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Minnesota woman works to preserve and expand Gypsy Vanner horse breed

Katie Dolan, owner of Gypsy Vanner Ranch near Red Lake Falls, Minnesota, is a breeder and has a fledgling carriage business, which she plans to expand.

A woman dressed in a gray sweatshirt and black pants woman holds two black Gypsy Vanner horses.
Katie Dolan holds Jett, left, and Kiss Me Kate, on Monday, Feb. 28, 2022. The two Gypsy Vanner horses make up one of her driving teams.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

RED LAKE FALLS, Minn. — Gypsy Vanners, a compact version of Clydesdale horses, with the flashiness of Arabians, have captured the fancy of equine enthusiast Katie Dolan.

Dolan, owner of Gypsy Vanner Ranch near Red Lake Falls, is a breeder and has a fledgling carriage business, which she plans to expand. She also owns Katie’s Kennels, a dog boarding business with facilities on her ranch and in St Hilaire, Minnesota.

A longtime horsewoman, Dolan fell in love with the confirmation and disposition of Gypsy Vanners after she saw photos and descriptions of them online.

“They’re smaller than a draft horse, so they’re easy to manage, not so intimidating,” Dolan said. “They are very friendly and trainable, and I wanted a horse that was safe around my kids. They are known for their gentle demeanor and that they love their families.”

The horses, which originated in Ireland and England also are versatile. Initially carriage horses for Romany people, Gypsy Vanners, now also are used for western and English riding.

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A woman wearing a gray sweatshirt, pink stocking cap and black pants gets ready to put a horse collar on a black horse with a white blaze.
Katie Dolan is teaching Jett, a 3-year-old Gypsy Vanner stallion, how to be part of a two-horse driving team.
Ann Bailey / Agweek

Dolan bought her first Gypsy Vanner in 2014 when he was a foal.

“I took a risk. I’d never seen a Gypsy Vanner in person, and I bought one from a couple of states away and had him shipped up,” Dolan said. She planned to eventually ride him in local parades and show him at county fairs, but the stallion, “Gitt A Hunka Burn N Love,” nicknamed “Presley,” performed so well in local competitions, Dolan began entering him in larger shows.

A dappled gray Gypsy Vanner stallion runs in the snow.
Katie Dolan's Gypsy Vanner, Presley, spends the winters at the University of Minnesota Crookston, where students ride and drive him and gain experience in handling a stallion.
Contributed / RU Photography

In 2018 and 2019, Dolan partnered with a Saint Cloud, Minnesota, Gypsy Vanner trainer, who showed Presley in western riding, English riding, driving and halter classes across the United States and Canada.

"He does everything you ask to do,” Dolan said. “He's a confidence builder for the students and he can be used in all the classes.”

Presley was Gypsy Vanner Horse Society All Around Horse of the Year in 2019, based on the amount of points he won at shows. He also has earned a gold medallion for versatility.

During the offseason, Presley is at the University of Minnesota Crookston stable where students ride and drive him, and learn how to handle and collect semen from the stallion.

“He’s great. He’s very easy to work with,” said Christy Doyea, UMC barn manager. Handling a quiet well-behaved stallion helps develop the confidence of students, especially ones who have not had previous experience working with them.

Two University of Minnesota Crookston femaie students  stand by Presley a stallion.
Universtity of Minnesota students get experience handling Presley, a Gypsy Vanner stallion.
Contributed / RU Photography

Meanwhile, Dolan’s Gypsy Vanner pregnant mare, Blue Moon, spent a few weeks at UMC this winter so students could get experience with foaling and mare and foal aftercare. Blue Moon gave birth to a filly on Wednesday, March 2, 2022, which Dolan named “Hope,” as a tribute to the plight of Ukraine .

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A gray foal with a white blaze stands in front of a dappled gray mare with a white blaze.
Katie Dolan's mare, Blue Moon, foaled on Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Dolan named the filly "Hope."
Contributed / RU Photography

Handling the mare and foal, like handling Presley, helps the students get hands-on experience, Doyea said.

“These Gypsies are really fun, so calm and relaxed. They don't have a mean bone in their bodies,” Doyea said.

Presley also is quiet around her own three young children, Dolan said.

“He’s just so gentle and loving, it’s amazing. When I was pregnant, he was so gentle. He’d never pull,” she said.

This summer, Presley will travel to shows with a Tennessee Gypsy Vanner breeder. Dolan’s goal for what will be Presley’s last year on the national circuit is for him to win the performance points he needs to be in the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society Hall of Fame. He is about 205 short of that now, and Dolan hopes that he will earn those by the end of the 2022 show season.

The stallion will spend most of this show season on the southern circuit, including the states of Florida, Tennessee and Texas.

The honors the stallion has won during his show career makes his semen more valuable for sales to mare owners.

Besides Presley, Dolan owns nine other Gypsy Vanners, including a broodmare and three that are trained to drive. She did sleigh rides with one of the teams over the 2021 holiday season and plans to offer carriage rides at events this summer.

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Dolan hopes to build another barn, which will have an attached heated arena, on the farm. During the winter she will teach adults and children with disabilities to ride on her Gypsy Vanners and host an indoor petting zoo, which will include donkeys, goats and her young Gypsy Vanner horses.

“Kids love meeting them when they’re small,” Dolan said. "They're a little less intimidating."

She is proud to be one of the early Gypsy Vanner breeders in the United States — the Gypsy Vanner Society just celebrated its 25th anniversary.

“I want to be part of preserving this breed for everybody,” she said.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: abailey@agweek.com or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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