Article by Cole Peak
“The big thing that sets us apart from other breeding programs is that our mares aren’t just for breeding,” says Janelle Braun, owner of Baroque Feathered Farm, as she leans against the wall of her tack room in Carnation, Washington. “We ride them.”
Janelle, whose Gypsy Vanner mares have exposure to driving, dressage, working equitation, and trail work, among other disciplines, sees keeping her breeding mares in work as an important part of promoting the breed and producing foals who grow up to be balanced, willing riding partners.
An All-Around Horse, Eager to Please
A once little-known breed, Gypsy Vanners have enjoyed growing popularity in recent years, a development Janelle attributes to their winning temperaments. Originally bred by the nomadic Romani people of Europe, these short and stocky drafts were developed to be a family’s single, all-around horse—strong enough to pull a caravan loaded with a family and their possessions without complaint, versatile enough to perform in a wide variety of conditions, and willing enough to be handled by the children when it came time for morning and evening chores.
When asked to account for the versatility of the Gypsy Vanner breed, it’s these temperament-related traits that Janelle points to first. While people who purchase her foals may not need a horse capable of pulling a laden caravan day in and day out, they do find that the gentleness and work ethic prized by the breed’s originators take these horses just as far in the dressage ring, on the bridle trail, or anywhere else that a horse’s desire to please and ability to keep its mind on its work are paramount.
“People who ride our horses are surprised by how willing and focused they are,” she says, “they aren’t lazy drafts and they’re not hot and spooky, they’re just eager to please.” She’s seen the power of these “soft” qualities in action, particularly at clinics, where her mares hold themselves well alongside breeds whose names are almost synonymous with their disciplines.
Breeding for Movement, Conformation, and Temperament
While many Vanner breeders have begun to emphasize color in their programs, Janelle takes a back-to-basics approach, selecting for movement, conformation, and of course, the temperament to which the breed owes its success. “We’re very selective in the horses that we buy and breed, so we can make sure our foals will be productive riding partners in any discipline.”
Starting with working mares cross-trained in several disciplines is an important part of Janelle’s process, allowing her to see and select for traits that would otherwise remain invisible—allowing her to confirm that a mare’s personality holds true in the arena, not just the mare’s barn. While the conformation of an untrained broodmare may be assessed in her stall and her movement may be visible in the pasture, the characteristics that make Gypsy Vanners such adaptable workers, and which the riders who purchase Janelle’s foals find so valuable, can only be observed under saddle.
For Janelle, riding isn’t a fringe benefit of her breeding program. It’s an integral feature that keeps her mare’s minds nimble and active and allows her foals to spend their formative months learning from a dam who has considerable life experience. More importantly though, riding is an all-important step in the selection process at Baroque Feathered Farm, ensuring that each foal is born to a mare who has been proven to carry the very best features of the Gypsy Vanner breed.
Email: [email protected]
The Northwest Horse Source is an independently owned and operated print and online magazine for horse owners and enthusiasts of all breeds and disciplines in the Pacific Northwest. Our contemporary editorial columns are predominantly written by experts in the region, covering the care, training, keeping and enjoyment of horses, with an eye to the specific concerns in our region.