Sue Raynor, left, rides her Gypsy Vanner horse, Yukon, as friend Meg Moore looks on. A Gypsy Vanner is an old world breed discovered by American horse enthusiasts in 1994 that has taken the horse world by storm.
Union resident Sue Raynor has a bit of Gypsy magic in her back pasture.
In fact, people stop their cars to get a second look at her 8-year-old black-and-white gelding named Yukon.
Is he a small shire? A paint with heavy leg feathering? A black-and-white Friesian?
Yukon is a Gypsy Vanner — an old world breed discovered by American horse enthusiasts in 1994 that has taken the horse world by storm.
A Gypsy Vanner has the stature of a small draft horse — balanced medium to heavy bone and well muscled — with profuse feathering that drapes from the knee to the ground. They have long, flowing manes and tails. The most common colors are black or brown mixed with white.
In 2005, Raynor had not heard about Gypsy Vanners but loved both draft and paint horses. She had sold a young Clydesdale gelding from Kooch’s Clydesdales in Enterprise that grew to be nearly 17 hands and was still growing.
“That was just too tall,” Raynor said. “He loved to jump 6-foot fences.”
Raynor began to look for a draft cross and discovered an ad for a Gypsy Vanner. She was intrigued but trained geldings sold for more than $20,000.
Eventually, Raynor located a breeder in Cambridge, N.Y., that had imported Gypsy Vanners from England. She had a colt for sale.
Ilkeston Yukon Jack arrived in Union in February 2006. Because of bad weather, he had been nine days in transport. Yukon was 6 months old when he stepped off the trailer into Raynor’s barn.
“It was just like he was home,” Raynor said.
Yukon grew to be 15 hands and has a unique mustache, which is considered lucky by the Gypsy people.
For hundreds of years, nomadic people — known as the Gypsies — traveled in Great Britain and Europe with beautifully carved and decorated wagons. According to the Gypsy Horse Registry of America, the Gypsies wanted a horse of beauty coupled with strength to pull their ornate wagons. The horse was bred to look like a small shire, but with more feather, bold color and a refined head.
The story goes that in 1994, Americans Dennis and Cindy Thompson were traveling a country road in England on a moonlit night, when they were captivated by a small black and white horse that trotted up to them with a full mane, tail and abundant feathering blowing in the wind. They had discovered the Gypsy horse.
The Gypsy Vanner Horse Society was established in 1996 to recognize the breed of horses developed by the Gypsies of Great Britain and Ireland.
Enthusiasts claim that Gypsy Vanners were bred for a calm temperament — the Gypsies wanted horses gentle enough for their children to handle.
“When you read about them, they are said to be so gentle and docile,” Raynor said. “That is a fallacy. A horse is a horse.”
Although Yukon is a great horse today, he went through his terrible teens.
Raynor invested time with trainers and did a lot of groundwork with Yukon. The work paid off. Today, he can be found out on various trails including Aneroid Lake, Spring Creek, Moss Springs and the Catherine Creek trail system.
“He is a novelty. When you pull him out at the trailhead, everybody is like, ‘What is that?’” Raynor said.
One time Raynor walked into a local art gallery and saw a painting of a Gypsy horse.
“That’s Yukon,” she said.
And it was. Local artist Judy Perkins showed Raynor the photo she took of Yukon that had inspired the painting.
Yukon and his pasture buddy, Jasper — a bay and white paint — love all the attention.
Yukon also likes to be groomed, which is a good thing because it is an all-day project made easier only by equine hair product.
“Cowboy magic is your friend,” Raynor said.