General information about the Gypsy Cob breed.
The Gypsy Cob breed was developed in Ireland and the United Kingdom from the native stock already in use by farmers and Travellers with infusions of Fell & Dales ponies as well as the heavier draft blood from Shire and Clydesdale horses.
The Gypsy Cob is often referred to and also known as the Gypsy Vanner in North America, Irish Cob or Tinker in Europe and most commonly Cob or Proper Cob in the UK. The Travellers themselves did not name their breed anything in particular nor are they at all pedantic about descriptive terms for their breed.
Until recently there was no official recognition of the breed as such in their countries of origin. All this has now changed as the Gypsy horses that the Travelers developed have now been officially recognised as a breed.
Life Span of Gypsy Cobs:
The Gypsy Cob is a long lived breed which is slow to reach physical maturity. A well looked after Gypsy Cob can live well past 20. One mare in England destined for the slaughter house was rescued and went on to win a La Trek at 29 years of age. She then produced a foal at 31. While it is not a good idea to breed a mare at this age it does go to show the hardiness of the breed.
Height Range of Gypsy Cobs
Originally the Gypsy Horse stood around 14 to 16hh. Today the most common height range in England is from 12.2hh – 13.2hh. Ireland still has some of the taller Gypsy Cobs and the old fashioned wagon horses are still being bred albeit in smaller numbers throughout the UK. The bigger horses are still performing their traditional role pulling wagons to fairs.
In late 2014 a groundswell of interest in the bigger Gypsy Cobs has seen the price of quality big horses increase. It will be interesting to observe how this trend develops.
The Many Colours of Gypsy Cob Horses
Gypsy Cobs are arguable one of the most colourful breeds of horse. Gypsy Cobs come in nearly all known colours. Black and white piebald being the most common.
Only a very few years ago, the less traditional colours were not favoured by the Travelling Community. This has now changed with good quality stock of the more unusual colours and patterns being highly sought after and commanding good prices.
Gypsy Cobs come in all solid colours, blagdon (splashy white patterns), roans and dilutes. The silver dapple (often referred to as chocolate palomino), palominos and buckskins although still not numerous are becoming more common.
Rarer colours are popular choices for overseas buyers from the USA, Australia and Europe. Horses exhibiting some of the more extreme white coat patterns are often referred to as blue or pink depending on the base coat colour. Grey horses are also often called blue or blue and white if they also have the tobiano gene. The W20 gene has now been identified in the breed and is thought to be responsible for the attractive jagged white splashes that the Travellers refer to as Blagdons.
True roans are very rare within the breed. Some of the more unusual colour dilutions such as pearl have only recently been able to be identified via DNA testing so we can expect to see more of them emerge.
Some Gypsy Cobs are homozygous for the tobiano gene which means they will produce coloured foals 100% of the time. A good indication of homozygous tobiano are ‘ink dots or spots’ on the coat; for example if a black and white cob has black dots on their white they are likely homozygous but it would need to be verified by DNA testing.
The all important Gypsy Cob Hair & Feather
Just as a show horse needs to be turned out in a certain way with many things making up the whole picture, so it is with the hair and feather of the Gypsy Cob.
Good feather looks and feels silky. Perfect feather should be straight, fine and abundant. Course hair is not desirable and a breeder would rather have less amount of the correct type than volumes of the wrong type. A good full blooded Gypsy Cob will have much more feather than the finer boned cross breeds. It should start from the knee, covering the cannon bones and continue down to flow over the hoof which should not be visible through the feather.
Some horses will appear to have blunted ends to the hair and will sometimes be nonexistent over the toe of the hoof due to having what is known as ‘bog burn’. This should not be confused with hair that is sparse.
A Gypsy Cob will not have it’s full amount of feather in before it is 4 to 5 years of age. As a rule stallions have more than mares. The mane, tail and forelock are also important features of the Gypsy Cob and like feather, in a perfect world, there should be lot’s of it!
A double mane is also highly prized. A double mane for those new to the breed means that the mane falls well to each side of the neck.
Temperament of the Gypsy Cob
The Gypsy Cob breed is renowned for being dependable and suitable for beginners. Some Gypsy Cobs have great athletic abilities that would suit serious competitors.
Gypsy Cobs are very affectionate, intelligent, extremely kind and gentle. They are also incredibly inquisitive. Something that would cause almost any other horse to shy or bolt would simply entice a Gypsy Cob to get as close as possible to investigate.
The saying ‘A Cob will break in a day’ is also true in that because of their laid back natures. Most Gypsy Cobs do not react badly to the starting process but like any horse, hours of education are necessary to produce the finished product. It is too easy to assume that some have had more education than they actually have had because of their willing attitudes and calm temperament.
Gypsy Cobs are highly sensitive to human emotion and will often single out the elderly, children or disabled people from a crowd in order to be with them.
They are a laid back breed of horse with a high play drive. Gypsy Cobs are also very hard, determined workers who take their jobs quite seriously and are more than capable of undertaking various tasks with enthusiasm and skill.
Gypsy Cobs in competition
While it is true that these horses were bred to be driving horses they are also able to compete in varying disciplines.
One stallion in Europe by the name of Boris is winning against Warmbloods in Dressage and moving through the levels quite well. Boris is registered as the Grai type in the Netherlands.
There are some very successful jumpers among the bigger pure bred horses as well as the crosses and they also excel in cross country and hunting. Many Gypsy Cobs or coloured traditionals are used at riding schools throughout the UK due to their unflappable disposition.
One particular cross that is exceptional for eventing and dressage is made with the Thoroughbred which adds speed and height to produce a sane and versatile sporthorse.
The Drum Horse is quite well known in the USA and is being promoted as an all round larger version of the Gypsy Cob needing to be a minimum of 16hh by their 5th birthday. Today, in America and now Australia, there is a move to have these horse recognised as a breed type and strict guidelines have been set in place to ensure only suitable breeds and percentages are used in its development. This option also allows those wanting a bigger Gypsy type horse to choose a Drum without jeopardising the traditional Gypsy Cob.
Some other breeds that make beautiful additions to the part bred list are Warmbloods, the Gypsy Cob makes for a cooler head and adds a great splash of colour whilst complimenting the athletic attributes that the Warmblood is well know for, in fact these horses are taking off in some parts of the world and fetch very high prices. The Friesian lends its utter class and couples well with the Gypsy Cob for a nice high stepping harness horse that can also stretch out in its gaits with a more upright frame than the pure Gypsy Cobs. Arabians, being the only other breed of horse bred to live with their people melds together with the Gypsy Cob producing a very gentle, sweet horse with great reserves of stamina and powers of endurance. Both breeds are very capable all rounders able to excel in anything they are asked to try.