The Gypsy Vanner is one of the most recognizable breeds in the world. Also known as the Gypsy Cob, Irish Cob, and Romani Cob, these horses resemble a smaller version of draft-type breeds and come in many different coat colours.

This breed descended from crosses between draft horses and native ponies in Ireland and Great Britain. Once used to pull the vardoes of nomadic Romanichal Travelers, Gypsy Vanners today serve as pleasure mounts in multiple riding and driving disciplines.

Thanks to their striking appearance and mild-mannered temperaments, Gypsy Vanners quickly gained popularity in North America after crossing the Atlantic in 1996. Unfortunately, the breed is susceptible to several genetic diseases.

This article will review the origin, history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the Gypsy Vanner breed. Keep reading to learn more about caring for and feeding Gypsy Vanner horses.

Gypsy Vanner Horse History

Gypsy Vanners have a unique history that traces back to the nomadic Romani societies of Western Europe. However, questions have recently arisen about whether the Gypsy Vanner name is insensitive to the cultures that developed the breed.


The Romanichal Travelers of Great Britain bred cobs to pull their vardoes, the traditional caravans in which they lived and travelled. These travelers belonged to a subgroup of Romani people – an ethnic group from northern India that entered Europe around the 9th century AD.

Romani people faced persecution and discrimination throughout their history in Europe. While sometimes called Gypsies, the name is often considered offensive and inaccurate.

Records of the Romanichal Travelers in the British Isles date back to the 16th century, but they only began to live in vardoes around 1850. Few written records exist regarding the foundation and pedigrees of their horses. [1]

Some evidence suggests foundational stock of Romani breeding programs included coloured horses disregarded by mainstream society as unfashionable. These included colourful Shires and Clydesdales, adding pulling power and feathering to the Romani cobs.

The native Dales Pony likely contributed the most to the modern Gypsy Vanner type. This British draft pony had the strength, bones, and hair of heavier breeds in a smaller size. [2]

Historic Use

Ancestors of Gypsy Vanners needed robust strength to pull heavy caravans over long distances and hardiness to live off the land while travelling. The horses were closely intertwined in all aspects of Romani society, living alongside family members of all ages.

By the 1950s, these horses had become valuable symbols of social status and cultural heritage. Breeding continued to improve the quality of the cobs, eventually producing a distinct breed with striking looks and movement. [1]

Those attributes attracted the attention of visiting Americans, Dennis and Cindy Thompson, who imported the stallion Cushti Bok in 1996. The couple developed the Gypsy Vanner name and set the breed standard for horses produced in North America.

Breed Registry

The Thompsons founded the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society, which maintains a breed registry for Gypsy Vanner horses in North America. However, several registries exist on both sides of the Atlantic for Gypsy Cobs.

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Breed Characteristics

Modern breed standards for the Gypsy Vanner trace back to the characteristics favoured in caravan horses. The breed’s type is often described as a draft horse in a smaller package, which makes the Gypsy Vanner suitable for many different disciplines.


Gypsy Vanners have an average height of 13.2 to 15.2 hands. Although these horses are significantly shorter than the draft breeds they descend from, their conformation gives the impression of a small draft horse.

The breed has good overall substance and bone, with strong muscling throughout their bodies. Their small heads are more refined than draft horses, with a straight profile, broad forehead, generous jaw, and intelligent eyes.

Necks are medium-length with a slightly deeper thr