About the Breed

Breed Standard

Breed History


Origins of the Breed

The Gypsy Horse was bred by the Romanichal, the Romany people of the British Isles, to pull the chimneyed living waggons, also called caravans or vardoes, in which they lived and traveled. The Romanichal are believed to have left India, traveled across Europe, and reached the British Isles by 1500 A.D.1 Prior to about 1850, they traveled either on foot or in tilt carts and slept either under or in the carts or in small tents.2 Not until around 1850 did the Romanichal adopt living waggons, and they continued to use them extensively for only about 70 years thereafter.3

The beginnings of the Gypsy Horse are reported to be during or immediately after World War II. Most of the history of the breed is anecdotal since the Romanichal had, and still have, no breed registry for their horses. The one written account of the Gypsy Horse occurs in Edward Hart's 1993 book The Coloured Horse and Pony. Hart dedicates one chapter to "the gypsies' coloured roadster"4.

Hart describes some of the history of the Romanichal and their horses which he apparenntly gleaned in interviews. When the Romanichal began living and traveling in the chimneyed living waggons they called vardoes, they did not have the horse we think of as the Gypsy Horse. Typically poor, they adopted cast off equidae--donkeys and unwanted horses. Many coloured horses, tobianos, comprised the latter. These fell very much out of fashion and were quickly culled from herds. Among those culled were coloured Shires, and the tobiano colour present in the Gypsy may have arisen from that source primarily. Coloured Shires certainly existed in the latter 1800s and through the first half of the 20th centery.5

Also included in the breed were the Clydesdale, Fell Pony, and Dales Pony. Hart quotes "a carraige painter from Milnrow, Rochdale, Lancanshire," John Shaw, as saying, "These gypsy horses started in the 1950s through crossing Dales and Fell pony mares with Clydesdale stallions."6 Three other inflows into the Gypsy bloodline were spotted horses, the Hackney, and the Section Section D Welsh Pony. Spotted horses, appaloosas, went in and out of fashion very quickly around World War II with the Romanichal, and spotted Gypsies still occassionally appear. To infuse more action into the breed's trot. first the Hackeny and then the Welsh Pony were introduced into the Gypsy's bloodlines; the Welsh was favored because bone and hair, which was and still is highly valued, were not sacrificed with the Welsh Pony as they were with the Hackney.7

A trend which was evident from the breed's beginning and is still present is decrease in height. Publishing in 1993, Hart implies that Gypsy Horses in excess of 15 hands were the norm. He again quotes John Shaw, "Very big, hairy coloureds are now in vogue. They are status symbols, owned by some who wants something to look at, but they are not really an economical animal. They cost too much to feed, harness and shoe, and though they have good, big feet, they don't stand up to the work. For that you want the vanner type of 14.3 to 15 hands."8 Apparently the 14.3 to 15 hand "vanner" type was coming to seem more desireable. Today 11- and 12-hand Gypies are common among the U.K. breeders.


Hart argues that the Gypsy Horse should be considered a breed although at the time he published, there was no stud book or registry dedicated to it.9 The first of the many such registries to be founded did not occur until 1996, when Dennis and Cindy Thompson started the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society. Gypsy Gold's website chronocles the discovery of the breed. The Thompsons, considering the breed without a name, assigned it the name "vanner," which they had noticed in the caption of a photo of a Gypsy Horse in the 1993 Hart book. Prior to the Thompsons, the breed's creators apparently referred to it as "Cob" with a particularly good specimen called a "proper Cob."

Etymology of "Vanner"

Prior to the Thompsons' use of the term, "vanner" indicated a type of horse. Hart employs it in two other places. One of these is the John Shaw quote shown above10; in his other reference, he classifies the "very useful vanner type with hunters and show jumpers as having "draught blood."11 Denis E. Harvey, co-author of the highly respected The English Gypsy Caravan: Its Origins, Builders, Technology and Conservation, captions a photo of a horse, "A spotted'n: a triumph of breeding by a Traveller who has not lost interest in horses." This horse, he states, is "[a] fair-sized vanner, about 15.2hh (15 1/2 hands) high, . . . [c]ross-shire, with a touch of Clydesdale? Lineage is often hard to trace."12

The Oxford English Dictionary defines "vanner" as a "light horse suitable for drawing a small van." Its first recorded use is in 1888. The OED defines a "van" as "a covered vehicle chiefly employed for the conveyance of goods, usually resembling a large wooden box with arched roof and opening from behind, but varying in size (and in some extent in form) according to the use intended."13 Although the OED states that "van" is a shortened form of "caravan," the latter was not applied to "a chimneyed house on wheels" (i.e., a vardo) until the latter half of the 19th century.14


Since the Romanichal passed information regarding the breed on orally, there is no recorded pedigree of the founding sires and dams of the breed. The two founding sires of the breed are said to be The Old Coal Horse and Sonny Mays Horse. It is commonly accepted knowledge that The Coal Horse pulled a coal waggon in Dublin, Ireland, at some time during his life.

The only concete information of the breed prior to these two sires is an interview on youtube.com Interview with Old Henry Connors recorded and uploaded by Clononeen Farm. Only occasional words are unintelligible. The following family tree, which encompasses large portion of the Gypsy Horse bloodlines extant today, has been arrived at through sharing of knowledge. The branches of the tree closest to the present (and the top of the tree) are more reliably known. This is intended as simply a roadmap with only major thorouhfares marked as references.

The family tree below is certainly not complete. Some notable horses in the breed have no known history beyond their parents. Their ancestors may be from some part of this tree and are simply not known or from some other tree altogether.


Some Notable Horses of the Breed's History

Shaw's Grey Horse of Scotland was a gray Shire.

Old Henry

Old HenryThe Connors, an Irish family, were heavily involved in developing the breed, as evidenced by the names of some of the horses in the line--Henry Connors' White Horse (also known as The Palace Horse) and Old Henry, also named after Henry Connors.

The horse pictured to the right is reported to be Old Henry. The photo is claimed by Joe Griffin of Old Tower Cobs; Mr. Griffin states that this photo does not do Old Henry justice.

Some say that Old Henry and Henry Connors' White Horse (aka The Palace Horse) are one and the same.

Horses of this line were brought from Ireland to to England, some--The Sham, The Lob Eared Horse, and The Paddy Horse--by Fred Walker Sr. during the 1930s. Dennis Thompson, an American who, with wife Cindy, introduced the breed to America under the name "Vanner," talked at length with Fred Walker prior to his passing. Although Walker never owned either The Old Coal Horse or Roadsweeper, he did meet Coal Horse shortly after World War II, and he owned one of Roadsweeper's daughters.

The Coal Horse was so named because he is said to have pulled a coal waggon in Dublin, Ireland, before he became famous. These large waggons were delivered coal, packed in large bags, to households.

The Old Paddy Horse

thepaddyhorseFred Walker Sr. also owned The Old Paddy Horse, a Coal Horse son, and the photo to the left is said to be him driving his living waggon with The Paddy Horse in the shafts. Since Paddy would not have been the sideliner, he is the horse on the right.









The Roadsweeper

The Roadsweeper is pictured below. The attribution of this photograph is unknown. Unlike some of the other sires, several photos of him have survived.

roadsweeper 2Another source reports Roadsweeper as having been owned by a man known as Boxer Bill prior to belonging to Robert Watson, also of England. According to Dennis Thompson, Fred Walker did not consider Roadsweeper to be an influential sire of the breed simply because his owner did not stand him outside his own herd. Thompson was unsure to which owner Walker was referring--Boxer Bill, Robert Watson, or another. Since Roadsweeper is the bud from which the Watson line's branch, including Lion King, grew, we would contend that, although delayed, he had a significant influence on the breed.





The Lob Eared Horse and His Line

LobThe Lob Eared Horse is an extremely important sire in the breed. He and The Sham Horse represent the first major branching in the family tree shown above. He is reported to have been bred by Henry Connors and owned by Roy Price last.

Search modern greats at Sid's Good Stallion (The Frainey Horse), Hugo Bass, Lenny's Horse, Road Sweeper USA, and Bullseye have him in their backgrounds. Sid Harker's Old Rose, of the famed Rose line, is reported to be his daughter.

A very partial list of The Lob's line is shown below. Its most recent, major addition is Alfie Kerry's stallion Tonto, who is rapidly proving himself a sire of note.

The Lob's name is believed to have meant that his ears droop or hang heavily. To lob is an archaic verb having that meaning.

Below are some of the well-known lines going back to The Lob.


The Old Horse of Wales and Some of His Descendants

The information in the following chart relies havily on vannercentral.com

The Old Horse of Wales is reported to also be from the Connors family. His dam is reported to have been called The Jerry Connors' Mare. His sire is now known only as The Old Horse of Ireland. The Old Horse passed away in May 2009; owner Tom Price still honors his old friend on his website.





1. C. H. Ward-Jackson and Denis E. Harvey, The English Gypsy Caravan: Its Origins, Builders, Technology and Conservation. Great Britain: W. J. Holman Limited, 1972. Reprint 1973. p. 20.
2. Ibid., p. 29.
3. Ibid., pp. 46-55.
4. Edward Hart, The Coloured Horse and Pony Great Britain: J. A. Allen & Company Limited, 1993. p. 58.
5. Edward Hart, The Golden Guinea Book of Heavy Horses Past and Present London: David & Charles [Publishers] Limited, 1976. p. 14.
6. Hart 1993. p. 63.
7. Ibid., pp. 63-64.
8. Ibid., pp. 64.
9. Ibid., pp. 58.
10. Ibid., p. 64.
11. Ibid., p. 126.
12. Denis E. Harvey, The Gypsies: Waggon-Time and After. Batsford, 1979. p. 56.
13. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971 (reprint 1975) p. 3589.
14. Ibid., p. 337.