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Jeff Bartko Articles

Introducing Jeff Bartko
    We would like to take a moment and Thank, Jeff Bartko and his wife, Victoria Hauser for the opportunity to use their information for our website. It is our goal to share his experience with this breed to help educate many that are interested in having a better understanding in some key areas. We believe he aligns to our visions of what these horses were meant to be. As one of the biggest importers, ever in the United States, this is a huge part of the history of this breed that needs to  be recognized. This information has been the industry’s first choice for information for decades. 

    A bit of history on Jeff. Jeff began his career in horses at a rather late age in about 1986 when he was hired to perform as a mounted, armored knight, competing in full-contact jousting exhibitions. Prior to that he was a computer technician and TV-repairman (remember the days when TV's were repaired rather than thrown away).  However, he had some acting experience, and was skilled in stage-combat. So ran off to join the circus (figuratively speaking of course).

    He eventually became director of one of the company's two traveling jousting troupes.  He really enjoyed the work, and learned a lot about the horse, and the connection a person can have to that animal.  He worked with the horses every day (except Monday), and performed on the weekend for live audiences. The performances were done primarily using draft horses specially trained for the necessary skills.  So, his love for the draft horse was born. 

Upon retiring from the jousting business,  Jeff knew he wanted to continue having these big horses around him, and decided the Shire Horse was to be that breed.   He acquired his first Shire horse shortly thereafter, and seemingly never stopped bringing them home. Black Forest Shires was created.  He and his late wife, Christine (2010),  would travel overseas to the largest Shire shows in the world, and learned much about the breed from its origins in England. From that point, it didn't take long for them to discover the Gypsy Horse, and expand to Black Forest Shires & Gypsy Horses. 

They (Jeff & Christine) have been involved with the breed since it first came over to the US. They brought over their first Gypsy Horses in 1999 and began promoting the breed.  By 2001, the interest in the breed was strong, but they could not bring horses in from the UK due to the foot and mouth epidemic. It wasn't until February of 2002 that they began importing the breed in numbers to satisfy the demand for them in North America. The last  gypsy horses they brought over came in 2008. Through this six year period they imported over 1500 horses into North America.

Their philosophy regarding the Gypsy Horse breed contributed much to their success. They knew the breed would take hold and grow in popularity, and that they were creating a foundation for the breed. They were disappointed at how some Americans were using the breed for various marketing schemes, and that some European breeders saw America as a place to sell inferior horses for big money. Jeff and Chris believed that the foundation of the breed in America should be based on truthful information, respect for the Gypsy people, and importing the highest quality horses available. 

As Jeff believed, the breed would continue to grow in popularity! These horses firmly established the Gypsy Horse as a recognized breed throughout the continent. 

Although they no longer import horses, the legacy of their work continues on.  The horses they imported and their progeny can be seen from coast-to-coast in shows, fairs, and exhibitions, still today over 20 years later. Their contributions and experience has shaped The Gypsy Horse Industry in North America, and it will never be forgotten.

Part of an article published
in a Southern California newspaper.

There’s an old saying, which goes, “Gypsy Gold does not clink and glitter, it gleams in the sun, and neighs in the dark.” This proverb believed to be from the Claddaugh Gypsies of Galway refers to the magical relationship between gypsies and their most treasured possessions, their horses. 
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These informational articles include helpful information on a variety of subjects. Please click on the subjects below to learn more.
Table of Contents:
What is a Gypsy Horse?

Introducing the Gypsy Horse

This article was reproduced using content from Black Forrest Shires and Gypsy Horses' website.  This information is being provided to you courtesy of Black Forrest Shires and Gypsy Horses and is reused with Jeff Bartko's permission. Pictures and articles copyrighted by Black Forrest Shires and Gypsy Horses.

The Gypsy Horse is a hearty little draft type horse which was developed and is still used by the Gypsies of England and Ireland.

     They typically stand between 13 and 15.2 hands, and have an unusually quiet and gentle disposition.  Their exceptional stamina allows them to go all day at a steady trot while pulling a loaded living waggon with the whole Gypsy family.  They are sturdily built with solid bone and have a good deal of feathering and hair.

     The Gypsy horse comes in all colors, with the most common being the "pinto" patterns, piebald and skewbald.

     Although they have been bred for a particular type for generations, they are originally descended from several draft horse breeds, primarily the Shire and Clydesdale along with Dales, Fell, Kinseyand other native British pony breeds.
     If you are looking for a horse that is known for soundness & sanity, that will be a faithful companion to your family, and is incredibly versatile, the traditional Gypsy Horse may just be the perfect horse for you.

    Their compact size and sturdy build makes them incredibly strong animals, capable of carrying and pulling a great deal more weight than a light horse of similar height.  They have proved to excel at every discipline imaginable in the equine world, from competitive driving to dressage and western sports

    The traditions of the Gypsies and the magical persona of these family oriented horses make them the perfect “horse for all seasons”.
What is a Gypsy Horse?
All About Feather

Comprehensive article which shows the reader the difference in feather between genders and different ages of Gypsy Horses.

This article was reproduced using content from Black Forrest Shires and Gypsy Horses' website.  This information is being provided to you courtesy of Black Forrest Shires and Gypsy Horses and is reused with Jeff Bartko's permission. Pictures and articles copyrighted by Black Forrest Shires and Gypsy Horses.


    Many people seem to be very confused about what is considered "feathered", and what is considered "well feathered".  We've seen many ads for these horses on the web that describe the horse as "heavily feathered", or that it has "tons of feather" and other similar claims.  Yet, when we look at the horse,  we can only sigh.  Yes, it may be a good deal of feather compared to a light horse, or a Belgian draft, or even a Friesian, but that is NOT acceptable feathering for a gypsy horse.  Below are some examples and comments on what is, and what is not, good feathering for a gypsy horse.

    For this discussion on feather, we will leave out all of the other things that make a horse into a good horse, and focus on the feathering, a very important part of the gypsy horse breed.  For the horses used as examples, we will assume that they all are equal in conformation and training, for the purposes of this article.  This way we can "get to the heart" of this weighty issue in our chosen breed of horse.  We realize that very few people have gotten to spend the time that we have with the true gypsy people who created this breed, so we wanted to share a bit of what we have learned over the years in relation to this matter.

     In basic terms, "feathered" means that a horse has ground-length hair completely around the hoof.  If the hair in the front of the hoof doesn't naturally grow longer than about an inch or two, then you DO NOT have a feathered horse.  These points are very important, as just being technically "feathered" doesn't make your gypsy horse acceptable by gypsy standards.  If a horse has a light amount of hair all the way around the hoof, but it's not THICK and FULL, then, by gypsy standards, this is not a high quality gypsy horse (of course this excludes horses that have been shaved, or "bog burned").


Feather on a Friesian horse.
To Shire, Clydesdale, or Gypsy Horse breeders, this is NOT a "feathered" horse. 

    To gypsies, the people who created our beloved breed of horse, there is no such thing as too much feather.   A moderately feathered stallion is never acceptable, as a stallion has to have as much feather as possible.  If a gypsy breeder is breeding a stallion that doesn't have an incredible amount of feather, he is a poor breeder, who may not have the money for good stock.  "Each hair is a sovereign" is a term used by many of the old traditional breeders.  This would translate to "each hair is a dollar" to us Americans.  This is basically the "bible" of gypsy horse breeding, as the cheap horses don't have too much hair, and the expensive ones are the well bred, quality horses, that also have tons of feather.  These horses can trade among gypsies for serious money.  

    If you have two conformationally identical fillies, and one has twice as much hair as the other one - that "heavier" filly could be worth at least double what the other one is.  Double isn't actually an accurate description of the worth though, as most of the well-known gypsy breeders won't buy a light legged and feathered filly, no matter what her breeding and history, and no matter how cheap she is.  Most of these top breeders would spend several month's income for the "heaviest" nice filly though!  These top breeders wouldn't take a light-legged, lightly feathered filly of unknown heritage if you gave her to them, hence that filly is "worthless".  I cannot count how many times I have heard the term "worthless", and "rubbish"  when the big gypsy breeders are out buying stock for themselves. These "worthless" horses are what most of the breeders call "trade horses".  These are the horses that are frequently sold at auctions and sent to unknown futures.  These are usually lightly boned, lightly feathered horses of non-descript breeding.  Unfortunately, most of the European horse people very wrongly assume that ALL gypsy bred horses are these "trade horses".

    Back to the basics of feather... Feather is a recessive, and it is accumulative.  If you breed a feathered horse to any non-feathered horse, you DO NOT get a feathered horse.  If a gypsy horse doesn't have too much feather on it, the reason for this is likely that it has a non-feathered horse in its pedigree - not too far back!  If the horse has barely any feather on the front of the hoof, but a decent bit off the back of the fetlock, this horse has light-horse bred into it, most likely as one of its parents!  There are actually many of these horses that have been imported into the USA that are direct, first generation crosses, but have been sold as "pure gypsy horses".  This is not a good situation, to say the least!  I will state again, if a "gypsy horse" doesn't have full feathering around the front of its hoof, that reaches the ground, it is recent-generation cross-bred horse (and very likely a first generation cross)!  DON'T WASTE YOUR MONEY on these horses.  You can get a horse like this in the USA for MUCH cheaper, by simply crossing a smaller Shire or Clydesdale with a paint horse.  Don't fall victim to this scam!

    If you want a truly feathered gypsy horse, you may have to import, or buy offspring from good imported stock.  Many people make the terribly wrong assumption that if a horse is pinto colored, and from England, that it's a gypsy horse.  Don't make this mistake!  This is just like saying that any horse with a pinto color here in the USA is a paint horse.  This couldn't be further from the truth, especially when you take into account those miniature horses and Shetlands that are snazzy pinto marked!  Don't fall into this common gypsy horse trap!

  Back to basics... Mares are feathered too in this breed!  Many people will try to tell you that a mare doesn't have to have much feathering to be a gypsy horse.  Don't buy this!  Of course, there are "degrees of feathering" which we will show examples of below.  Unless the mare has feather all the way around the hoof to the ground, she is just another "worthless" horse.  Below I will show you what a true gypsy breeder would consider acceptable, and what that breeder would not.  Not all mares can be "the heaviest mare" around, but there are limits as to what amount is acceptable to proper breeders.  There is never a reason to breed a gypsy horse mare that has what a gypsy horse breeder would consider to be an unacceptable amount of feather.  Doing this won't give you a nicely feathered horse, it will only give you a horse with slightly more feather than the mare, no matter how heavy (in feather) the stallion is.  We don't need to do this here in the states.  The gypsies have already gone through the trouble of breeding this type of horse into a perfect little feathered horse, so we don't have to reinvent the wheel.  This doesn't address the issue of tainting the breed with inferior, cross bred horses, but of course, that is an issue to be considered as well. 

     Bigger horses. Many of the larger (over 16 hands) gypsy type horses (and drum horses) have a good amount of Shire or Clydesdale blood in them.  These don't get as heavily feathered as the traditional gypsy horses, but should have AT LEAST as much feather as a Shire or Clydesdale.  This means full hair growing around the FRONT of the hoof all the way around.  Any less means that you don't have a feathered horse.  If you have a 14 or 15 hand horse with that lesser amount of feather, you have a "trade horse", one that most true gypsy *breeders*  wouldn't take a second look at (but the *dealers* would love to sell that to an American, guaranteed!). 

Rule to live by in gypsy horses:

Hair isn't everything, but, you can't have everything unless you have the HAIR!

Examples - Stallions and Colts

Top class:  A young colt like the five month old in the figure 7 becomes a yearling like figure 9, which becomes a two year old like figure 8, which becomes a stallion like figure 3. 

Middle class:  A colt like the yearling in figure 10 becomes a stallion like the three year old in figure 4.  These are the types that the poorer, but still proud gypsy breeders will breed.  Not bad, but not the best. 

Not even in the same class:  In contrast:  A two year old like figure 6 will turn into a stallion like figure 5.  Don't let unscrupulous sellers try to tell you that they will eventually get tons of feather like the horses you see in the calendar pictures.  If they don't start out with feather, they will never have it. 


Mares:  The heaviest mare won't have as much feather as the heaviest stallion, but a good mare will have more feather than an average stallion.  The heaviest (this means feather) horses around will be stallions, but the top mares anywhere will be close in feather amount.  Those mares are few and far between, but that shouldn't be an excuse to take an unacceptably feathered mare and try to breed something good with her.  It just won't work, which has been proven over generations by our gypsy breeders.  We don't need to reinvent the wheel with these horses, all the hard work has been done for us by the gypsies.  Put your money into buying what they consider to be a good horse, and you will never be disappointed, either personally or financially.  Mares are every bit as important as stallions (some say more important) in breeding, so don't make the common mistake of getting a decent stallion and trying to fix inferior mares with him.  That trick never works.

Examples - Mares and Yearlings
"Bog Burn", AKA "Burned Feather"

No discussion on feather is complete without mentioning the problem of "Bog Burn" in feathered horses.  This is a problem caused by a feathered horse being kept on wet land for extended periods of time.  It's a bigger problem in the winter months, because ice can play a part in it, although ice is not required to bog burn a horse.  Since the winter of England and Ireland consists mostly of mud and more mud, this is something that you see often in gypsy horses.  Gypsies keep their horses outdoors, on fields, almost exclusively.  They try hard to get "good land" in the winter time so as not to "ruin" their horses, but that is not always easy to do, unfortunately.  Sometimes they are forced to use land that they know will "ruin" the feather on their horses in order to keep the horses well fed.  "Ruin" isn't really the proper term, as when the hair is pulled out it grows back of course, but if you have a great mare or stallion in perfect condition feather-wise, it is a huge disappointment to have all that perfect feather pulled out, and have to wait months before it looks the same again. 

     It isn't too tough to tell the difference between a bog-burned horse and a horse that is just poorly feathered, but it does take some experience at looking at different types of feathered feet. 

    Photos below:   The first picture is a 9 year old mare of great breeding, but that was kept on bad land through the winter and spring earlier this year.  The picture on the left was taken in July, after about a month of the hair growing back.  The picture on the right was taken 10 weeks later.  The hair isn't completely back, but it's almost there!  This mare will have hair in front that drags the ground, like a good mare should have!  To the untrained eye, the picture on the left could look like a mare with not-good feather.  The short in the front and long in the back is a classic symptom of bog burn, but that is also a trait of not-so-great feathered horses.  It takes a bit of practice looking to notice the subtle differences between a burned, well feathered horse, and a half-legged horse that doesn't naturally have much feather.  Many unscrupulous dealers will tell interested buyers that a horse is just burned when it's actually a non-feathered horse, so be careful, and know that you can trust the person doing the telling.

In Closing...

     If you are new to feathered breeds, don't show your "newbie-ness" by calling what is on horse's legs "feathers".  Horses have "feather", Birds have "feathers" (with the "S" on the end).  All of this is moot when talking to the gypsies, as they just call it "hair"!

Conformation in the Gypsy Horse

Beginners' article on evaluating conformation in the breed. Quality and Conformation considerations.

This article was reproduced using content from Black Forrest Shires and Gypsy Horses' website.  This information is being provided to you courtesy of Black Forrest Shires and Gypsy Horses and is reused with Jeff Bartko's permission. Pictures and articles copyrighted by Black Forrest Shires and Gypsy Horses. Original article by Christine Bartko.

Here is some helpful information to help you evaluate the horses you're looking at, or planning to show.  We've tried to concentrate on areas where the Gypsy Horse differs from other horses in conformation.

Gypsy horses, - a breed, a type, or just some horses that the gypsies have?
      When we first started importing the Gypsy Horse to North America, we quickly realized there was much to learn about the buying process.  The European Gypsy is the world's oldest and most savvy horse dealer, and we weren't going to beat him at the game.  However, we knew that by learning as much as we can about the breed, we could work on a level playing field.

     We already had a solid background in our experience with the Shire horse, and even some familiarity with the differences our two languages presented.  Now it was time to learn what the Gypsy man values in the breed, and what sets one individual (horse) apart from another.  Along the way, we also learned many "tricks of the trade", and pitfalls to beware of.

     In the day, many people asked us to tell them about the registry that the gypsies had for these horses.  The answer is easy... None.  The Gypsy people do not want or need a registry.  Even if one was available, it wouldn't have been used.  Why???  Well, there are many reasons, and we could write a whole article on that subject alone.  Perhaps the most important point to understand is that much of the wealth of a Gypsy family is in the horses they own & breed.  The last thing these breeders would want is any organization monitoring their buying, breeding, and selling operations.  It's even more of a concern when you realize that in the UK, horse registries are established and regulated by that country's authorities.

     Many true Gypsies, Romany folk, or travellers, as they are known, don't read nor write, therefore, written records of breeding and ownership were rarely kept.  Instead, records are kept much like the Native Americans kept their history records - by word of mouth and stories told.  As for the thought that only a registry with papers makes a breed, consider this...  British and Irish Gypsy horses have been bred for generation after generation by a small, unique group of people on a few small and unique group of islands just west of Europe.  Geography alone goes a long way toward ensuring breed type in this situation.

     We can tell you that, in spite of the lack of papers, the gypsy cold-blooded horses ("traditional") are a definite type, that breeds true.  They have been bred the same way for generation after generation - some lines over 100 years, which is longer than most breed registries have been around.  A type that has been bred for generations and that breeds true is the fundamental definition of a breed, papers or not.  As any good old-timer will tell you, papers don't make a horse.  Just because no one decided to start writing down horse names hundreds of years ago, DOES NOT mean that these horses are any less of a breed than any other.   Any one who is realistic will understand that in breeds that have papers, unless there is parentage verification ( a relatively new process) on each horse, that the purity of a line is only as good as the honesty of it's breeder.  

    We came to realize now that we needed to stop thinking like an American, and think more like the Gypsy man.  Without the aid of a registry, and knowing that "word-of-mouth" record keeping is subject to error, It was crucial that we understand every aspect of the breed.  This is especially important to recognize any "creative selling" tactics that may be directed at us.  At the end of the day, our own assessment of the horse was the only thing we could truly depend on.  As a rule, we gave little consideration to the purported lineage of a horse.  Either it was or was not a good horse, and this fact would not change when we're told who her parents were believed to be.  In fact, we purchased many horses from Gypsy men only to learn who the parents were after the fact.

Note:  This paragraph is not meant to imply that all UK Gypsy horse dealers are crooked.  In truth, the men we've dealt with have overall been fair & honest.  However, even the most diligent of these breeders may find it difficult to recall and pass along correct information, and can and do make mistakes.


What do I look for in a quality Gypsy Horse
     Throughout this website we refer to the Gypsy Horse as a draft, or draft-type horse.  You may come across people who strongly disagree with this description, however their position is usually politically or marketing based, rather than being based on the actual conformation of the breed.  The Gypsy horse's heritage includes the Shire and Clydesdale - Traits of which the breed exhibits well.  The Gypsy horse was bred and used as a work animal.  Without the qualities and conformation of their draft horse influence, they'd never be able to perform the job(s) for which they were bred.  Draft horses are used to pull our heaviest loads.  Not just because they are bigger, but because their conformation is 'tuned' to that specific job.

     A quality gypsy horse should have the same basic conformation points as any draft type horse.  He/She should have a nice, short back, with a well sloped shoulder angled to compliment the angle of the well rounded croup.  A short back is achieved by a sloped shoulder and a nice croup, so you will see these things together.  Steep, straight shoulders and rumps are very common faults in these horses and should be avoided.  These faults will usually make the horse seem to have a very long back, which is fairly common in heavy type horses.  Remember, a short back is a strong back.

     The head should be in proportion to the size of the animal, with a kind, gentle eye.  A roman nose is acceptable, as long as the head isn't too big for the rest of the horse.  A small, tidy pony type head (sweet head) is fine as well, as long as it isn't too small for the horse's body.  The neck should sit well up on the horse's well sloped shoulder, and be of appropriate length for the body.

     The legs should be clean and flat in bone and joints, with plenty of bone to support that massive body.  There should be no question that this is a DRAFT horse.  Hind legs need to have some angle to them, with very straight hind legs being a very common fault in these horses.  (you will often find the straight "post legs" in a horse with a very steep croup).  The pastern should be at the same angle as the shoulder, and be long enough to give the horse proper flexion and spring when moving.  Short pasterns are not only unsightly, but become unsound long before a pastern of proper length.  Short pasterns are also very prevalent in gypsy horses of marginal quality, and are indeed the number one fault that causes us to reject a horse that has been presented to us.  I would say that about one quarter of gypsy type horses in the USA today have pasterns which are too short for the horse.  These have been sold to unsuspecting buyers that don't know what terrible lameness issues that can arise from this fault.  Long pasterns aren't common in this breed.  As a matter of fact, we can't think of ever seeing a pastern in a gypsy horse that was conformationally too long.

     Hind legs should have a bit of "set" to them, as any horse bred for pulling should.   This is perhaps the most significant difference between the legs of the draft horse and those of a light (saddle) horse.  Many people involved with the breed do not understand what "set" is, and it's importance to the overall conformation of the horse.  This includes show judges and veterinarians.  If a judge or vet is not accustomed to seeing draft horses, they may incorrectly interpret the horse's "set" as a fault.  We cannot over-stress the importance of understanding what "set" is, and why it's necessary.


 Example of "Set"
     Set is best described as an outward angling of both hind legs.  It is not to be confused with cow hocked, as the whole leg is set at the outward angle, with the leg itself being perfectly straight at every junction.  As you can see in this picture of a weanling colt, his cannon bones are perfectly parallel, but you can see the sides of his cannon bones from behind.  If you took the leg off of the horse, it would be perfectly straight hip to toe, as in any well conformed horse.  The angulation is in how the hip fits into the socket, not in any one part of the leg.  The horse in the picture has moderate set (sometimes Shires and Clydesdales these days want this so exaggerated that you can see the whole side of the leg from the hind). We don't like it too exaggerated in a gypsy horse, but it should be apparent nonetheless.  It is considered a fault in a pulling horse to have hind legs perfectly square on the body, as this gives no leverage for pulling.  This colt has the set that I would call near perfect for his type of horse.