Breed profile: Information about the gypsy vanner

Breed profile: Information about the gypsy vanner

Sometimes referred to as the ‘people-sized’ draft horse, this striking breed has been around for a long time but only recently registered as a breed. The likelihood you’ve seen these horses in fields across the UK and Ireland is extremely high. They appear as a cob with feathering, like a shire horse but smaller. The gypsy vanner was originally bred to pull wagons and caravans but is now used across all disciplines.

The origins of the gypsy vanner

The gypsy vanner has only been a recently registered breed since 1996, though its history dates back further. Still occasionally referred to as the Gypsy Horse, Irish Cob and Gypsy Cob rather than their breed name, these horses have a rich history. The gypsy vanner is smaller than a shire horse and Clydesdale between 13-16.2 hh with a sturdy and robust body, they were originally bred to pull the caravans of Romani’s which is where the name ‘vanner’ derives from. These horses are extremely docile, patient and quiet, they’ve been bred around children and dogs and easily integrate into the family. They are a great horse for beginner riders due to their calm and gentile nature and are quick to learn with their eager to please attitude.

What is the gypsy vanner used for?

These horses are used across all fields, which contrasts with their origins as wagon pullers. You can even find them in the dressage ring from time to time, as although these horses look stocky, they are surprising delicate and agile. As quick learners they are a great horse to turn to a new discipline and due to their robust nature, they are excellent for cross-country as well as endurance and trail riding. A firm favourite among new and novice riders and riding schools as these gentle horses are patient enough to cater to all levels of experience. The primary use of these horses is still for driving and harness – Have a look if there is a gypsy vanner breed show or fair in your area and check out these wonderful horses in action.


The gypsy vanner is not a colour breed but does come in a variety of colours and occasionally will be found with striking blue eyes. The most common colours you will find are bay, black, buckskin, chestnut and white – though you can find gray and flaxen chestnut. The skewbald and piebalds are the most common colours found in gypsy vanners and is the colouring most associated with them. Alongside their colouring what is most notable about the appearance of these horses is the feathering on their legs and their long, flowing manes and tails, which succeed in giving them the appearance of having stepped straight out of a fairy-tale.

Health problems

Although a strong sturdy horse the gypsy vanner is not without its issues. Due to their feathering they can be at a greater risk of cracked heel, this is usually down to the fact that the feathering hide the symptoms and it’s usually caught later than it may have been had it not been for the feathering disguising it. If you do own a gypsy vanner, make sure to keep an eye on your horses’ feet and keep them in a dry, safe environment as wet, muddy fields will exacerbate the likelihood of them getting cracked heel. Rain rot is another issue that these horses are susceptible to. This skin infection results in a scabbing on the horses’ back and happens due periods of rain – the moisture from the weather and heat from the horse create ideal conditions for bacteria to ferment and will spread between horses. You can prevent this by making sure you keep your stable dry, clean stalls regularly and check they’re dried with enough air and ventilation throughout.

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