The First Internet Breed

On November 24th, 1996, when the first two Gypsy Vanner Horses – Bat and Dolly – stepped onto American soil, and the first breed registry in the world for a selectively bred horse raised by gypsies was established, my late wife Cindy and I did not own a computer.

Bat and Dolly

When we introduced the Vanner breed in June of 1998 at Equitana USA in Louisville, Kentucky, and on the internet at www.GypsyVannerHorse.com, our first computer was barely out of the box!

Within a week after the introduction, 30,000 people entered our home via the internet to learn more about the amazing Gypsy Vanner Horses they had just discovered. As we struggled to find the computer’s power button, the breed we had taken years to understand was being re-named and reinterpreted by others at cyber speed on the internet. What does that mean? What other breed do you know of that goes by six names or has a history re-written by horse traders? It was a nightmare.

Two of the most unlikely candidates had just become the first people in history to establish a breed and registry in the age of the internet.

Our simple but profoundly important goals for the Gypsy Vanner Horse breed were developed slowly, the old-fashioned way. Achieving those goals in the computer age would require a new way of thinking.

Before the internet, being published on a subject required that the writer do years of research, withstand the test of time and then find a publishing house willing to invest in his or her credibility and carefully chosen words.

In the age of the internet an author can be born overnight.

How has the advent of the Internet affected the advent of a new breed?

Napoleon once said, “History is but a fable agreed upon” Who would have guessed that Napoleon’s quote would one day be describing an internet encyclopedia? Wikipedia describes itself as a ” … free content encyclopedia” that is written collaboratively by volunteers from all around the world. Its articles can be edited by anyone with access to the internet. Imagine having something you introduced to the world defined and described (with a total lack of accuracy) by a misinformed individual on the other side of the globe? Only in the age of the Internet could this happen.

Remember, before the internet, when we knew everyone in our neighborhood? One of my neighbors, Mr. Flanagan, was a focused, “pure vision” horse breeder. On the other hand, another neighbor, Wild Bill was focused on a vision of buying and selling horses. Wild Bill was a horse trader. One person had a vision for a breed and one and a vision for a transaction; it is that simple.

Now that the internet is our neighborhood, our ability to recognize the Mr. Flanagans from the Wild Bills of the world has been clouded. Some of the most exploitive horse traders have some of the best, most interesting websites, filled with misinformation. The contradicting and misleading information that can be found on the internet is confusing to a person trying to understand the history of the Gypsy Vanner Horse. On the Internet, the Mr. Flanagans and Wild Bills have the same publishing power, it is up to the reader to determine who is a reputable source.

Furthermore, accomplishing specific goals for a breed requires that a registry periodically make difficult decisions. In today’s world a society’s decisions might instantly be met with threats of litigation or responses aired with bias and slander on social media! Sadly, too, I’ve had many people ask me why there is such angst and meanness online among followers of this lovely breed.

With the Internet, we’ve been handed a most amazing, powerful and wonderful tool. it has become apparent – and imperative – however, that breed lovers must take steps to safeguard their breeds’ futures against the increasingly prevalent, less-than-honorable use of this tool. They must design and implement programs that help protect their breed associations’ goals. Those programs could include:

  • Indoctrinations which clearly define the breed – and the society’s goals – for newcomers who have been confused by the vast amounts of conflicting information available on the internet.
  • DNA testing to thwart the false pedigree claims which are currently rampant on traders and importers’ websites (Remember, only 20% of the horses that Gypsies raise are a breed. Gypsies keep their best breeding animals for their reproductive life so DNA verification of parentage is available.
  • strict enforcement of a registry’s by-laws, the accuracy of members’ websites and an insistence on “truth in advertising”

Being unprepared for the massive power of the web had a profound impact on the effort to establish the Gypsy Vanner Horse breed. It has not been easy at all. It has been, as my father might say a kicking and screaming thing, but despite the challenges there is no country in the world that has done a better job of establishing a Gypsy’s new breed with the look they envisioned, with the feelings of status and pride they feel for their selectively bred horses, and in direct parallel to the values Gypsies enjoy for their selectively bred horses than in North America.

Along with a goal of DNA verified heritage, these are the goals for the Gypsy Vanner Horse Society.