Gypsy Vanner Horses in the Northwest!
by Catherine Madera
Few people can say they have planned their own funeral. Then again, Kate Shadow of Deming, Washington is no ordinary person. In 2003, the owner of Kalypso Bay Farm was given a 30% chance of surviving stage 4 melanoma cancer and was busy planning for her death. She nearly lost a leg, endured painful reconstructive surgery, skin grafting and a full year of chemotherapy. No one predicted she would live, much less live to pursue a passion for breeding some of the finest Gypsy Vanner horses in the country.
The colorful, improbable story of how the Gypsy Vanner horse was discovered and preserved echoes that of Kate Shadow’s own life, near death and journey as a horse breeder. Once an unnamed breed hidden away in the close-knit communities of gypsies in the United Kingdom, the Gypsy Vanner was introduced in the US by Dennis and Cindy Thompson. While traveling in England, the Thompsons were captivated by a striking, heavily feathered stallion they saw pastured in a field. He was unlike any horse they had ever seen.
Bred to be the perfect small draft horse, capable of pulling the gypsies’ caravan home, the Gypsy Vanner includes blood of the Shire, Friesian, Clydesdale and Dales Pony. The Thompsons spent years studying breed genetics and established the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society in 1996. They also imported the first horses, including the initial stallion that captured their imagination, Cushti Bok.
Kate Shadow understands the way a Gypsy Vanner can capture the imagination. Passionate about horses as a child, she grew up with traditional light breeds but always had a special love for draft horses. After surviving cancer, Shadow retired to Costa Rica and bought an Andalusian mare named Kalypso Bay. It took nearly five years for her to decide retirement—and life in South America—didn’t suit.
“Lord, where do we go from here?” Shadow remembers praying. Convinced God had a plan for her life post cancer, and that it included pursuing a passion, Shadow began searching for farms in the Pacific Northwest. She carefully researched bloodlines and began assembling a herd of Gypsy Vanner horses, some imported from England. Only interested in breeding the best, Shadow acquired a daughter of Cushti Bok, among others. The journey to get a herd of 22 horses and one Costa Rican household together in one place is a testament to the strength of one woman’s vision.
Today, Kalypso Bay Farm has settled in a location of incredible natural beauty near Mount Baker. It is a place where eagles soar along the Nooksack River while magical looking horses play in nearby fields. “My life is so blessed,” says Shadow, who is thoroughly enjoying life with the horses of her dreams.
Her vision includes breeding the horses of other people’s dreams, too. To this end, Kalypso Bay stands four stallions of startling color and has a small herd of quality broodmares. Gypsy Vanners can “do anything,” says Shadow, and her horses are trained for English, western and driving. Bred originally to live with traveling gypsy families, the breed is gentle and affectionate. Exceptionally sturdy, they range in height from 12-16 hands and come in many colors including pinto, palomino, leopard spotted, bay, silver dapple and black silver dapple.
Kalypso Bay Farm is currently open to the public for tours (by appointment) and stud service, including collection of outside stallions for artificial insemination. Select horses are also offered for sale and a bed and breakfast service is available for those traveling from a distance to see the horses. In the future Kate Shadow plans to offer cart rides on her 175 acre property and weddings. For more information visit kalypsobayfarm.com; email email@example.com; or call 360-599-1261.
Photos courtesy of Tamara Gooch
Catherine Madera served as editor of the Northwest Horse Source for five years. She has written for numerous regional and national publications and is a contributing writer for Guideposts Magazine and the author of four equine-related books. She has two grown children and lives with her husband and three horses in Northwest Washington.