About Hair and Feather

Most usually, when a person meets a Gypsy Horse for the first time, they are struck by the beautiful hair and feather he or she possesses. The breed on average, has an amazing ability to grow enormously long, thick manes and tails.

They often sport double manes. This means the mane is so thick it parts down the middle and flows down each side of the neck. Many highly prize a double mane. Some grow incredibly long manes, which reach almost to the ground. The breed is also known for their very thick and heavy tails, many of which cannot be easily picked up by one person. Tails also often drag the ground.

However, their crowning glory, is the feather (not called feathers) which covers the lower leg and hoof. This should start at about the knee and cover the cannon and hoof - often stretching out several inches or more, on the ground. Some say feather should be silky and the Gypsies prize straight, silky feather. However, some feather is found to be more coarse and other quite woolly in texture. Some feather is quite curly. None is considered "incrorrect". The main thing is that a Gypsy Horse has feather. However well bred he is, if the Gypsy Horse does not have feather, he cannot be considered a good example of the breed.

Certainly some are known to lose some of it, during certain seasons of the year. I tend to think, that happens more often with those who have very fine, silky feather. Coarse and woolly feather, does seem to last through all seasons and conditions, more favourably.

To Gypsy breeders in the UK, a horse without feather, however good conformationally, is useless and they wouldn't take it if it were free. And yes, there are plenty of horses sold at fairs and sales who have little or no feather. These often have had some light horse breed, introduced quite close up in their pedigree.

Nobody can "make" feather. It is a recessive gene. Not easily aquired or kept. Breeding a feathered breed - ie. a Gypsy Horse, Shire or Clydesdale (Friesians are NOT a feathered breed) to a non feathered breed, will not get you a feathered offspring. Certainly the offspring will have some tufts of hair but just enough to make it look untidy and very seldom, if ever, enough to be considered truly feathered.

To be a correct representative of the breed, the Gypsy Horse must have profuse feather, from the knee down and covering the fetlock and hoof. Be careful when purchasing horses showing little feather, if the seller says the horse is "bog-burned". This is supposedly referring to the fact that they have been standing in less than ideal conditions and the feather has worn off. Certainly that could be true in some cases but not all.

The Gypsies say, a horse cannot have too much feather - and they are probably correct. Certainly the more feather on a Gypsy Horse, the better. But let's face it, feather isn't everything. It is required, but it doesn't make a poorly conformed horse, a good one. I think we have all seen some rather poor quality horses, who have sported tons of incredible feather. Unfortunately, some will flock to breed to such horses, purely because of the abundance of feather, without ever stopping to really look at the overall horse. We must always look first, at conformation and then, if the horse has great feather - he's probably a very good example of the breed.

And don't think that mares don't need feather. They should have the same amount of feather as any well-feathered stallion. Purchasing a cheap mare with little feather, thinking you can breed to a heavily feathered stallion and get offspring with feather, might and probably would, turn out to be a great disappointment. Feather is accumulative and it takes often, several generations of judicious breeding, to get it back once lost.

With youngsters, it's often difficult to tell whether or not they will be correctly feathered as adults. Always in such cases to make sure you see the sire and dam or at least know the horses close up in the pedigree. If they are poorly feathered, chances are good, that the weanling you are considering, will be also.

Another thing to remember, is that profuse hair (mane and tail)don't necessarily denote profuse feather. Horses can have fabulously thick manes and tails, yet grow little feather. Some horses with wonderful feather, don't have or seem to grow, thick and long, manes and tails. What we look for and desire, is a horse who has both.

We do need to say a little about the care of feathered horses. They are high maintenance. Of that there is no doubt. They can have major problems arise under feather, in a very short time. Biting at lower legs, rubbing or stamping, are sure signs that something nasty is going on under the feather.

Owners of feathered horses must be extremely diligent about the care of feather and to make sure they look through feather, right down to the skin, very regularly.

To learn all about Scratches and CPL,
Click here.

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Excellent stallion feather.

Another excellent stallion feather.

Another stallion with lovely feather.

Very poor adult stallion feather.

Very nice adult mare feather.

Superb adult mare feather.

Very poor adult mare feather.

Nice gelding feather.

Superb yearling colt feather.

Three year old with mediocre feather.

Eleven month old filly with very good feather.

Twelve month old filly with very good feather.

This is not a Gypsy Horse and it's also not which could be classified as feather.


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