These folks needed a very special type of horse to meet many different requirements; the horse must be hardy and an easy keeper, strong enough to pull their wagons over sometimes great distances, and they needed to be gentle and agreeable enough for the young ones to be around.
The ancestors of the modern Gypsy Vanner are a combined breeding of Friesian, Clydesdale, Shire, Dales Pony, and maybe the Dartmoor Pony and Exmoor Pony as well. All breeds which are noted for hardiness and strength, sure-footedness, and most for their docile personalities. Oh, and of course like the Vanner, all very beautiful!
The Gypsy Vanner did not become a recognized breed until the late 20th century, and since then many different registries and preservation societies have emerged. The first registered Vanners touched American soil in 1996, and have been gaining popularity in North America thanks to folks like breeders Cindy and Dennis Thompson.
One characteristic that Gypsy Vanners are most known for is all their hair! They have lush manes, forelocks, tales, and wonderful horse-feathers, all of which add to their 'fairy tale' appearance.
The overall body structure is powerful, heavy, and compact with dense bone. The back is short, the shoulders deep, the chest broad, the hindquarters smooth and rounded, the legs straight and clean, the neck slightly arched, and every part is well muscled.
Peaking from under all that hair they have large eyes, neat little ears, a broad forehead, and a square-ish muzzle. And besides their good looks, they have a personality to match: they are kind and sweet-natured, very intelligent, cooperative, and laid back.
Photo from CottonEyeJoe
Today the Gypsy Vanner is a multi-discipline breed, and is used in shows for dressage, hunter, jumper, and sometime Western classes. For homesteaders, this is a breed that I would recommend as much as I would the Canadian Horse (click to see previous post on this breed) if you are looking to work with a smaller breed.
They would be excellent for in the field, to haul loads, and for transportation either by horse-back or in a cart/wagon.