The sight of watching Gypsy Vanner horses race through a field, their luxurious manes and tails whipping in the wind, is enough to stop anyone in their tracks. Tufts of silky hair cover the animals’ hooves, which pound the ground with a poetic blend of power and grace.
Gypsy Gold Horse Farm, located in Ocala, Florida—also known as the “horse capital of the world”—lets you get up close and personal with the beautiful, friendly horses. The farm was home to the first Gypsy Vanner horses to ever enter the United States, imported in 1996.
Gypsy Vanners are a relatively new breed, but their story doesn’t begin in Florida. It begins soon after World War II, with two stallions, Sonny Mays and the Coal Horse, which were ideal caravan horses. Vanner, in fact, means “a horse suitable to pull a caravan.” The sturdy Vanner Horse is a combination of Clydesdale, Shire, and Dales Pony.
There was no formal recognition of the Gypsy breed until Dennis and Cindy Thompson saw one unusual-looking horse in a distant field as they drove through the English countryside. Inquiring about the beautiful animal, they soon learned that the horse belonged to a traveller and that the man had a hidden band of mares that looked just like the stallion.
After Dennis and Cindy Thompson discovered the beautiful stallion, they became enamored with the horse’s look and began a journey to understand how it developed and where it came from as they traced the original horse’s genetic heritage through three countries.
On November 24, 1996, the Thompsons imported Bat and Dolly, the first two Vanners to step hooves on American soil, and established the first registry for the breed, the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society. There are now recognized societies in New Zealand, Argentina, Columbia, Canada, and over 5,000 Vanners registered in the United States. Similar societies exist in Europe, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, though the breed is referred to as an Irish Cob.
The Vanner is a small draft horse with a more refined head than most drafts, but with the same gentle personality of the horses often referred to as “gentle giants.” Feather (hair) that starts at the knee and hock and covers the front of the hooves like a pair of fluffy bell-bottom pants is a signature feature of the breed’s look.
A tour of Gypsy Gold Horse Farm lets you meet the farm’s exquisite equines and learn about the history of the fascinating breed. You will view stallions, mares, and foals, and even have the chance to feed treats to some of the gentle creatures.
Know Before You Go
GPS is tricky here. Study the map on www.GypsyGold.com to ensure an uncomplicated arrival.