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Culture: Meet the Gypsy Vanner Horse

By Jess Szabo | Arts Writer 

On St. Patrick’s Day, most people decorate with images of leprechauns, shamrocks, and pots of gold. But for the Irish people of Romany/Gypsy descent, perhaps the most striking image is that of the Gypsy Vanner horse

Also known as Irish Cob, Gypsy Cob, and Traditional Gypsy Horse, the Gypsy Vanner was first developed by Gypsy people in Ireland in 1996. The breed is a descendent of the large Shire, from which they inherited their signature “heavy feathering,” the long, lush hair on their legs and around their hooves. They also have Clydesdale in their background, along with Fell Pony and Dales Pony. 

Today’s Gypsy Vanners can range from 12.2 to 16 hands (48-64 inches)  in height, and weigh between 1,000 and 1,700 pounds. Their coats may be any color or color combination found in any other horse breed. Black and white and brown and white are especially common. 

Although they are a bit smaller than many of the horses that make up their background, the Gypsy Vanner, as the name suggests, is indeed powerful enough to pull a wagon or cart. But while they continue to be used as pull horses today, Gypsy Vanners can be kept as family horses. They are appropriate for riders of all levels. 

Perhaps one of the most important duties common to the striking Gypsy Vanner is that of an equine therapy horse. 

“Equine therapy” refers to any therapy in which horses of any kind are used to promote health and healing. Gypsy Vanner horses are especially suited to this type of work because of their gentle personalities. They are known for a tendency to be docile and easygoing, but at the same time, highly intelligent and easy to train. 

Adding to their suitability for therapy, Gypsy Vanner horses are often described as “unflappable.” This combination makes these horses particularly well-suited for dealing with a wide variety of personalities, and the wide variety of difficulties their riders and caretakers may be working through. 

According to an article by the American Heart Association titled, “Here are six reasons to saddle up,” horseback riding alone can improve cardiovascular health, increase core strength, burn calories, and lower blood pressure. 

Working with and riding horses can also assist in promoting mental health and healing. 

The Albany Therapeutic Riding Center offers a variety of programs that promote healing through horse riding and care. 

While they currently do not have any Gypsy Vanner horses on their staff, the programs and services listed on their website seem especially well-suited to these mild-mannered animals. 

Equine-assisted mental health can be used for groups ranging from Veterans to survivors of domestic violence. It can aid in the treatment of depression and anxiety. Even activities that on the surface may seem like ordinary chores when owning an animal like the Gypsy Vanner Horse, such as the extensive grooming needed to keep their signature manes, tails, and feathering neat and clean, can be therapeutic. 

The routine of caring for a horse may help people who struggle with bonding with other living things, self-confidence, and responsibility develop these traits and skills. 

As much benefit as these beautiful horses can bring to people, they are not the easiest horses to find or the most affordable breed in the United States.

The gypsy vanner horse.

The nearest breeder to Utica, as of early March 2022, is Sugar Hill Acres, a farm located in Hebron, New York, on the Vermont state line. Horses are listed under the “for sale” tab, but prices are not listed on the site. 

The website, “Pet Keen” estimates that a Gypsy Vanner Horse will cost about $12,000 to purchase. These horses enjoy an average lifespan of 20-25 years. In addition to the initial cost, potential Gypsy Vanner owners will want to carefully consider the cost of keeping these horses healthy and happy throughout their lifespan. They have a tendency to gain weight, and should be kept on low sugar, high fat diet, and may need to be fed especially high-quality hay in order to thrive. 

While these horses may not be readily available or affordable, enthusiasts and those who want to learn more about the Gypsy Vanner Horse can easily find a variety of resources online. 

The Gypsy Vanner Horse Society publishes “Vanner” magazine, a periodical devoted entirely to the Gypsy Vanner Horse. They also offer links to local and regional clubs, and educational seminars, and free information about the breed. Those who would like to work to ensure humane treatment of these animals, and participate in the rescue of Gypsy Vanners in need may wish to reach out to the horse rescue organization of their choice, some of which are devoted entirely to the rescue of Gypsy Vanners. Before sending money, it is advisable to reach out to any organization to verify that they are currently active and engaged in rescue. 

Finally, those who just enjoy the beauty of these horses will be able to find anything from calendars to mugs to tee shirts featuring their images on Amazon

Mark Ziobro
Mark Ziobro
Mark is the current Managing Editor for The Utica Phoenix, and a Central New York Native.

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