Ten years ago when I started to search for a child’s pony for my two youngsters, it was very hard to find something like what I remembered having as a child in the way of cobby pony. People who had been in the business of breeding ponies since I was a child, apparently were choosing stock for show purposes, and there were very few ponies being bred specifically for temperament that displayed the extreme tolerance for childhood antics that included being climbed all over and crawled under, i.e. the kind of equine mind that made a good, easy to handle, small equine. So, I made due with finding the best possible prospects which were pretty welsh ponies, however I felt a little on the hot side (someone once told me they called Welsh temperament “fizzy”). But in researching welsh ponies on the internet, I started to see these beautiful fairy tale looking gypsy horses being advertised, and wow! that made me think, this is where the next great ponies will come from. It was rather hard to find any of the type I wanted to have, from anyone else in the United States, so I determined to take the plunge and breed my pony mare to a smaller gypsy stallion that I found in Pennsylvania (The Toymakker owned by Pamela Dickey, see http://www.americangypsyhorses.com/aspen-toymakker.html ). I made the long 12 hour trip, taking my pony out to spend the summer in Toymakker’s herd, and was so thrilled with meeting him that I invested in three of Pam’s herd mares that were also bred to him and brought them all home in the fall of 2006.
I was still spending lots of time on the internet that winter, anxiously waiting for my babies to come in the spring, and looking at all of the beautiful horses that kept turning up for sale, especially on the website of the largest import farm at the time, Black Forest Shires and Gypsy Horses. I had also found someone who lived only an hour away from me in Illinois, who had a colt for sale. After going to see him, I again made the decision to invest in a future of breeding good minded athletic gypsy ponies.
Tibbs Conghal was bred by Steve Tibbs of Pekin, IL and although we actually did not end up keeping him, he was a great education for us in the gypsy horse endeavor. He has the sweet temperament we wanted to have in our ponies. We did breed him to two pony mares both about 50 inches tall that summer we had him in 2007, and sold the one mare to Susan Gallien in MN where a beautiful bay son was born the following year but lost tragically to apparent accidental milkweed poisoning. On our farm in IL we were thrilled with his first daughter, who had two blue eyes and we called Crystal. “Mr. Tibbs” went on to a farm in Ohio for a couple years where he was bred to Clydesdale mares for the new “Drum Horse” breed being developed; and then in 2010 went to live with Kristina Johnson in Helena, MT (http://www.facebook.com/kristina.vincent).
We had had “Mr. Tibbs” a couple months when we realized that we probably would be wiser to actually build the herd from smaller gypsy cobs…it was just that all the propoganda I had been reading on the internet said they were all 15 hands tall, and so many people were busy promoting the Drum Horse idea; meanwhile, I was not aware that gypsy folk in Britain actually had quite a good number of smaller size horses in their herds. I eventually learned that a common practise of these breeders was to put a smaller horse of desired “cob” body style and heavy feather to a larger mare with desired traits and probably more draft genetics behind it, to create the desired 14 or so hand size that they preferred to pull the living wagons. Dales ponies especially are commonly 13-14 hands tall. Also, Welsh cobs have generous feather at times as well as Fell ponies and some others. ( Many times the actual horses going into the mix were likely not purebred themselves.) In the 1990′s and up to early 2000′s there was much horse business done among the travelling folk, from Ireland to Wales and England and north into Scotland, and up until about the time I obtained our foundation stock many of the horses had heavy influence from Irish stock, which would have included Connemara and Irish Draught horses. I believe that most of the focus of breeding for these horses started in the 1970′s based on a few horses that were bred and caught the imagination of the Romany and Tinkers.
Just about the time I had decided to buy “Mr. Tibbs”, two smaller young gypsy cobs turned up for sale on Black Forest’s website. I was thoroughly hooked, I determined this pair would be our true foundation. So by May, “Lexington” and “Truffles” made their way to IL. They were yearlings and had a lot of growing up to do, but so cute being about 12 hands tall. We took Lexington and “Mr. Tibbs” to the first GCDHA show in Indiana that fall, and Lexington did pretty well coming in reserve stallion from a good number of youngstock. But what astounded me at that first show was that the two winning horses, a mare called Precious (best overall) and a colt called Cu were both about 13 hands tall! Here I was attending the “Drum Horse” registry show and thought I would see all these big horses, but actually finally learned that they varied in size quite a bit and the average height was 14 hands.
Bellbottom Truffles, our first gypsy horse mare. By 2008, Truffles and Lexington were two years old and for the second year GCDHA show we took Truffles to represent the farm. She did very well performing in walk/trot classes, and charming everyone with her sweet personality.
Now comes 2009 and we see Lexington’s first foal crop from a half dozen ponies of various sizes. Surprisingly, Lexington is not growing much taller while Truffles continues to outdistance him (she has matured as a 5 year old this year to 14 hands). And we love what we see out of the smaller mares he happened to be bred to, including a 38″ tall mare. (Unfortunately out of his first foal crop almost all of them are black colts and the one piebald filly we eventually decide will be bigger than what we want to keep.) We happen to acquire a miniature mare of about 35″ tall who has successfully raised a baby the previous year pasture bred to a 15 hand tall paint horse. (This pony cross today is a prized 12 hand tall child’s mount). So, Lexington’s next crop in 2010 will include babies from three miniature mares! We are blessed with three fillies which are yearlings in 2011, I just adore them. I was of course very picky about what qualities I wanted in the mares chosen to breed to Lexington; and the decision was made based on interviewing several people who had experience in breeding smaller mares to larger stallions, as well as scientific studies that had been done over the last century. (I will blog soon about these studies)