What to Know About the Gypsy Horse


In this Article

  • What Is a Gypsy Horse? 
  • The Gypsy Horse Origin Story
  • Physical Characteristics of the Gypsy Horse
  • The Gypsy Horse Personality
  • Gypsy Horse Diet
  • Basics of Gypsy Horse Care
  • Gypsy Horse Health Issues

Choosing a pet is a difficult process for many families. This is especially true when it comes to deciding whether or not to get a horse. There are hundreds of different horse breeds to choose from and a slew of unique care needs that come with owning such a large animal.

The gypsy horse is a versatile breed that’s strong enough to pull a caravan and friendly enough to serve as a therapy horse. Many people fall in love with these horses once they get to know them. Just make sure that you’re prepared to manage such a unique pet before you decide to make one the newest member of your family.

What Is a Gypsy Horse? 

The gypsy horse is a relatively recent breed in the horse world. The scientific name for all horses is Equus caballus. There are hundreds of genetically distinct breeds within this species. For the most part, humans have created these breeds to serve very particular purposes in unique environments.

The gypsy horse is a particularly family-friendly breed that can adapt to a wide array of circumstances. 

Gypsy horses are ideal for all types of riders and owners, including:

  • Children
  • Older people
  • People with disabilities
  • People looking for a sturdy working horse

Gypsy horse facts include: 

  • Gypsy horses are also called gypsy vanner horses — a reference to the caravans that people bred them to pull.
  • Gypsy horses are traditionally known as cob types of horses in the United Kingdom and can still be called a type of cob there today.
  • Gypsy horses are equally good at being ridden and at driving a load — in fact, they’re an incredibly versatile breed.

The Gypsy Horse Origin Story

The gypsy horse is one of the newer horse breeds that people have recognized in North America. Members of the Romanov communities that live in Great Britain and Ireland developed this breed for decades. 

Much of this breed’s development took place in impoverished conditions where people needed a sturdy, hard-working animal. Their main goal for these horses was to create an energetic, family-friendly creature that was capable of pulling their traditional caravans. 

The gypsy horse’s genetic background includes a variety of other breeds, like: 

  • Friesians
  • Clydesdales
  • Shires
  • Dales
  • Other native British ponies

For a long time, this breed was both neglected and disregarded by the international horse community. In fact, this particular breed didn’t get its current name of gypsy horse — or gypsy vanner horse — until it was brought to the U.S. in 1996. 

The name is meant to be a tribute to the Romanov people that developed the line but wasn’t actually chosen by this ethnic group.

Physical Characteristics of the Gypsy Horse

Gypsy horses are sturdy creatures that were designed to tow heavy loads. They have heavy-boned, well-balanced bodies with short legs. Their bodies are topped by small but well-proportioned heads. 

The draft horse’s strong body clearly influenced the gypsy horse’s design. In fact, they’re sometimes referred to as people-sized draft horses because of their particular body type.

The average gypsy horse size is moderate for horse breeds. They’re an average of 14 to 15 hands tall at the shoulders.   

Some of the most notable gypsy horse characteristics are the distinctly lengthened hairs behind their knees and on most of the lower portion of their legs. These long hairs almost make them look like they’re wearing tall, fluffy boots on all four of their feet. 

These horses have thick, long manes and tails. The ungroomed gypsy horse also has a long beard, mustache, and whisker hairs. 

Their gait remains natural and flowing no matter how fast they’re going — from a walk to a canter. 

The gypsy horse breed isn’t based on any particular color pattern. As a consequence, gypsy horses come in a wide selection of colors. Examples include: 

  • Black
  • Chestnut
  • Gray
  • Silver dapple
  • Palomino
  • Strawberry roan
  • Blue roan
  • Bay roan
  • Spotted 

The best of this breed will have a combination of physical skills including: 

  • Speed
  • Agile jumping abilities 
  • Strong swimming abilities
  • The ability to carry heavy loads — they were specifically bred to pull large loads of lumber

The gypsy horse lifespan varies from one individual to the next. In fact, in one reported case, a captive horse lived to the extreme age of 61. On the less extreme end, most horses will live for an average of 25 to 30 years in a stabled environment.

The Gypsy Horse Personality

The gypsy horse temperament is mostly that of a friendly, easygoing horse. It’s suitable for almost all types of casual horse lovers. Some of the words that owners use to describe their personalities include: 

  • Warm
  • Lovable
  • Kind
  • Intelligent

For the most part, they should be very willing to do what you want and go where you desire. But every horse is different. A particular individual’s personality might not mesh well with yours. And occasionally, a horse can be downright vicious. 

It’s best to meet the horse that you’re considering and interact with it before you choose to bring it home with you.

Gypsy Horse Diet

All horses are grazing animals that need access to small meals and snacks throughout the day. Eating too much food at one time isn’t good for their stomachs. Instead, keep a supply of hay and grass around for your horse to munch on when they want to. Make sure that any stored grasses are clean and mold-free before giving them to your animal. 

Also make sure that your horse has access to a supply of fresh, clean water at all times. Since it’s often kept outside, you may need to find a way to thaw their water in cold winter months. You should also provide a salt lick that’s packed with small amounts of other beneficial minerals. 

How much your horse eats and drinks depends on a number of factors, like size and activity levels.

Basics of Gypsy Horse Care

Horses are large pets with a lot of basic care needs. Some of the general guidelines for taking care of a horse include: 

  • Finding suitable housing. This could be your own stables or a stall at someone else’s stable, preferably with access to some outdoor grazing space. The outdoor space also needs adequate fencing that’s free of openings and any areas where your horse could hurt themselves. 
  • Maintaining their teeth. A horse’s teeth continue to grow throughout their lives, so they need regular dental care from a qualified veterinarian.
  • Maintaining their hooves. Some horses will need shoes fitted throughout their lifetimes and all of them require some hoof maintenance — including trimming every 6 to 8 weeks. You’ll need to find a professional farrier — or blacksmith — for this task. 
  • Being aware of the weather. Your pet will need special attention in cases of extreme cold and heat. Make sure that you’re aware of the unique needs of your pet in your home environment. 

Gypsy Horse Health Issues

Horses require regular veterinary checkups. Find one that specializes in equine care. Your vet can keep track of your animal’s overall health. They can also recommend the best vaccination and deworming schedule for your breed. 

If you’re concerned about the health of a horse that you haven’t yet purchased, ask if you can have it checked out by a veterinarian. Most reputable sellers will support this request. This is known as a prepurchase exam (PPE). 

Horses can both be born with and develop a number of diseases throughout their lifetime. Don’t hesitate to get medical assistance if you have concerns about any aspect of your pet’s health. 

Overall, gypsy horses are fantastic family pets — you just need to be willing to put in the time, money, and attention needed to maintain these large creatures. Once you’ve committed to caring for a horse, you can’t go wrong with this friendly, reliable breed.

Show Sources

American Veterinary Medical Association: “American Association of Equine Practitioners.”
Animal Diversity Web: “Equus caballus: horse.”
ASPCA: “Horse Care.”
Gypsy Horse Association: “About the Breed.” 
Gypsy Vanner Horse Society: “Breed Standard,” “The Gypsy Vanner Horse Breed,”  “History.” 
The Humane Society: “Horse Care Guidelines.”
The Vanner: “Gypsy Vanner Buyer’s Guide.”

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