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Fun musings: Vision vs. reality of owning a Gypsy Vanner (or other similarly excessively haired horse)?

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    Fun musings: Vision vs. reality of owning a Gypsy Vanner (or other similarly excessively haired horse)?

    Taking a break from the work grind and admiring the gorgeous beach liberty photo of a (perfectly groomed) Gypsy Cob on my horse calendar, I had a moment of picturing myself riding it off to the sunset...and then pondering what, really, is it like to own such a generously haired beast? When expertly groomed, they are gorgeous to look at- but I'm just imagining that must take a *LOT* of time and maintenance.

    So, conversations of value and butterflies and rainbows aside, what exactly does life with one of these gorgeous creatures look like? The good, the bad, the ugly? Anyone have one or a similar breed? Bonus points for pictures!

    Note- purely for entertainment purposes, as I am in no position to add another member to my herd, nor do I have or intend to shell out the kind of cash these critters go for, for a romanticized cart horse (though if I were to win the lottery...)

    Originally posted by She's Pure Gold View Post
    Taking a break from the work grind and admiring the gorgeous beach liberty photo of a (perfectly groomed) Gypsy Cob on my horse calendar, I had a moment of picturing myself riding it off to the sunset...and then pondering what, really, is it like to own such a generously haired beast? When expertly groomed, they are gorgeous to look at- but I'm just imagining that must take a *LOT* of time and maintenance.

    So, conversations of value and butterflies and rainbows aside, what exactly does life with one of these gorgeous creatures look like? The good, the bad, the ugly? Anyone have one or a similar breed? Bonus points for pictures!

    Note- purely for entertainment purposes, as I am in no position to add another member to my herd, nor do I have or intend to shell out the kind of cash these critters go for, for a romanticized cart horse (though if I were to win the lottery...)
    If you have some of those hairy beasts, you also need to have staff to care for them.
    It is a full time job to keep them looking perfect and why have them if not for those perfect looks?


      We have one boarded at my farm. I don't know too much about him- his owner doesn't ride, so I don't know what he's like under saddle. From what I gather he has a bit more anxiety than the average horse, but he seems to be a good boy overall. What stands out about him to me is his cleanliness- he keeps a very clean stall, especially for such a big guy who moves around a lot. He's also usually pretty darn white on white parts, and I don't see the owner coming out and bathing him every day or anything. That's about all I got!


        I was a groom for a year to several hairy horses + experience with a friends hairy ponies. There are several things to think about with these guys:

        - Those feathers have to be brushed out, preferably at least 2-3x a week, or they get all tangled. You use a hairbrush. Yes, the hairbrush sometimes gets stepped on.
        - They also trap EVERYTHING. On muddy days they will be just straight mud. On snowy days there will be tons of hairy icicles in there.
        - they are prone to scratches under there. I would wash with antibacterial soap on very muddy days and then blow dry to prevent moisture from staying in there. I did have to shave one once because he had a roaring case of scratches when I took the job.

        - must be brushed a lot. Either you braid and take everything down and brush weekly, or you brush daily/every other day. Either way it’s a lot of work. If you skip brushing for a few days expect the beginnings of fairy braids.
        - You use a ton of product. I have some favorites but one of the best is just coconut oil cooking spray.
        - weirdly some breeds that should have great manes don’t get one. A Frisian I worked with had a great tail but kind of a poor mane. It didn’t look good once it grew past about 8 inches.

        - Several of these breeds should be a replacement animal for sheep with all the hair they grow. I had to clip the horses in the winter with a bib clip, sometimes more for some of them, because they would be sweating on 50 degree days.
        - they have nice big dinner plate feet but are so, so, so prone to laminitis. They get fat of air and if you live somewhere with rich grass like I do, laminitis is a really big concern.
        - they don’t do well in heat. Weather over 90 degrees is really hard on them.


          I grew up working at a Gypsy breeding ranch, and am still very good friends with the owner (she is like family to me!). I have shown the GHRA and GVHS shows as well, and know lots of folks in the breed.

          Gypsies (the Vanner name is somewhat hotly contested...PM me if you're interested in why lol) are, by nature, very sweet and mellow. We often would ride the studs next to the mares with no issue, they are really that quiet. Obviously there are exceptions but they are good headed for the most part. They do have lots of hair, and we were in the south so we would clip most of them year round, unless they were going to show (this has become hotly contested too lol. The gypsy moms LOVE drama so beware). The hair is a lot of maintenance, and with that comes skin issues...feathers need weekly washing and CANNOT be air dried. Seriously, you need to blow dry them, or they will get scratches. Mallenders and sallenders are really common, very painful, and almost impossible to get rid of. Chronic progressive lymphedema (CPL) is also common, and has an unknown cause. I have personal experience trying to treat a horse with CPL and it was miserable. The poor guy could hardly walk it was so painful.

          As far as hair care, you actually want to avoid brushing as much as you can...conditioning and braiding is how the long manes and thick tails are maintained. Sweet itch is really common due to the thickness of the hair, so unwrapping and washing the base of the mane and tail needs to be done weekly. MTG is a life saver.

          There are bloodlines you want to avoid...again, PM if you want to know more lol.

          They are a lot of work but they are seriously the sweetest horses around. My string of show mares were incredibly intelligent, loving, and kind. My main mare who I brought up from a 3 yr old still nickers and comes up to me in the field, even though I've moved out of state and see her maybe once a year now. Love her!!!
          Last edited by marmarmar; Jul. 9, 2020, 11:38 AM.


            Here's some pics<3


              What life is like with one of these horses: grooming, grooming, more grooming, followed by grooming.

              There are several Gypsies where I board. They are quiet, sweet, saintly horses who seem to be born as old souls. They're easy keepers and all go barefoot.


              The hair.

              It never ends, and it's not a quick 10-minute job to keep their manes, feathers, and tails clean and maintained.

              The manes mostly stay braided to prevent knotting and (in warm weather) overheating. They are heavy, hairy horses, so they seem to to get hot easier than other breeds. If their manes are down and unbraided, whatever side of their neck it lays on will be soaked in sweat in the summer. The manes themselves are also heavy, there is one horse in particular who has to have his mane braided a specific way to make sure his neck doesn't get sore from all the weight being on one side.

              THE TAILS. A lot of them spend fall/winter in tail bags. Multiple bags per tail. Washing, drying, braiding, and bagging the tails is a multi hour job per horse.

              Feathers. If you have mud, feathers will be an uphill battle to maintain. Their skin underneath seems prone to fungal crusty ??? just because of the amount of hair.

              Coats. Wintertime is great because they grow so much hair, but some of them have to be bodyclipped in the summer because they do grow a summer coat, but their summer coat looks like another breed's winter coat. They aren't all like that, some have shorter slicker summer coats, but some are just mammoths.

              Grooming products (and LOTS of them) will be your best friend. If you don't like grooming, do not buy a Gypsy. If you love grooming, then you will love a Gypsy.

              I will also say they are not the most athletic breed, but they are extremely kind, forgiving, quiet, and sweet. Overall just nice easy to handle horses, even as babies.

              Also a bonus: they grow mustaches with their winter coats.


                50+ years ago in our riding center in Europe, we would occasionally import some "gypsy irish cobs", that looked like those horses.
                I remember training one that was a black and white tobiano, good sized one.
                He was very sweet, just get on and ride, no spook or any resistances to him at all.
                He sold quickly, he was pretty in a rough way, with a biggish head with very sweet big eyes and more square than long.
                I am not sure he had as long feathers as those do today, but he did have soft, long winter hair, for a young horse.


                  Hairy beasts...not Gypsies, but Shires.
                  Well, I gave up on the mane, he isn't a show horse. So it got roached. It looks wonderful with that crest and Roman nose! Tail, I don't worry too much, bang it or a rough mud knot braid if needed to keep it out of the heel chains.
                  In my limited experience: Feathers.....first of all, one of the questions I asked on his PPE was if there was any indication of CPL already occurring. If there was, it would have been a hard pass; there seems to be a genetic component and CPL is just ugly. I am meticulous on pasture management: the sacrifice lot is well draining stone dust, and I never let the pastures go to mud. They also live outside, and the shed/sacrifice lot is cleaned daily so there is no manure/shavings/urine to build up and get in the feathers. That is how it should be anyway, but those feathers make it more important! Also, because he is not a show horse, I actually don't wash or groom or brush or fiddle with the feathers unless I have to. They are oily, helped by added oil (flax) in his diet, and that oily hair is critically important. If you do wash them with soap, yes they must be dried promptly with a blow dryer. Otherwise, if there is no mud and they are nice and oily, they are actually only dirty for the first inch or so, they shed dry, emphasis on Dry, dirt surprisingly well. They look like h--- but they do what was originally intended. (for Shires/Clydes, I think the Gypsies feathering is so extreme that that may not be the case)
                  As mentioned above, MTG is a lifesaver with sweet itch, you jump on the issues immediately and just accept the charming fact that MTG attracts every known particle of dust.
                  And yes, they do not handle heat. Over 80 and my boy is just dripping sweat standing still. In the UK a heat wave is over 80 after all! I can't count the number of ads I've seen for Shires or Clydes that state that the reason for selling is that they live in the South and the horse can't handle it.
                  My farrier was so happy when I told him not to worry about damaging feathers when he trims! No pantyhose and rubber band booties like some


                    Original Poster

                    So glad I can count on my COTH friends to burst my bubble and leave me saying oh hell no to a gypsy I shall continue to admire them from afar, at the very least until I am retired (30years away) and have a lot more time on my hands to play pretty pony hahaha. Bless you all who deal with them, definitely would not fit into my lifestyle/routine anytime in the near future (which, again is moot since I couldn't afford to buy one anyways!). Thanks for sharing your stories, definitely learned a lot reading them!


                      We had a family at our barn with a fancy cob. They were having a hard time dealing with the feathers. They asked me what I would do about it? Horrors!! I told them I would shave them off and never look back.


                        Originally posted by high hat View Post
                        We had a family at our barn with a fancy cob. They were having a hard time dealing with the feathers. They asked me what I would do about it? Horrors!! I told them I would shave them off and never look back.
                        When I lived in Florida, every once in a while I would see a feathered breed. The Gypsy is more popular down there than it should be. Almost every one had shaved feathers.


                          Back in my youth in England, I had an Irish Cob. I kept her legs shaved and her mane roached, she looked super sharp and I never had to worry about all that hair and what was going on underneath it.

                          My present barn has 5 Freisians in residence. The amount of time spent on "my little pony" bathing and braiding and conditioning and brushing that goes on far exceeds the amount of time spent riding.

                          Hey, everyone's happy, including the pampered pets, so I'm not criticizing, but it would drive me up the wall.


                            I live in the land of cobs and unwashed horses. The traditional gypsy cob, that I still see tethered on the side of the road next to the caravan, is designed to work hard with minimal care and basic grass. Nothing fancy in their lives. The Travellers do value hair but not quite to the extent apparent in the remarkably hairy images of show animals. I saw a lovely mare last weekend: kind, quiet, willing and beloved by her owner. She was really scruffy, hairy, stained and muddy but it was on a fun ride and she came straight out of her field. We Brits always tend to keep tails shorter to avoid mud - on all our horses. Thick manes on cobs are frequently hogged, not least because even in the temperate British Isles the horse can overheat. On the other hand, a thick mane is great for weather protection and to be found in most of our pony breeds. Feathers are hard to deal with, mud fever (scratches?) and mites are very common problems. Showing involves a lot of washing and a lot of chalk. So people who don't especially love hair (the experienced majority?) will hog or trim the manes, shave or trim the feather and keep the tail banged. Tail care, for a big natural one, is just regular untangling with fingers, brush through in segments and wash when desperate because they can take hours to dry. Some people will shave or pull the tail but on a thick one that can look a bit odd.

                            For which read, if I had a hairy cob, it would be hogged and have clean legs with no feathers.
                            "Good young horses are bred, but good advanced horses are trained" Sam Griffiths


                              Yes, the big issues are mites, lice, mallenders/sallenders and bog burn (which is when the field gets muddy in the winter and the feather snaps off).

                              So people tend to go two ways. One is to hog the mane and clip the feather off, so essentially turning the cob out as if it was a Show Cob. Some have the bone for this look and some can look a bit weedy limbed without the feather. Option two is to buy huge amounts of pig oil and sulphur, slather the feather in it and go down the route of not doing much more than applying the pig oil and sulphur every so often.

                              Unless the feather needs to be trimmed to treat mallenders/sallenders, option two works very well with a lot of cobs to keep them in full feather with healthy skin and the same technique is used on other breeds with feather.

                              Link to UK pig oil supplier that explains the benefits.

                              My very strict instructor made it very clear to me when I was young that birds have 'feathers' and horses have 'feather' so that's why I have used the latter. I can imagine her bellowing the correction at me even now!


                                I roached her mane and cut those feathers when the heat was unbearable. After that, a full body clip revealed a super cute and athletic shape under all of that hair, and if she were still mine i'd always keep her like that.


                                  Question: I always thought the original purpose of the feathering on legs was to shed rain and keep legs dry (an evolutionary advantage). But, wow, that is not what I read in this thread.
                                  I guess I have been incorrectly informed all along?


                                    Something with the amount of feather that a Welsh cob has is definitely effective in terms of getting water to run away from the skin while living on a Welsh mountainside. Gypsy Cobs just have too much feather, hence why they often suffer from hyperkeratosis (mallenders/sallenders). Copious feather looks nice and humans selectively breed for it because of this but this is not for the benefit of the horse.

                                    ETA - if you look at the British heavy horse breeds, you will notice that Suffolk (a region that has heavy clay soil) has the Suffolk Punch. A clean legged heavy horse as a horse with lots of feather was just not practical in those conditions.


                                      I think that to some degree, the feathers do allow water to run off away from the skin. The issue is that, at least in the US, the 'ideal" Gypsy (think Lion King, Bullseye, Brackenhill Alfie) has feather so dense that any moisture that does get in there becomes trapped. The skin gets hot under the feather and leads to the mentioned skin issues. The feathering on Welsh cobs is nowhere near as heavy and dense, and thus they are less prone to issues because of it. Doesn't help the situation that lots of Gypsies won't hesitate to jump in water if given a good pond lol


                                        My horses (not Gypsies) have a lot of mane and tail -- think Iberian breed quantity -- but don't have the feather of some other hairy types. My personal gelding has mane past his shoulder, which can reach his knees -- think reining horse -- and a thick tail that reaches the ground and a little past.

                                        It's genetics; I do practically squat -- no special feeds (although they look great on Renew Gold), no special conditioners or handling. I seldom brush and/or comb out manes and tails, or use product. With my gelding, on warmer days, I'll often do a somewhat loose running braid (not tight to the crest, instead hanging down from it at least a few inches) before working him.

                                        Every once in a (longish) while, I'll use a detangler on any snarls, let it set, then pick the hairs apart by hand (not that hard, just let the product soak in sufficiently first), and follow with a brush out. On the rare occasions I bathe the horses, I make sure to work shampoo down into the base of the mane, at the crest, then rinse the mane and tail very, very well, followed by air-drying.

                                        In the winter, they turn into plush animals -- think stuffed toys -- so get clipped (high trace clip) roughly the first week of October, more or less; depending upon the weather, and how much work they're in, they might be clipped twice more during the season. Never have to clip lower legs. Never have had skin issues or diseases or funk of any type, but we don't have a mud season.

                                        Kinda benign neglect school of hair care, and it works well. Have to say, though, that nobody has anymore white than a moderate face marking, so I'm never dealing with that.

                                        Back when I used to board, I came out one day to find, to my great dismay, that the Pony Clubbers had taken my then horse (without my permission) out and practiced their mane-pulling skills on him!. He'd never before had his mane pulled or trimmed! I was perturbed, to say the least, that liberties had been taken with my good-natured horse, while the youngsters made it clear that they thought they'd done me a favor. Took several years to grow his mane and forelock back out.

                                        So, if you do want to satisfy your inner desire for a My Little Pony type (one of mine was frequently compared to MLP by strangers when I had him out in public ), I'd recommend selecting a relatively clean-legged horse with minimal white (not a grey, either), so the upkeep won't be too bad.