OnceUponA Farm …… because we believe in Fairy Tales and that dreams do come true!”
Dan and Julia O’Neill named their farm “OnceUponA Farm” while they awaited the arrival of their very first Gypsy Vanner Horse, Nimue. It seemed an appropriate name for the home of such a magical creature and her arrival was, indeed, a dream come true.
The O’Neills have owned horses since shortly after their daughter, Jocelyn, took up riding lessons in 1995. The entire family love the gentle nature of draft horses, and have owned Belgians and Clydesdales, but the enormous size of those horses had it’s drawbacks for riding.
More than ten years ago Julia spotted an advertisement featuring a photo of a Gypsy Vanner. Even though she did not know what breed of horse that glorious creature was, Julia was totally smitten and began her search to discover its identity. Thanks to the world-wide web Julia had soon collected a plethora of photos and information about the Gypsy Vanner Horse.
In 2003 Dan and Julia traveled to Kentucky to visit Equitana and it was there that they met, not one, but several Gypsy Vanner Horses in the flesh. Dan had always been supportive of his wife and daughter’s equine activities but, upon meeting a number of Gypsy Vanner Horses and their enthusiastic owners, he began to understand Julia’s love of the breed. That weekend Julia and Dan realized that they needed to own one of these amazing animals.
In November of 2004 Nimue arrived at OnceUponA Farm in Picton, Ontario – Canada’s first Gypsy Vanner Horse! Presently nine Gypsy Vanners reside at OnceUponA Farm. The O’Neills own four mares; Nimue, Crystal, Phoebe and Belle, a young stallion; D’Artagnan, three youngsters; OnceUponA Winter’s Night, OnceUponA Moonlit Knight and OnceUponA Hopeful Romantic, and a gelding; Bedevere. “We like to keep our herd small” stressed Julia. “This allows us to spend plenty of one-on-one quality time with each horse. We plan no more than two or three foals per year. This gives our mares a break approximately every other year and we use that break to further their training and just have some fun with them.” All foals born on the Farm are imprinted at birth and are handled daily. The O’Neills start basic ground work, saddle and harness training with their horses. Once a horse has the basics, they work in conjunction with a Professional Trainer to further each horse’s education.
The whole family is involved in showing their Gypsy Vanners. Julia and Jocelyn compete in English classes at up to twelve Horse Shows each year. Dan joins his wife and daughter to show their Vanners In-Hand at many of these same shows. The O’Neills have participated for several years at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto, Ontario, the CanAm Equine in London, Ontario and many other events such as Parades, Weddings, Canada Day festivities, Heritage Days and County Fairs and Exhibitions. So far three of the Vanners are trained to drive, as well as to ride, and plans are in the works to begin competing in Pleasure Driving. “Wherever we take them, these horses draw a crowd” says Dan. “Nimue, Crystal and Bedevere, in particular, have developed quite a following. We love to talk to people about them, and take the Vanners to shows or have people visit the Farm because we are sharing something we love….. and it’s so rewarding to see others fall under their spell.”
In their breeding program the O’Neill’s favour the traditional type Gypsy Vanner that reflects the horse they originally fell in love with. Their horses boast pedigrees that include The Lion King, The Gypsy King, The Old Black Horse, The Road Sweeper and Tumbleweed. “Our breeding goals at OnceUponA Farm are simply to breed Gypsy Vanner Horses with the beauty that first caught my eye, and the intelligence and temperament that won our hearts” explains Julia. “Conformation and temperament are always first… abundant mane, tail and feather are icing on the cake!”