California Riding Magazine • February, 2010

Chocolate Horse Farm
By any name, the Gypsy Vanner Horse makes a colorful, companionable
and sturdy steed.

Chocolate Horse Farm takes its name from the delicious fudge made by David Dunbar, partner with his wife Carol, in breeding small draft horses best known in the States as Vanners or Gypsy Cobs or Gypsy Horses. But the farm’s name could easily have come from the horses themselves: They are sweet rides and companions. “This breed makes even the amateur feel like a professional,” Carol says.

The Dunbars discovered the breed while living in England about 10 years ago. It was love at first sight when they saw a band of black and white steeds in pasture. They knew nothing about them, but the more they learned, the more they became enamored with the breed. Ten years later, they are proud owners of two stallions, CHF Talbot’s Sparky and CHF Talbot’s Cracker, several mares and youngsters and riding-age horses that go quickly to an increasing U.S. fan base. The farm is located in Mt. Vernon, MO.

Rolly having a good scratch.

Also known as Gypsies, the Romany tribes bred these horses for pulling a house wagon, called a “vardo,” or other conveyances. They display many years of crossbreeding to the native ponies of the Dales and Fell Ponies, with the Shires and Clydesdales native to Ireland, England and surrounding countries. An inquisitive and amiable animal with tremendous eye appeal, they are rapidly becoming popular all around the world and especially in the United States, where there are four registries promoting them. Their charming appearance, highlighted by heavily feathered feet, make them a favorite at breed demonstrations and horse expos.

Carol Dunbar is confident that her two stallions represent the best of the breed’s two worlds. Sparky has the old style conformation, chunky in build with solid knees that she compares to grapefruits in size. At 15.1 hands, he is at the tall end of the breed’s range in size from 13 to 15 hands. He is all black except a wide blaze from his forehead to his upper lip, making him a perfect match for mare owners seeking size, bone and color. Riding and driving are his favorite working modes.

Oliver with dam Sarah.

CHF Talbot’s Cracker is a little shorter, at 14.9 hands, than his stablemate, but nobody has told him that. The reception he’s received at Equine Affaires over the years has convinced him that he’s a star, which suits his personality just fine. Driving is his favorite discipline and he has a special fan base within the sport pony breeding community because his lovely action and personality are great contributions to their goals.

Looks & Personality

Both share the breed’s great temperament, which was their key appeal for the Dunbars in the first place. While visiting a breeder in England, who has since become a friend and associate, the Dunbars watched as a “lorry” pulled into the breeder’s yard. “The driver opened the tail gate and off came 20 of these little horses,” Dunbar recounts. They were coming in from the fields for periodic grooming and detangling of their feather. “When that was done, they simply loaded themselves back into the trailer. The first one went up, then the rest followed. I just stood there with my mouth open!” The act epitomizes the “gypsy disposition,” the most essential characteristic that the Dunbars seek to produce in their offspring and those of their clients.

The breed’s existence is one good thing that has come from war. Solid color horses were long ago considered preferable for military purposes, so the Gypsys or “Travelers” of the time deliberately bred for color so their horses wouldn’t be confiscated for that purpose. “They were not fond of the palominos or dapples,” Dunbar explains. “They wanted a nice, crisp black and white pony.” Over time they culled their herds to end up with a line of sturdy, reliable and beautiful horses.

Originally bred to pull carts and wagons at the walk, these horses can now be seen in a variety of disciplines. Reining, jumping and dressage are among the activities Dunbar has seen these horses used for. Dunbar uses Pat Parelli-based natural horsemanship techniques to allow Chocolate Horse Farm’s youngsters to tell her what they want to do and will be good at. Western Pleasure mounts and fancy driving steeds are among the results of her approach.

Cracker jumping for joy.

Quiet and smart, Vanners won’t do well if they are “bored by being taught to death,” Dunbar warns. “Even though they are quiet, they are very smart. They will do just about any equestrian endeavor their conformation allows, so long as they are trained for it in an incremental way,” she adds.

Chocolate Horse Farms works with all four registries that govern this breed in America. Dunbar recommends newcomers to the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society as the best place to start their research. Meantime, a quote from 19th Century British traveler, historian and writer Isabella Bird offers a breed description sure to whet any horse-lover’s appetite.

“The horse in gait and temper turned out perfection--all spring and spirit, a joyous animal. All his ways are those of an animal brought up without curb, whip or spur, trained by the voice and used only in kindness.

For more information about Chocolate Horse Farm’s stallions, young horses and breeding program, call Carol Dunbar at 417-461-1255 or visit www.chocolatehorsefarm.com.