The Secret of Feathers: Gypsy Vanner II
Last year, Collette Morgan, owner of Wild Rumpus Books for Young Readers in Minneapolis, Minnesota answered a few questions about her beloved Gypsy Vanner boys, Misto and Pinky, in the post, Smitten. Collette’s back for a visit with more stories and new photographs! If you haven’t already fallen for this breed, I bet you will. If you’ve never met Collette, bump The Wild Rumpus as a top stop on your next trip to the Twin Cities. Plan on staying a while because even if you don’t plan to, you will. Collette is a bookseller who makes a statement with her store. Every inch of the Wild Rumpus experience reflects Collette’s p.o.v. that the books and reading make good companions to accompany children through the unexplored and infinitely wild places in their minds and their imaginations. Adults and children alike will come out of Wild Rumpus feeling a little freer in body, mind, and spirit! Not surprising that such a playful, joyful woman would choose the Gypsy Vanner for her horse companions.
You keep two Gypsy Vanners, Pinky and Misto. How are those sweet boys doing? Are you getting more trail riding in with the warmer weather?
Definitely! I used to think that we had such a short riding season in Minnesota—-then I came to my senses and bought long underwear and insulated boots. Revolutionary.
Next month, Pinky and I will be taking an intensive 5-day riding clinic and in August, Dale is riding Misto in a Craig Cameron reining clinic! I can’t wait to see that little boy do a proper rollback!
Sounds like with the boys’ full schedules that you and Dale have a lot of grooming planned for the summer. I suspect with those gorgeous feathers and long manes and full forelocks that you’ve learned some grooming tricks over the years.
Yeah…big big hair. Misto’s tail is huge! They’re both pasture horses, so I need to keep their manes braided otherwise it would be a grooming nightmare. Also, I braid Pinky’s forelock when I’m riding so that he can see! It takes ALOT of shampoo to get them clean.
Pinky’s mane is so thick that I have to shampoo it in two stages. I start on the ‘outside’, where the hair naturally lies then I flip it over to the other side of his neck and start again from scratch. Leave-in conditioner makes it brushable. I’ve found that an Aveda paddle brush (the people kind) works best. Too bad Pinky doesn’t have an Aveda endorsement deal—he could pay for his own shampoo.
The feathers are burr magnets in the pasture so that takes quite a bit of intensive detangling. Luckily, these horses love to be groomed and they stand patiently even when I’m down on the ground working on feathers. The secret of white and fluffy feathers (for show purposes) is ‘flowers of sulpha’—a powdered sulfur rubbed into the feathers then brushed out. It separates the hairs and makes them fluffy. I once made the mistake of asking a pharmacist if I could order a large quantity. He gave me a very strange look and asked what I was using it for. When I told him that it was for cleaning horse feathers–he dismissed me as a crazy person! Now I just order it from an agricultural supplier and avoid eye contact with that pharmacist.
I love the natural, flowing look of the Vanner horse. I hope I don’t get in trouble for this question, but do you ever trim?
I don’t use the T-word around them. Their hair is their badge of honor! I can tell a Gypsy Vanner’s age by how long the mane is! Actually, the tails reach the ground and are self-trimmed by stepping off the excess. I do trim a bridle path for proper halter and hackamore fit.
You know, I’ve never heard how you found Pinky and Misto. Did you get them together? Is there a special process you have to go through in the U S. to own a Gypsy Vanner?
No, they’re both the same age, but I bought Misto as a weanling and Pinky as an untrained 3 year old. Misto came from Florida from Dennis Thompson’s breeding program. He was the first Gypsy Vanner in Minnesota! I picked Pinky out of a herd in Ireland when I was horse-shopping for a client. He’s from Clononeen Farm (Deirdre Cash) and he was the first strawberry-roan Gypsy Vanner in the country! These days, there are many breeders in the U.S. producing wonderful foals (Vintage Vanners in Minnesota is one of the best). The price for geldings has evened out, but the breeding stock prices remain high.
Collette, you and I love to watch horse friendships. Horses are social, friendly creatures and they get so attached to each other, don’t they? Are Misto and Pinky big buds? How can you tell?
They’re definitely best friends. They live in a herd of 30 horses, but they hang out together! Their favorite game is one that I call: ‘you’re stupid! no, you’re stupid!’ where they bite at each others’ heads and necks and sometimes play in a rearing competition!
The origin of this breed goes back to needing a horse that could pull a caravan and yet engage with children, right?
That’s right. The best of the breeding took place originally in the British Isles and temperament was a huge factor. They needed to be able to pull a family caravan and tolerate the ministrations of toddlers!
I’ve seen Misto in a small, confined space with a dozen children dotting on him. He stayed totally relaxed and willing to just let the kids love on him.
They are both wonderful with children. I’ve taken them to the Minnesota Horse Expo and competed at the State Fair where they are petted and admired by literally hundreds of kids. I’ve witnessed them lowering their heads so that kids in wheelchairs could touch their faces!
Do you still use your horses in diversity work with kids? What is that like?
I have a book-wagon that we stock with books to give away to kids in dodgy circumstances. When kids interact with the horses, all pretenses are dropped and it becomes very personal. I once had a tough, surly teenage boy spend some time looking into Pinky’s eyes and watched the boy visibly relax. Before he walked away, he told me “it’s ok for a boy to have a gentle name” referring to Pinky. Beautiful.
Ok. That makes me tear up. I have always said that if I had found horses as a child I would have saved a lot of money on therapy as an adult! Horses get you straight inside and outside. Ok. Last question: Do you have any advice for the first-time Gypsy Vanner owner?
Yes! do your homework! Learn everything you can before you buy! This breed is wonderful to work with but they will not suffer fools. Harsh training methods are met with contempt! Folks trying to ‘cowboy-up’ with a Gypsy Vanner won’t have much success, but respectful, natural techniques will be rewarded with a very willing and hard-working partner.
Photo credit for the gorgeous pics: Kyle Johnson-MacPherson.