There are lots of informational pages about gypsy cob history and some famous foundation horses, scattered across the internet in various websites. I want to share some of the wonderful information and sources I have learned about in the past few months. I have found that my horses have wonderful pedigrees and of course I am thrilled about that!
Dennis Thompson has told his story of how the gypsy vanner horse came to be brought to USA and worldwide in the last two decades http://www.gypsygold.com/. He says this about the very beginnings: Sonny Mays and the Coal Horse were the inspiration for the breed soon after World War II . You could argue that all horses which are the breed go back to Sonny Mays and The Coal Horse. Sonny Mays lived in a little crossroads town in Ireland and was owned by an Irish farmer who used him a lot. He produced color (probably homozygous for color). Old Gypsy breeders will tell you, “there’s a little Sonny Mays in every colored horse in Great Britain.” That means both the breed and the non-breed type. There were very few colored horses in Great Britain in those days; most or all were in Ireland. (end quote)
Dennis Thompson in his early research and acquisition of his horses talked quite a bit with (grandpa) Fred Walker, one of the esteemed older breeders of these cobs, now deceased (his family is still actively involved in raising these horses). “The Coal Horse pulled Coal Carts in Limerick, Ireland” as told by Fred Walker. At some point during the timeline of his life, the Coal Horse was owned by Fred Walker and was used along with his son, Roadsweeper (UK) to pull the family vardo (living wagons) as evidenced by a picture I have seen shared on the internet. Roadsweeper eventually lived out his life as the main herd sire for Robert Watson and many of Roadsweeper’s descendants come from this herd. Among the horses here at Bellbottom Farm, our stallion The Executive has the closest association to Roadsweeper thru his sire The Producer. The Producer was moved around quite a bit during his life before he came to USA (now at Lexlin), as well as had several different names during those transitions. You can look at pedigree information that has been gathered for The Executive here:
Horse name changes with ownership change as well as multiples of horses with the same name has been a challenge for people gathering pedigree information during the establishment of the breed here in USA, and continues to be confusing at times. It is debatable whether the Coal Horse, or his sire, Old Henry AKA The Palace Horse, has had the most get produced, but for depth of use it is hard to beat Old Henry as a popular sire used within a breed of animal.
But getting back to Sonny Mays horse, I have another note in my files: Sonny Mays is said to be (common reference for word of mouth recording only) a son of Jimmy Doyles’ Chestnut and white horse of Ballymartin (Ireland). You find this horse in the pedigree behind the Coal Horse, as seen in the link provided above for The Executive. It is believed that HC’s White Horse and prior generations were shire or shire cross horses owned by “stallion Men” who went around with their horses travelling to the mares at their home locations, as was common in days past.
Most of this old pedigree information became known to the wider public with the posting of this Youtube video, taken by Clononeen Farm at a local Horse Fair several years ago, of gypsy men gathered around the revered breeder and source of many good working cobs, old man Henry Connors:
Okay! Now that you have had a chance to enjoy that little gem, I will state that for the modern generation of horses, in the last 20 years of the 1900’s perhaps many would agree that the big players as far as breeding stallions were The Lob (Ireland), Roadsweeper UK and Eddie Alcock’s Old Black Horse (both sons of The Coal Horse used in UK). Roadsweeper actually was not used to a very great degree but his legacy has been thru a few good horses he produced. Alternately, the Old Black Horse was apparently used quite a bit over a wide variety of mares and was said to have “put the proper type and feather into the breed”. The Lob is widely respected to have produced many high quality sons and daughters. Meanwhile, surprisingly, we find that Old Henry is said to still have a couple living descendents! So, I think many give full credit to old man Henry Connors and his Old Henry horse for a huge impact on the formation of the gypsy cob in UK and Ireland. It should be noted here that a couple people have stated there was a “Young Henry” horse that was used also, a son of The Old Henry Horse and that information is inconclusive at this time…
Here is a page that Mary Graybeal in USA has tried to record this pedigree information in “tree” format as it relates to her horses:
So, as I was communicating with Rom breeders on Facebook during the past couple of years, collecting information and stories about these amazing horses, and the men who created them, I found that my original “Lex” stallion (sadly like so often we aren’t able to appreciate something until it is out of our hands, and he was sold before I learned his background) Cold Fusion being a son of the PO horse and from the Harker herd of horses, was VERY close to the foundation horses from old Henry Connors in Ireland, and fully displayed his shire traits in a smaller size horse of 13 hands….and then I created Doc 11.2 hands tall here on my farm, and he was so much smaller and STILL showing those traits strongly! I really hope that Doc is appreciated for years for what he is, as well as his sire. Meanwhile I work to maintain the best of qualities in youngstock that Lex left here at the farm before he left.
Lex (Cold Fusion) -> PO -> Old Henry; believed to be directly heavy linebred on the original Connors herd based on a Shire horse called Shaw’s
Mr (Executive) -> Producer -> Roadsweeper UK -> Coal Horse -> Old Henry
Wyatt ->mom’s sire PA’s Blue Horse -> Bullseye -> Bob the Blagdon -> Lob’d Ear/Lob (The Lob was also closely related to the Old Henry line, going back to Shaw’ Shire horse)
So the process that created the gypsy cob in Britain and Ireland was choosing the heaviest feathered stallion possible on the best mares available; and eventually as the “pony on steroids” look was developing, many breeders chose to use the best smaller stallions on the larger heavy mares as they felt that this formula made the best wagon horses. So if the mare was bigger and the most desired size was a 14.2 hand tall wagon horse, some of the smaller stallions created with crosses to native pony stock were used on these big mares, bringing more of the sweet pony head into the gene pool vs. the typical draft horse head.
I am VERY appreciative of the wisdom about horses that has gone into creating this very special breed of horse, and will always continue to work to preserve the best qualities that I recognize and give full credit to foundation Romany breeders. Here are the stallions that figure greatly in my herd’s pedigree:
Here are some of the pages that share pictures of many of the famous old horses, some of whom may be still living but especially those who have earned legend status because of what they produced in youngstock:
This page lists several helpful pages and includes “Golden Gypsy Horse” reference pages with pictures and pedigree info:
A stud in New Zealand has collected a lot of pictures of the older horses: