The Clydesdale Horse one of the major heavy horse breeds of the world, has its origins in the Valley of the Clyde, Lanarkshire, Scotland. Although the exact details of the foundation of the breed are now lost to history, it is known that in the early part of the seventeenth century, selective upgrading of the native horses of this area was underway, with the use of infusions of blood from both Europe and England.
By the Eighteenth century, the local horses were becoming recognised as a separate and distinct breed. In 1815, heavy horse owners came together to begin to lay down formal criteria for the new breed and, in 1877, an official body was founded to promote the interests of Breeders. This body was the Clydesdale Horse Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and is the body upon which the Australian Society is modelled. The first Stud Book was published in 1878, and the Society in Scotland has continued to award prizes, control export of horses, and in general to influence the horse world-wide.
The Gypsy Horse breed as it is today is thought to have begun to take shape shortly after World War II ended. When the British Romani had first begun to live in vardoes around 1850, they used mules and cast off horses of any suitable breed to pull them. These later included “coloured” horses, piebalds and skewbalds, which had become very unfashionable in mainstream society and were typically culled. Among these were a significant number of coloured Shires. Many of these ended up with Romani breeders, and by the 1950s, they were considered valuable status symbols within that culture. Spotted horses were very briefly in fashion around the time of World War II, this pattern was derived from an infusion of the English Spotted Pony and this coat pattern can be found in the breed to this day. However, the spotted horse quickly went out of fashion in favor of the coloured horse, which has retained its popularity until the present day. The initial greater height of the breed derived from the influence of both Clydesdales and Shires, both of which possess feather. Feather became and still remains highly valued in the Gypsy Horses.
In the formative years of the Gypsy Horse, the Romanil bred not only for specific colour, profuse feather, and greater bone, but also for increased action and smaller size. To increase action at the trot, they turned to the Section D Welsh Cob, the Dale Pony, and Fell Pony to add a more animated trot to the breed without loss of other desired traits. Another trend in breeding was a steady decrease in height, a trend still present among many Romanic breeders. In the 1990s, the breed’s average height still was in excess of 15hh, but horses of 14.3 to 15hh, were beginning to be viewed as more desirable, primarily for economic reasons. John Shaw, a carriage painter from Milnrow, Rochdale, Lancaster, was quoted in 1993 as saying, “Very big, hairy coloureds are now in vogue. They are status symbols . . . but they are not really an economical animal. They cost too much to feed, harness and shoe. . . and they don’t stand up to the work. For that you want the vanner type of 14.3 to 15hh “; larger horses require more fodder than smaller ones, as well as larger harness and shoes.
The breed most used by the Romani breeders to set not only the reduced size but also the type of the modern Gypsy Horse was the Dales Pony, described as “thick, strong, . . . active yet a great puller”. The Dales, a draught pony, preserved the bone, feather, and pulling capabilities derived from the Shire and Clydesdale breeds but in a smaller and therefore more economical package. The Dales and, to a lesser extent, the Fell Pony interbred with the Shire and Clydesdale provided the basis of today’s Gypsy Horse.
In its native Great Britain, the Gypsy is still being bred by a number of well-established Romani breeders, many of whose families have done so for several generations. And the trend of breeding down in size continues with 11- and 12hh horses now common. Except for special occasions, these horses are typically not being used for their original purpose, pulling a living wagon, but are instead for riding ponies and light harness, they are viewed in terms of heirloom bloodlines and are a source of great pride to the Romani people.
Beginning in 1996, a series of registries, associations, and societies were formed in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Some of these with their foundation dates are as follows: Gypsy Vanner Horse Society (1996), The Irish Cob Society Ltd. (1998), Gypsy Cob and Drum Horse Association (2002), Gypsy Cob Society of America, later the Gypsy Horse Registry of America (2003), Australasian Gypsy Horse Society (2007), and the NZ Gypsy Cob Association (2012)