The beautiful, strong Cleveland Bay horse is one of the oldest indigenous breeds found in Great Britain. These warm blood originated in in the Cleveland district of Yorkshire and were developed from the Chapman horse. “Chapmen” were peddlers who roamed the countryside selling their wares. These people used this type of horse to pull their wagons. Thus, the horses became known commonly as the Chapman horse.
The main breeders of these horses at the time were the monks living in various monasteries of England. They needed strong and sturdy horses to expedite transportation between the monasteries. The Chapman horse fit their needs as it was small and sturdy and a powerful pulling animal. Furthermore, it had clean legs with no feathering which was important for working in the heavy clay areas of Cleveland.
The Chapman horse was the main breed influence but other bloodlines include Barb and Thoroughbred. The horse started to increase in size during the 18th century partly due to a better diet. This increased the versatility of the breed and led to it being used in other parts of the countryside as cart horses and carriage horses. In the 1880’s, the Cleveland Bays began to be exported worldwide.
The 18th century saw the height of carriage use for transportation. Breeders realized the need to cross the Cleveland Bays with Thoroughbreds to get a faster, more agile puller. The new breed was called the Yorkshire Coach Horse. This crossbreed threatened to exterminate the Cleveland Bay so in 1884 the Cleveland Bay studbook was opened to try to save the integrity of the breed. No other bloodlines have been introduced to this horse since then. Despite these efforts, by 1962, there were only four purebred stallions left.
Queen Elizabeth II purchased a stallion and sent him to stud to try to revive the breed. Today, the Cleveland Bay Horse Society is dedicated to the preservation of the lineage. It is still extremely rare with only about 500 purebreds in the world. Interestingly, the Imperial Household of Japan is still importing Cleveland Bays from Britain as the preferred royal horse.
The Cleveland Bay Today
The Cleveland Bay is a competent athlete and excels in many disciplines including driving, hunter jumper, dressage and trail riding. They are still admired for their ability to pull a carriage. The Royal Mews in the UK keeps Cleveland Bays and teams of these horses have competed at the FEI World Cup. They are well formed and sound competitors and have plenty of stamina as well as an excellent temperament.
Cleveland Bay Standard
The following is a summary of the Cleveland Bay standard:
Height: 16 to 16.2 hands, but if the horse has most other qualities, it is still found acceptable
Color: must be bay with black points, which means it has a black tail, mane and leg (grey hairs in mane and tail are allowed)
Body: body should be deep and wide and the back should be short with strong musculature with sloping muscular shoulders and the hindquarters strong and level
Head and Neck: head should be showy and not too small
Eyes: big, set nicely and be sweet in expression
Ears: large and elegant
Limbs: clean legs, and the arms and legs should have defined muscles
Feet: must be good and the color should be blue.
Action: The horse should move nicely
The Cleveland Bay is a very intelligent horse and has a sensible temperament. They are an honest horse with a bold personality and robust character. Like many sentient beings, they can be ruined if not handled properly. They have nice conformation with abundant bone and are stalwart, full of moxie and vitality. Generally, they live a long life. The difficulty might be in trying to obtain one of these horses in today’s market.