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Gypsy Vanners and Drum Horses

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Tags: Gypsy Vanner Horse, Orgins, Breeding

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The Gypsy Vanner has been quickly growing in popularity over the last decade or so, thanks to its powerful frame but manageable size, variations in coat patterns and its sweet temperament. Its popularity is not only growing in its native Britain, but in the United States as well. Recently, a new type of horse is making its presence known in the United States that greatly resembles the Gypsy Vanner. Here we'll take a look at a brief history of the Gypsy Vanner and the Drum Horse, and the differences between the two types.

More frequently called Irish Cob or Piebald in its native Great Britain, the Gypsy Vanner finds its origins with the Irish Gypsies that have been traveling around the United Kingdom for many decades. These strong horses were used by the Gypsies to pull their carts and caravans, which necessitated a horse that was strong but manageable. The Travelers often used whatever horses that were available to them in order to replenish their horse stock, but they seemed to prefer horses around fourteen to fifteen hands with plenty of feathering and long manes. During the Second World War, solid horses were confiscated by the armies, so multi-colored horses became dominant and eventually preferred. These horses were crossbred for so long that the idea of breeding towards a "purebred" Gypsy Vanner is a relatively new concept but is catching on not just in the UK, but in North America and in Europe as well.

The Drum Horse is actually named after the job it performed in Great Britain, rather than its own type or breed. As a part of the Band of the Life Guards, these horses had the unenviable task of carrying two large silver drums as well as a rider in ceremonial gear in the Queen's processions, all of which can add up to three hundred pounds or more! Specific breeds were never called for, as long as the horse was strong enough to carry the drums and rider. In recent years, the horses used in this task have been Clydesdales or those horses that are the results of crosses of Shires and Gypsy Vanners or Dutch Warmbloods, which accounts for the feathering and patterned coats usually seen today. In the United States, these horses are finding a following thanks to the newly formed American Drum Horse Association, who feel they are filling a need for a larger, athletic, heavy riding horse in North America.

The Drum Horse is often written off as nothing more than a large Gypsy Vanner, but as there are no size requirements in the breed standard of the Gypsy Vanner, this would definitely be a misnomer (although it is true that most Gyspy Vanners are between fourteen and fifteen hands). The major difference in the two types is the genetic makeup of the horses. It has been accepted that the Gypsy Vanner can now be considered to be "purebred," but the Drum Horse is actually made up of several different breeds. According to the American Drum Horse Association's standard, the Drum Horse should be a combination of Shire, Clydesdale or Gypsy Vanner (called Gypsy Horse by the Association), where no one breed exceeds 87 percent and the Gypsy Vanner contribution does not fall below 12.5 percent.


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