From the mid 1800’s, travelling people in the British Isles began to use a distinct type of horse to pull their vardos, the caravans in which they had just begun to live and travel. The colour and look of the breed were refined in the years after the Second World War. It is a small, solidly-built horse of cob conformation and is often, but not always, piebald or skewbald; it is particularly associated with Irish Travellers and English Romanichal Travellers of Ireland and Great Britain. Horse ownership is an important cultural tradition for certain families in this community. Today, the role of the horse is primarily for use in the sporting and recreational industries but traditional skills and trades such as blacksmithing and coopering are still widely used. Today, Travellers and Gypsies keep, breed and sell horses, with horse dealing considered an important Traveller and Gypsy activity. Traditional recreational activities include trotting and sulky racing. Sulky racing is equivalent to harness racing, where a cart or sulky is pulled by the horse and controlled by a driver, and horses race at a specific gait (a trot or a pace).
These photographs were taken at a recent horse fair and drive event in Southern England. Horse fairs date back centuries. At these annual gatherings, Travellers and Gypsies celebrate their history and folklore, socialise, buy traditional wares and goods, and trade and barter in horses. This horse fair and drive is one of the smaller events on the national scene. Nonetheless, the energy, history and core values are present and to be enjoyed by community members and outsiders alike.