Meet the horses of the first RVs, the “Traveler” caravans

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Gypsy Vanner horse
Photo credit Nanci Dixon

By Nanci Dixon
In last weekend’s RVtravel.com newsletter, there was a video of John Lennon gifting a Caravan to his 4-year-old son, Julian. This sparked a memory…

In Ocala, Florida, the horse capital of the world, we visited with the amazing Gypsy Vanner horses that traditionally pulled the “Traveler” caravans as seen in the video.

Dennis and Cindy Thompson brought the Gypsy Vanner horse to the United States in 1996 to establish these beautiful horses as a recognized breed and to maintain the bloodlines. They established Gyspy Gold Horse Farm to showcase and preserve this great horse breed. The breed is a mix of the Shire, Clydesdale and Dales Pony. Their legs are generally feathered with long hair, and they have strong hindquarters suitable for hauling heavy loads. Interestingly, if they were going uphill they were trained to not stop until the top. They even sometimes wear a “hat” so they can’t look back at the large caravan behind them.

“MOM” MULES

There were thirty very friendly Gypsy Vanner horses at the farm and three “Mom” mules too. Mule moms are surrogate mules that carry the Gypsy Vanner horse embryos to term. The mule moms are more docile, they survive on rougher pasture and are easier to care for.

“Mom” Mule

THE “TRAVELERS”

The horses were bred by “Travelers” in the U.K. and Ireland. The old English word “vanner” means “to haul.” These horses were specifically bred to pull caravans and were used extensively, particularly in England, to pull delivery vehicles. They were, so to speak, the first UPS “trucks.” Today in the U.K. they still pull caravans, are ridden, shown and traded.

The majority of the “Travelers” are descended from the Romanichal Travelers, who have northern India origins and emigrated to the British Isles in the 16th century. They originally lived in tents and pulled carts until the 1850s, when they began building caravans or “vardos” to be pulled by the Gypsy Vanner horses. The Travelers moved in groups and relied on farm work going from place to place, similar to migrant workers.

Irish “Travelers”, better known for their metalwork, moved from place to place in caravans too.

Note that the term “Gypsy” (capital G) can be seen as a slur and in the 1600s meant cunning, rogue, deceitful, fickle. “Travelers” or “Roma”, “Romani”, “Romany” are much preferred names.

In today’s terms, “gypsy” (small g) has come to mean free-spirited – living a life that is unconventional, non-unionized and independent. As an RVer, I can certainly relate to that definition! Can’t we all?

Below is a look into an amazing variety of beautiful Caravans. Think RVing is new? The Travelers had their house on wheels more than 160 years ago!

##RVT983

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Ellen L
3 months ago

We are staying in Ocala for the winter. Travel the back roads to see the beautiful horse farms. It’s beautiful.

Hank
3 months ago

We came upon a Vanner horse show in Montrose, Colorado this past summer. It was at their event center and was free to attend. We did go and it was outstanding. We saw some beautiful horses there. we just happened to be in town for awhile when it was going on!

Thomas H Brewer
3 months ago

Interesting story. The nariator is horrible, hard to understand, and sounds bored.