The Magical Mystery of "A Gypsy Cob"

Image Copyright Gerald R Wheeler

Romany Gypsies in Canterbury Kent 1939
Youtube video


Horses bred and raised by Gypsy's are known by many names - Gypsy Horse, Cob, Tinker, Gypsy Vanner, Coloured Horse, Traditional Cob to name a few.

For almost 100 years, the Gypsies have bred these magnificent colourful draft like horses for a variety of purpose. The horses were bred to pull their ornately decorated vardos and living wagons containing their worldly possessions through country lanes and hillsides of England and Ireland. Full of colour, heavily boned and feathered these horses were expected to work extremely hard in all kinds of rugged extremities. After their days work was done they also had to be quiet enough to entrust in the care of the gypsy children to ride and handle yet also possess a sound sensibility factor. Often tethered roadside or in fields to forage for their feed and sustain the extremely cold winters, often without shelter.

As travelling was the Gypsy lifestyle, most could not read or write. Thus their pedigrees and the breed’s history were kept in the oral tradition passed down within families. The Gypsies are elegant story tellers as well as shrewd bargainers. No written contracts or transfer were signed with the sale of a Gypsy Horse. Bargain for a horse is done with the slap of a hand. This tradition is still in practice and can be seen regularly at the Gypsy Horse Fairs such as Appleby, England and Ballinsloe, Ireland today.

The Gypsies bred these horses for temperament, to maintain a steady pace and not spook at the roaring of a passing truck or unexpected happenstance on the side of the road. The Gypsy Horse had the ultimate responsibility of protecting the family and Caravan home in the pursuit of a new campsite, and at days end the same Gypsy horse was expected to tolerate the antics of the gypsy children and often they would be seen with little ones, climbing over , and under their bodies, and the horses would not move a foot, or turn an hair.

Tough enough to endure the athletic endurance associated with pulling heavy gypsy vardos yet quiet enough to be safe around children sets this breed well apart from others, depending on what you are looking for. They are well known for being one of the most docile and gentle horses in the world today. A perfect caravan horse is strong, intelligent, docile, athletic, colorful and with excellent endurance.

The foundation breeds utilised to achieve the Gypsy horse of today, was Fell, Dale Shire, Clydesdale and Friesian and the result of a dedicated breeding program founded and cultivated by discerning Gypsy’s. They are the originator of the breed. This are a breed that was produced for a purpose and a way of life, hence the outstanding temperament, type and conformation for pulling. These horse are a sign of the Gypsy families wealth, social standing and status within the gypsy fraternity. The biggest best quality top breeding herd is an open statement that they are a high ranking family.

(Photo Appleby Fair - Appleby Fair) copyright
More about Appleby here

They are sometimes referred to as "golden retrievers with hooves". Because of this, they make good riding and show horses

Gypsy Vanner demonstration, Western States Horse Expo, 2003
Photo by: Becki Bell


The original Gypsies didn't refer to themselves as gypsies, nor did they call their horses, gypsy horses. The Travellers of Ireland called their horses Coloured Cobs, Cobs, Coloured Horses or sometimes just Piebalds since over time that color pattern became prized. Like all horse breeders, they had terms to denote the better equine individuals: Proper Cobs, Good Cobs, Proper Horses, Proper Pibalds.
These were the individual animals who would be used as breeding stock. For horses of lesser quality within the breed ( though it was not an official breed recognized as such by the world), horses that were to be sold, such terms as Vanners, Carters or Bogies were used. In olden days, Vanners or Carters were names given to those who drove delivery wagons. The name of a particular kind of cart was Bogey. The men who carted or vanned goods, from village to village, or within a village were not interested in owninga prized horse, only a horse who would remain sound and get the job done, so the Travellers had horses to sell them to acquire money to use to purchase needed goods, while retaining the better breeding animals.

The most obvious characteristic of the Gypsy Cob Horse is Hair . If well kept the manes and tails are very thick and drag the ground. The forelock too is long and thick. Horses that are really heavy with hair will also have a beard of long hairs under the jaw. Feathering is an inherited trait passed down through careful generation and the amount and quality of feather separated the Gypsy Cob Horse from others. There is full, thick hair beginning behind the knee or hock that continues to the ground, often also growing down the front of the leg as well. This feathering is fine, straight and silky.




The intelligence and human bond is present within this breed, right from the moment of birth, they are bred to interact with their human family, are willing to please, and are very trainable. Until recently the Gypsy Horse was not a registered breed. The careful and deliberate breeding of these magical horses including all details and history were kept in the collective memory of the families who bred them for  many generations. Gypsy families of the UK have been selectively breeding these horses, with known lineage for many years, although it has not been recorded, but only passed down through the spoken word.
Gypsy families often own many gypsy horses, but there are only a few that possess the potential to reproduce the quality of horse that is most sought for breeding purposes.

(Appleby Fair)

These are the horses kept away from prying eyes and only bought out on special occasions to suitably impress others symbolic of wealth and greatness.

Due to the recent interest and importation of  Gypsy horses, registries are being established in England, Australia, USA and in New Zealand to protect and continue the established bloodlines. 

The Gypsy Horse must possess a certain look and meet a clear conformation standard, ensuring that we may reproduce the same quality horse that the ancient Romany Gypsy dreamed of.

The sheer beauty of the Gypsy Horse will captivate both young and old alike.  Bred from a combination of draft and pony breeds they range in size from 13-15 hands.  They are sturdy horses with heavy bone, flat knees and a short back.  They come in a variety of colors;  bay/white, red/white, black/white, blue and tri-colored.  The most common color is black/white and occasionally you will find a solid color, however, all colors are prized!  Gypsy horses have an abundance of mane and feather.  The feathers should begin at the knee/hock and fully cover the hooves.  Manes and tails are long, thick and flowing.  The Gypsy horse is truly magic in motion, appearing to float as they move!

The Gypsy Horse has many wonderful qualities.  Their beauty is immediately noticed, but time spent with a Gypsy Horse and their warm, gregarious nature, is a true blessing! 

Traditionally used for driving, they also excel at dressage, hunting, show jumping and both English  & Western riding. Years of selective breeding has developed a personality that is likely the most gentle and docile in the world.  They are extremely social and eager to participate in your activities and will do so with beauty and style

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