Driving under the moss-covered road to the Gypsy Gold Horse Farm was like entering a romance novel. The dusty dirt road led to a pristine black-and-white barn that starkly contrasted the green oak trees. Small clusters of the prized Gypsy Vanner Horses stood in the pastures, unfazed by the arrival of the new visitors.
Gypsy Gold Farm is located in the North Central county of Ocala, Florida, the undisputed horse country region. The typical swampy landscape transforms at the border into perfectly manicured grass along rolling hills. Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, white fences snake along the perimeter of each farm, making it impossible to tell where one farm starts and another ends. While one may find many different breeds of horses in Ocala, none are as striking as the Gypsy Vanner Horse.
Old Man PowerPoint
As I made my way toward the barn, I was expecting to be greeted by the neighs of the horses in the stalls. Instead, I looked up at two Macaw parrots bobbing their heads back and forth as if they were dancing to the music from the office next to them. Little did I know these parrots were also the watchdogs of the barn, alerting the staff of a stranger in their presents. Erin, the wife of Dennis Thompson, who is responsible for bringing the Gypsy Vanner Horses to America, greeted me upon my arrival. I was warmly welcomed to the farm and offered a coffee while I waited for the tour to start.
In the breezeway of the barn, rows of chairs were neatly set up, waiting for guests to arrive. I sat with my coffee as small groups of people filtered in and took their seats. Like a teacher in a classroom, Dennis took his place on a stool at the head of the class. Next to him was a table with poster-size photos of the first Gypsy Vanner Horses brought to America from Great Britain. He jokingly calls this barrage of photos his old man PowerPoint, which only adds to his storytelling charm.
Dennis and his late wife, Cindy, discovered the Vanner Horse while driving the countryside of Great Britain on a business trip in 1995. They were both enamored by the beauty of a stallion (named Cushti Bok) grazing on the hillside, prompting them to stop by the farmer’s house to buy the horse in the pasture. This decision started them down a path that would introduce them to the Gypsy culture and lifestyle in Great Britain, making lifelong friends with the breeders, and eventually bringing sixteen Gypsy Vanner Horses to the United States and creating the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society.
The Gypsy Vanner is a gorgeous horse. You’ll first notice the amount of hair on the horses. The mane and tail would give any hair model a run for their money. Some of the horses on the farm have double manes. Whereas a typical horse has hair on one side of their neck (like a woman who side parts her hair to one side), the double mane has hair on both sides (who knew these horses were following the latest hair trends with their center-part hair and extreme volume?!?!). Although the mane and tail are unlike anything you’ll see on a typical horse, the most striking detail is the hair or “feathers” around their feet. The movement of the feathers sways around their hoofs as the horses run around the farm, seemingly gliding across the ground.
Gypsy Gold Farm Tour
I could listen to Dennis talk about his discovery of the Gypsy Vanner all day. A true animal lover, his passion for these horses is magnetic, making me wish I had a farm large enough to have one of my own. Although these horses are relatival small (standing 14-16 hands high*) compared to other breeds of draft horses like the Shire or Clydesdale (standing 17-19 hands high), I still don’t think I would have enough space for one in my condo. However, the Gypsy Vanner was selectively bred for half a century to pull the Gypsy caravans from town to town. I could use a greener alternative for my commute to and from work.
*Before you google “how long is a hand when measuring horses?” I’ve already done the work for you. A “hand” is an ancient unit of length, now standardized at 4 inches (10.16 cm) and used today primarily for measuring the height of horses from the ground to the withers (top of the shoulders) – Google.
The Farm tour started with our group meeting one of the Gypsy Vanner Horses. A shiny black stallion was brought from the stables for us to meet and take pictures. Standing unfazed by the group of strangers petting every inch of its body, the Vanner horse only slightly tilted its head from side to side to check for any possible treats we may be withholding. I wish I had known beforehand that I could bring carrots to feed them. I would have been more popular with the horses that day.
After everyone had taken their photos, our group was guided around the property to visit the horses in the corrals. Our guide was not only careful to tell us which horses we could pet but was extremely knowledgeable about the lineage of the hoses. Each could draw a direct line to the original sixteen Gypsy Vanner Horses brought to Northern America.
The Science of Building the Perfect Gypsy Vanner
As I stood by the corrals with the mares and yearlings, I was surprised to see several quarter-horses mixed with the Gypsy Vanner Horses. With an emphasis on keeping the Vanner Horse bloodline pure, I could not understand why they were here. The answer was simple and brought me back to high school biology. The quarter-horses are surrogates for breeding Vanner horses. Those looking to purchase a Gypsy Vanner Horse can select almost any combination of a female and male horse to create an embryo. This embryo is then transplanted into the surrogate horse. When the Gypsy Vanner foal is born, the surrogate quarter-horse is none the wiser as to why she has given birth to an extremely hairy baby; she cares for it all the same.
This same breeding process can be accomplished through the use of mules. Mules make excellent surrogates because they can survive on coarser pastures than horses and better adapt to warmer climates. The Mule Mom program allows a mule to carry the pregnancy; after seven months, the foal is weaned and sent to the new owner.
My visit to the Gypsy Gold Horse Farm was part magic and part science. Listening to Dennis excitedly tell the origin story of the Gypsy Vanner Horse was captivating. He does not seem to tire from telling the story (hosting these tours 3-4 times a week). It is easy to see why once you meet the Gypsy Vanners up close. They look as if they have been cut from a romance novel. My only disappointment was there weren’t any shirtless Fabio-looking men riding around the farm. Nevertheless, if you find yourself driving through Ocala, a stop at Gypsy Gold Horse Farm is worth the detour.
The information in this article was accurate when published but can change without notice. Please confirm rates and details when planning your trip by following the links in this article. If you find out-of-date or inaccurate information, I’d love to hear about it to update the article. Use the comments section below. Thanks!