FORT WORTH -- Don't let the name worry you. These horses have homes.
"The first time I saw a gypsy horse, I was enchanted," said Lyn Jenkins, describing her initial reaction to the strong-but-gentle equines that were featured in the Gypsy Horse World Show at the Stock Show this past weekend.
"They're so charismatic," said Jenkins, who uses gypsies for her Greensleeves Carriage Company in her hometown of Winona. "I've had Morgans and several kinds of draft horses. But as I got older, I needed something that's calmer, easier to harness, more thrifty and just less work all the way around."
The gypsy horse fit that bill for Jenkins because it was bred to the purpose. The breed was developed by the nomadic Romani Gypsies of England and Ireland to pull their wagons. But, ironically, they were also bred to be unattractive -- at least to certain parties.
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"They were bred to escape Crown confiscation," said Jenkins, explaining that the British military had strict parameters about the breed, size and color of the cavalry and work horses it used. So the gypsy horse was a draft horse bred against those characteristics in order to dodge the draft. "[The British military] didn't want the gypsy mutt."
But while the shaggy beasts were bred to the harness, the American version is a highly versatile animal that does it all -- ride, rein, jump and pen, among other skills -- especially in the show ring.
"The general make of the horse is that they are a small, sturdy draft horse with lots of bone, which is good natured and has lots of feather [hair, especially around the hooves]. The breed standard is chunky, compact, abundant hair, arched neck, at least average to fine head and lots and lots of tail and willingness," said Jenkins, who has been raising gypsies for 10 years. "When they move, it's just flowing and beautiful. I ride and drive my gypsies, and I breed a few for sale."
And when they are not moving, they are often as gentle as lambs.
"They're just easier to be around. They tend to be a happy horse, where Morgans tend to be a busy horse," said Jenkins. "[Gypsies] tend to be laid back and safer for people to be around."
To illustrate her point, she noted that we were standing next to two stallions tied out near one another in the stall area of the Justin Arena. The horses were quiet and docile. With most horse breeds, you would not want to be in the same barn with two studs.
And, in addition to their appealing personalities, the horses are also often something to look at.
"They're just beautiful. People stop me on the street and say, 'What is that and where did you get it?' I've seen fender benders [caused by rubbernecking at the horses] and just had to drive on by."
And Jenkins is not alone in that opinion.
"We come to them initially because they are just fabulous looking," said Linda Brown, who trains gypsy horses in Burleson. "But people stay with them because of their temperament. They're quiet and calm, and they don't buck or kick. They're weirdly different, and they're fun."
Or as Jenkins puts it: "They are a horse of a different flavor."