he Trade Marked the name "Gypsy Vanner". The name Gypsy Vanner has caught on with much popularity in the US and the world over and has caused a lot of confusion as to what is what, but all names mentioned above are used to describe this breed.
The Rom often hawked their wares from town to town. Some common trades of the 'Gypsy' people were silver or tin smithing hence the slang name of Tinker, Irish Tinker and Tinker Horse. When the Second World War ended, there was an abundance of scrap metal and many of the Romany seized the opportunity to pursue a new and lucrative career collecting and selling the scrap metal. The more money that came into their hands the more opportunity the Romany made for themselves, however this did not help to change the views of which 'settled English' measured the Romany as a people. In the 1960's it became illegal for people to camp on the roadsides, forcing the Romany to become more settled with many of them calling the North of England home due to the scrap metal trade.
Romany horsemen to this day do not always exclusively own or breed "gypsy cobs" but commonly own other types of horses including; Spotted Ponies and Knapstruppers, Shetland Ponies, Welsh Ponies, and the Coloured Standardbreds and Standardbred x's known as 'Scudders' used for street racing.
Nowadays some modern breeders and horse dealers are trying to cash in on the excitement, are crossing the Gypsy Cob back to Clydesdale and other heavy breeds, as well as native pony breeds and calling them purebreds. In effect this is back breeding and many of the traits that the gypsies have strived for decades to achieve are lost. If you breed an Arab to a Thoroughbred, which originated from the Arab, you do not end up with a purebred Arab. You have an Anglo/Arab with its own unique set of traits. However, to the unwary or first time buyer a trade cob or even a cross bred can look impressive and it is easy to be fooled. It takes a seasoned eye or wary buyer to pick up the subtle differences that compose a truly well bred Gypsy Cob. Many crosses have been sold to unsuspecting buyers as yearlings, only to be disappointed when they mature at a later age to find that they do not possess the magical qualities that their cousins are so well known for. It is prudent to do your homework before buying. Speak to as many reputable and knowledgeable breeders, with good knowledge of breed type and bloodlines as possible, and if it is an option, viewing is essential.
Photos courtesy of Danni Showers
Bay Stallion. Photo courtesy of Tricolby Photography
Their compact size and sturdy build makes them incredibly strong animals, capable of carrying and pulling a great deal more weight than a light horse of similar height. Like many of the larger draught breeds they are slow developers and do not stop growing until 5-7 years of age. It is quite possible for this breed to grow another hand at the age of 5 or 6 years of age.
They are extremely hardy and can endure cold temperatures while surviving readily on very little feed. Gypsy Cobs have proven to excel at every discipline imaginable in the equine world, from competitive driving to dressage, trick training, jumping and even western sports.
More and more horse lovers are discovering this truly amazing, gentle and beautiful breed. Gypsy Cobs are particularly a great horse for the learner or for people who have lost their confidence, as they are just so docile and willing. It is not uncommon to hear stories of gypsy cobs being ridden into main traffic with only a few hours of training behind them, or more unbelievably, gypsy cobs using elevators in the city! That is just unheard of in the equine world and still some do not believe that this is possible.
The extra you may pay for a purebred or cross Gypsy Horse will far outweigh the savings in training and sheer pleasure that these horses are capable of giving. If you are looking for a horse that is known for soundness and sanity with exquisite beauty, that will be a faithful, versatile companion to your family, then the Gypsy Horse may just be the perfect horse for you.
There’s an old saying, which goes "Gypsy Gold does not clink and glitter, it gleams in the sun, and neighs in the dark". This proverb, believed to be from the Gypsies of Galway, refers to the magical relationship between gypsies and their most treasured objects, their horses.
Black/White Mare. Photo courtesy of Danni Showers
Australasian Gypsy Horse Society