Horsedealing stands as one of the oldest, most spread and most appreciated professions of the Roma. The Romani term for horse grast is an Armenian loan word (Arm: grast) which may indicate that the Roma were working as horsedealers only after their emigration from Persia during the 9th – 10th centuries. The Lovara ("horsedealers" Hung. ló"horse" + plural of the noun-agentis-suffixe /-ari), represent the Roma group of which the socio-structure is most related or was most related to horsedealing.
As a consequence of the campaigns in the Middle Ages, the significance of horsedealing continuously increased as horses represented the most important means of transport, and of locomotion. Apparently, many Roma groups realised the necessity of this kind of service very quickly, and their professional and local flexibility predetermined them for this occupation.
From the 13th century the Roma were more and more linked to horsedealing in documents and chronicles. [Arrival in europe] In the "Continuatio" published in 1628, which is a continuation of the historic opera of the French scholar Jaques-Auguste de Thou, the author tells, among others, about the crusade of King Ludwig IX (1214-1270) against the Egyptians. According to this description many Roma would have followed the army of Ludwig IX and served military service against the Sarazenes. After the defeat most Roma were forced to leave Egypt due to their Christian confession. They followed the withdrawing army and settled down in Europe. Furthermore, the author praised the military abilities of the Roma and describes them as clever dealers who know how to give new life to already emaciated and scrawny horses by using certain herbs.
The "Saxon Chronicle" (1517) by Albert Krantz contains one of the earliest descriptions of the arrival of a Roma group in Western Europe. Krantz assumes that the Roma reached the Baltic coast in 1417 and were living on horsedealing. He indicates that they "knew all languages". The multilingual and moving dealers were advantaged compared to the settled dealers. They were the first to know where it was possible to deal horses under good conditions and who needed them most urgently. Over the centuries the Roma have gained a good reputation as horsedealers, and what is emphasised is their ability and skill in being able to train and transform bought horses into attractive draught, pack, and riding animals, which they could sell with gain. As mobile dealers it was nearly impossible to breed horses. The Lovara limited their activities in this context to intermediate trade.
As far as the political dimension is concerned, horsedealing has become more and more synonymous with a nomadic life-style in the view of the authorities. During efforts undertaken by the authorities towards enforced assimilation in the 18th century, horsedealing was prohibited in many parts of Europe, causing the Roma affected to lose their most important source of income. In many cases though, the Roma knew how to escape from these prohibitions. During the last two centuries the significance of all traditional professions and also of horsedealing has continuously decreased. Rationalisation and mechanisation of agriculture, as a consequence of industrialisation, lead to a considerable decline of the need for different services; mainly the nomadic service providers like horsedealers were affected by these developments.
In the late 19th century racism had developed into an ideology, and discrimination exerted by the authorities, including force and harassment by the police have since continuously increased. Consequently this has reduced to a minimum the area of movement and also the professional possibilities of the Roma and Sinti groups especially in the central European region. [Racism] This situation caused impoverishment, which was further increased by the economic crisis of the 1930's. The Lovara groups succeeded in maintaining their mobile trade until the mid-1930’s due to their socio-structure still being intact. Their social network branched widely, and family cohesion crossed beyond the borders. When the national socialists seized power, and due to the increasing radicalisation of policies regarding the Roma and Sinti, there was no way to continue mobile trades.
The Holocaust destroyed not only the life of thousands of Roma and Sinti, but also their way of life, and traditional socio-structure, in a sustainable way. Roma survivors in central Europe were forced to settle down and change their professions, finding ones that were in some way similar. In Eastern Europe the state assimilation policy prohibited horsedealing.
During the summer months the Lovara migrated from one horse market to the next. In case single extended families went in separated wagons, signs, which were not recognisable for those people not involved, showed the later ones the way. At crossroads for example stones wired around with horsehair were lined up. Every vica had its own symbols.
The style of the Roma wagons depended on the climatic conditions and the level of prosperity of the groups. They were covered either with tarpaulins (tarpaulin wagons) or with wood (vans). Two draught horses drew the wagons. The horses that were to be sold were tied up and walked behind. In summer the Lovara slept in simple tents – wood shaped like a fork covered with tarpaulins – in the cold season they slept in the wagon. When a horse market was taking place the Lovara tried to find a suitable stopping place in the proximity of the village or the town in order to reach the market place in time.
For their self-assured and convincing behaviour and their noble appearance the Lovara were considered highly appreciated dealers. They were famous for their ability to sell horses of a low quality for a good price, and therefore were not competitors for the other horse traders who mainly specialised in expensive horses. The Lovara were referred to as holders of a profound knowledge about medical questions. They knew when a horse had to be bled and which kind of herbs were best for which kinds of wound. As already mentioned before, the Lovara would apparently do certain things to make the horses appear more attractive during the sale. For example, they were said to pour stimulants like arsenic into the horses’ mouths, or to normalise the breath of panting and asthmatic horses by means of linseed or alcohol.
The Lovara as well as the Burgenland-Lovara, (who were trading in a small area and therefore always present at the same markets), had to rely on the trust of the rural population and could not have a deceitful selling practice. The acceptance attached to the Burgenland-Lovara in particular, by the traders and farmers is best expressed when we look at the local horse traders, who used some words from the specific expert language of the Roma. They used phurdino for asthmatic or bango for bandy. A concluded deal was celebrated in an inn where the purchaser had to pay the bill.