The Magical Gypsy Vanner (edited)

Horses and humans have an ancient relationship. Asian nomads probably domesticated the first horses some 4,000 years ago, and the animals remained essential to many human societies until the advent of the combustion engine.

 

There is, however, only one species of domestic horse, but around 400 different breeds that specialize in everything from racing to pulling wagons. One such breed is the Gypsy Vanner Horse, developed by the Gypsies of Great Britain/Ireland. What makes it a rare breed is the fact that the Gypsy Vanner is the world’s first registry for a selectively bred horse (1996). The breed was identified through an in-depth historic and genetic study of British/Irish Gypsies and their horses.


While travelling through the countryside 25 years ago, Americans Dennis and Cindy Thompson saw an unusual little horse standing alone in a field in Great Britain.  That horse became the key to unlocking the ancient vision and genetics that created what we know today as the Gypsy Vanner horse: “Gypsy” to honor the people and “Vanner” for the job they were bred to do. Thompson’s four years of research, in consultation with Gypsies who had been working for decades to create a horse perfect for pulling a vargo/caravan/wagon, produced revealing genetics. The genetic stock that created the breed are: The Shire, Clydesdale, Dales Pony and Friesian. Resulting selective breeding produced “a small shire with more feather, more color and a

sweeter head.”

They wanted a horse that was hardy, hard-working and exceptionally quiet. Placidity was important because Gypsies would often camp at night in a field with only a roped-off area to keep in the horses — and children would play with them, climbing all over their backs, running around their feet. The calm nature of the breed is one of the qualities that attracts people to them today.

A Classic Gypsy Vanner measures 14-15 hands (measured at the withers). There are also Mini and Grand body types. They often have an abundance of hair, a showy double mane and signature feathering. Their body type is powerful and compact with a strong neck and they come in every color imaginable. At a time in history when mixed colored horses were rejected by most people, Gypsy’s embraced them, which is why there are so many mixed-colored Vanners today. They are primarily Piebald (black& white) and Skewbald (brown & white).

Tractor

all four wheels stuck

in springtime’s murky mud.

and why my April mind’s afraid

to thaw.

Sweet girl,

What part of you

contains my DNA…

my love of chocolate, music and

sunshine?

I see

in you, the man

who took a chance on me,

then makes me fall in love with you

each day.

Soft earth

yields to the doe’s

full weight as spring ignites

her need to procreate, to birth

again. 

IN DEVELOPMENT:

Shopping Cart Humor - Volume 2

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Cinquains

OH! Now I get it...You mean that cone and tape mean don't go there!

My Kurdish Rug Man

There are so many things I would like to ask my Kurdish friend today, about my rug, about his country and his life. But as I listen to the news, mostly, I am glad he lived out his life surrounded by family in the safety of his adopted country, free to be exactly who he was.

When it was recently announced that the US was withdrawing from the Middle East, abandoning the Kurds, my mind went immediately to the only Kurd I have ever met. I don’t know his name but I shared an experience with him one rainy afternoon 20 years ago in Rochester, NY that remains one of the most cherished memories of my adult life.

 

With that in mind, this news is distressing to me on a more personal level than most. I can picture him, his rough-hewn features, his small, almost frail stature, and his piercing eyes. He seemed old then. He may no longer even be alive, but this news about what the US is doing to the Kurds makes me think about him, about his relatives, his culture and the struggles they have faced for generations, struggles I have never known.

 

On that day, I take my niece to lunch at my favorite Greek restaurant and we feast on grape leave pita, spanakopita and chicken souvlaki. I plan to take her to explore boutiques on Park Ave. but the rain persists. And so I suggest we dash a few shops down the street to a rug shop. I have been looking for an Oriental rug for our living room and it seems like a good day to browse.

 

The shop is dimly lit and appears to be closed. When I try the door, it’s locked. But I see a man sitting inside. He motions for us to wait while he makes his way to the door. He welcomes us in. I explain what I’m looking for and he invites us to explore the many piles of colorful rugs stacked on the floor around the room. The more I look, the more the rugs begin to look alike.I move to another pile. Turning back the first few rugs, I see a rug with the colors I want. I ask him to pull it out so I can see all of it. When he lays it on the floor, I can instantly picture it in our living room. It’s perfect! I ask about the price. He shows me the tag. My heart sinks. There is no way I can afford this perfect rug. I sense that he wants to help me and he suggests a lower price. No. Lower still? I shake my head. No.

I tell him I can give him a down payment if he will allow me to pay the balance off over several months. He seems as happy as I am when we agree to this unusual transaction. So I pull out my checkbook, write the deposit check and ten more checks dated for the first of each month. He agrees to hold them and deposit one a month until the rug is paid for.

Rolling up the rug, he ties it securely with pink string, a little clutch of tags intact. I begin gathering up my things. My niece has watched, quietly, in utter amazement, as the entire deal plays out.

 

But before we can leave, he says we must stay a bit longer. “Come,” he says, motioning to the floor. “Sit down and share oranges with me.” Neither she nor I understand exactly what is happening, but after all of his kindness and patience, it seems rude to refuse. And so we sit, cross-legged on yet another gorgeous rug and eat oranges.

 

My niece asks about where he is from. He explains that he is Kurdish, that his son works for a large company in Rochester and brought him and his wife to the United States. He loves America but he also misses his homeland. He speaks about some of the political unrest “at home” and his feelings of doubt that life there will be better anytime soon. We share a little about our lives and families, and, as the rain stops, we shake hands and say goodbye.

At home, I unwrap my treasure to find it is exactly as I had envisioned; the size, the colors, all perfect. I remove the little bundle of tags and string and tuck them in an end table drawer where they have been since that day.

 

Recently, with the Kurds making headlines, I think of the only Kurd I have ever met, my rug dealer. My vivid memory of that day underscores the gravity of everything that is unfolding.

There are so many things I would like to ask my Kurdish friend today, about my rug, about his country and his life. But as I listen to the news, mostly, I am glad he lived out his life surrounded by family in the safety of his adopted country, free to be exactly who he was.

 

 

Teresa Schreiber Werth is a retired communications professional and author from Spencerport, NY. Some of the greatest experiences of her life have been firsthand learning about other cultures and advocating for inclusivity, compassion and social justice.

It’s hard to imagine how my parents, born in 1927, would ever have learned about the

Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand. They may have known where to find

NZ on a map, but their chances of interacting with people there, sharing ideas

and interests, would have been unlikely.

 

Fast forward to 2019. My retired husband and I are spending our seventh winter escaping

the blustery cold and sunless skies of Rochester, NY and living in Inverness, Florida.

During our first winter in this little community, a small guinea fowl appeared, wandering

around among the houses and public spaces, roosting in trees, frequently screeching and

making itself at home. The first time I saw the bird, I was out for a walk. I recognized it

immediately as a guinea fowl and I was curious about where it came from and to whom it

belonged. Everyone, it seems, had the same questions. No one had the answers. The years

passed, and the pet speckled hen stayed. Someone named it “Phyllis” with no real

knowledge of its gender or origin. People occasionally put down cracked corn on the

driveway for her, not knowing that she found plenty of food in nature. When neighbors

had out-of-town visitors, they often brought them to the Downing Street neighborhood to

see her. If you visited someone in the condo building, she might greet you or scold you

upon your arrival. By 2019, Phyllis was a well-known and recognized member of our

community.

 

As a writer, I was curious about her story. I began interviewing residents to see what

information I could collect. I took extensive photographs of her, her friends and environs

and “interviewed” Phyllis, herself. I compiled her story in a small, limited edition book,

Phyllis of Royal Oaks. Of course, the main audience for this unusual tome are the

residents of Royal Oaks. But I decided to see if there were others who might be interested

in the story of a lone guinea fowl. One entry in a Google search and I found the Rare Breeds Conservation Society, NZ. The next step was to send a letter and copy of the book to them asking if the group had any interest in learning about our unique and solitary guinea fowl? It didn’t take long before a response arrived from Marina Steinke, thanking me for sharing and writing, “…we love the story of your guinea who adopted you and the neighborhood. Yes, we do think it’s a he!”

 

My research for the book had taught me more than I ever expected to know about guinea

fowl, their colors, their origins, their habits, and their physiology. We were increasingly

suspicious that “she” is a “he” because we now pay close attention to the call which

sounds more like chi-chi than buckwheat, buckwheat. But it really doesn’t matter.

 

Phyllis is destined to become extinct since there seems to be no progeny. But we have all learned about one of God’s beautiful creatures and are better for it. We have learned to appreciate a species and the special place she holds, mysteriously, independently, bravely, peacefully and congenially in a quiet little community in Florida.

PHYLLIS,

the pet

speckled

hen

Lucky Charm, one of three Gypsy Vanner mares from NZ that appears in the third Hobbit movie. Photo by Lynda Boulton

Gypsy Vanner owners agree these horses offer a temperament like no other; very people oriented, trainable, and safe. They can do anything other breeds offer: endurance riding, hunting, eventing, dressage, trekking, combined carriage driving, showing and cowboy challenge. 

Gypsy Royal Stud is in Canterbury in New Zealand. Primarily farming beef cattle, they also breed Gypsy Vanner horses — a breed sometimes called the Gypsy Cob (UK, NZ), Coloured Cob (UK, Ireland, parts of Continental Europe), Gypsy Vanner (US, CAN), Irish Cob, or the Tinker Horse in parts of continental Europe.

Horsewoman, Lynda Boulton of Gypsy Royal Stud says that all their breeding stock hails from the US. She says they were the first and only stud farm in NZ to have fully DNA verified stock as their breeding base.  “Our senior stallion the Lion Prince, from Westmoreland Farms in Ohio, won several championships in the US before coming to NZ in 2009,” she says. “Prince is considered one of the finest gypsy stallions in the world. He is a 1st premium Classification … the highest award you can get for conformation and type.”

 “Magical” is a word often used to describe the Vanner horse.  Their beautiful, flashy appearance— long, full manes and tails, heavy feathering and muscular bodies—are the reasons Boulton was invited to provide Vanners for use in one of The Hobbit films produced in NZ.

This article was written for Rare Breeda NewZ, the quarterly newsletter of  Rare Breeds Conservation Society of New Zealand.

My Boots

It's our first visit to Nashville and we are stoked. Sounds of country music waft below the smoky scent of BBQ. Passing window after window of eateries, we're drawn to one distinctly lacking in atmosphere, but we're charmed by the sight of finger-licking folks with  smiling, sauce-stained shirts and faces. We're not disappointed.

Later, sauntering down Broadway in the warm night air, the shrill sound of fiddles whining country tunes drifts out of every doorway. The neon sign says "Big Time Boots." I wander in, my husband trails reluctantly behind me.

A saleslady approaches us with a warm smile.  I detect a gentle twang in her voice. "Are ya looking for boots? " she asks. I know this can't be a trick question. I haven't been able to convince Don that we both should try them on, so I speak for  myself. "Yes, I am!" My voice cracks a smile, eager for this adventure to begin.

"Well I need to tell you we are not boot SELLERS. (pregnant pause) We're boot FITTERS. If you buy a pair of boot here, they'll fit you like a glove!"

This seemingly slick approach would normally set off all kinds of alarms in my head, but there is something authentic about this woman and I'm willing to go along for the ride.

A wall stretches down the aisle in front of us that seems almost a city block long, three rows of big boot boxes high...something for everyone, I'm sure. Myriad colors and styles, tall, short, flashy, plain, high, low. Let the fun begin!

I stroll slowly past all  of them, eliminating some, considering others. I want black or grey, nothing gaudy, low heel, tall boot and above all, a comfortable fit.  I spend a lot of time checking out my options. My saleslady is patient, much more than my husband, whom I can see, out of the  corner of my eye, shifting from foot to foot, leaning on a pile of boxes, finally sitting down as if he's been defeated.

Selecting  two pair, I learn that the first thing you need to have in order to wear boots comfortably are trouser socks to make a perfect cushion between your foot and the leather. Not a thick sock, not bare feet... trouser socks. She loans me a pair. I think for a minute my feet and legs are just too big, too fat for boots. It's a bit of a squeeze until I grasp the tabs at the top edge of the boot. Then my foot slips easily past the sharp right angle of the lower foot.

 

"You have to walk," she tells me. "gotta warm them up to see how they really fit." Up and down the long aisle I walk, listening to my feet. Are they happy? How happy are they?The first pair is charcoal gray, plain in design, softly rounded toe, low heel. They feel good and are what I think I had in mind. Nothing that screams Annie Oakley, maybe more like Taylor Swift's....mother! I walk and look, look and walk. These might do. The saleslady invites me to raise a foot so she can pull them off. Looking at Don she says, "Of course, HE will be your BRS."My what? My boot removal system. Turns out there is a lot to learn about wearing boots.I gently pull on the second pair. They feel terrific. The snipped toe is stylish but not extreme. The low, slanted heel gives them an authentic Western look. I ask her what she thinks about the two pair I am considering."Well, the first pair is very nice. They will give you a good five years of wear. But this pair, they are made in Canada by a company called Boulet. They're beautifully made and python, very durable and you'll be wearing them for ten years."

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.

- Meister Eckhart

For six weeks, three of Boulton’s mares, “chosen because they were quiet, hairy, safe, well-behaved and black & white,” were on set. Under the watchful eye of Animal Protection, the assignment involved the usual animal acclamation and training and then some intense performance riding through flapping plastic curtains and stacks of drums, crack stock whips off their backs, navigating things thrown through and around their legs, dragging things and having tarpaulins over their faces. “Even a helicopter hovering over their heads for aerial shots didn’t phase them!” she says.

 

New Zealand film director, screenwriter, and film producer, Peter Jackson, best known for the Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001–03) and The Hobbit trilogy (2012–14), visited the set and “thought they were the most beautiful horses he had ever seen,” adds Boulton.

 

In 1996, Thompson established the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society in the US. There are similar societies in New Zealand, Canada, Argentina and Colombia, in order to protect, educate about, perpetuate and promote the breed. Today there are over 4,000 horses in the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society.

A Gypsy Vanner Horse pulling a typical caravan on the road to annual Appleby Fair, the largest gathering of gypsys in Great Britain.

f she says anything after that, I don't recall what it was. My breast cancer survivor brain locks onto the words "You'll be wearing them for ten years."

Ever since I finished my treatment, I viewed the future, my future, cautiously, conservatively. I had a friend whose mother used to say she was so old she wouldn't buy green bananas. That was how I had felt since the day I was diagnosed...like I might not live long enough to see green bananas ripen and this woman just tells me I could wear this pair of boots for TEN YEARS!  I love the sound of that, the idea of that. These are going to be my boots for reasons she will probably never understand.

"Do you know how I can tell they fit you really well?" she asks. Before I can respond, she says, "I can see the bunion on your right foot!"

I glance down at my foot and, sure enough, there it is...my grand other's bunion, my mother's bunion, my bunion all comfy in my new Boulet python boot!

She keeps talking about how we shouldn't think about purchasing these boots over night because....blah, blah, blah. I want to tell her to stop selling. You’ve made the sale and we’re buying the boots! Finally, we pay, take our cumbersome parcel, ask for her business card and we're back on the streets of Nashville.

I feel satisfied, clever and hopeful...ten years! (Fist pump) YES!

A few weeks after we get home, I see her business card on my desk. In keeping with my belief that everybody knows somebody who has had breast cancer, I write her a letter explaining why I chose those Boulet boots and enclose a copy of my book. I just want her to understand how she unknowingly gave me a powerful dose of inspiration as she fitted me with the boots of my dreams.

A few weeks later I receive this email.

 

Hi Terry!

I received your gift and wanted to say from the bottom of my heart, thank you.  I was deeply moved by what you wrote in the note, and as I had no way of knowing about your battle, you had no way of knowing that my own Mom (her name is Virginia) is just this year a 5-year survivor of stage 2 breast cancer.  So your gesture touched me even more than it already would have.  I believe God has a way of guiding his children to help each other heal, and I feel our crossing paths was by no means a coincidence.  My Mom is flying out here to Nashville the end of October and she and I will be embarking on our yearly Halloween trip to Michigan to trick-or-treat with our two grandsons.  We will also be celebrating her survivorship with a ceremonial "cutting off" of the pink breast cancer bracelet she has worn since her diagnosis and treatment 5 years ago.  I will be replacing it with another pink bracelet that I got her that has the word "survivor" engraved in it.  I plan to read your book, and then pass your gift to my Mom at that "ceremony" if that's ok with you.  Even though she is statistically called a "survivor" I'm sure you will agree with something she told me...that once you have had cancer, no matter what the doctors say, you NEVER trust your body again.  My Mom is my inspiration, and I am very proactive about getting my routine mammograms.  Because of family history and my age I go every 6 months instead of yearly.  I can't wait to read your book, and share it with her.  Thank you again Terry...and you just keep on-a boot-scootin' in those Boulet python boots...and I will see you in 10 years for a new pair!!! 

 

Blessings to you...

Your “bootian,”

Barbara

IN DEVELOPMENT:

Stacking Stones

A rhyming story for kids about the techniques and joy of stacking stones.

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