In 1992, American horse enthusiasts Dennis and Cindy Thompson spotted what they called a “magical” horse while driving through the English countryside. Subsequent conversations with the farmer boarding the horse led to the discovery that a special kind of horse, called a vanner, had been selectively bred by local Romani Gypsies. A vanner was the perfect horse to pull a Gypsy caravan; the website of the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society asserts that the perfect caravan horse is “strong, intelligent, docile, athletic, and colorful and has excellent endurance.”
The Thompsons spent the next four years involved with the Gypsies, learning about their culture, caravans, music, customs, and especially horses. They learned the Gypsy vision of the perfect vanner and found that some of the Gypsies had been engaged in a selective breeding program to develop perfect vanner horses. A private people, the Gypsies had managed to keep their work largely secret since immediately following the Second World War.
To create an official registry for the breed and promote it in the United States, where it had previously been unknown, the Thompsons established the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society in 1996, whose mission statement calls for fealty to the Gypsies’ vision of the vanner, including genetics. Although there were no vanners in the United States at the time, a magical stallion the Thompsons had seen on an English field years earlier, named Cushti Bok, which means “Good Luck” in the Gypsy tongue, was imported shortly thereafter and the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society issued its first registration certificate, #GV00001F. In the years since, it has issued over 2,300 additional registration certificates.
Gypsy Vanners remain scarce in the United States, but have grown in popularity because of their amiability. Suitable for work like pulling wagons and caravans, they are equally at home in the dressage ring as with a rider and noted for their patience with beginning riders and children.
About the author: Vicki Patterson is a member of the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society who breeds and raises horses, including Gypsy Vanners, at the RiverPointe Farm on the banks of the Musconetcong River in New Jersey.