Cleveland Bays are the oldest pure breed of Warmblood horse in the world, with a history that goes back over 400 years. Sadly, the latest census of the breed alarmingly noted that there are less than 400 purebreds in the world today; something that the owners and breeders of these wonderful animals in conjunction with the Cleveland Bay Horse Society, Cleveland Bay Horse Society of Australasia and Cleveland Bay Horse Society of North America are trying to rectify.
The Cleveland Bay owes its beginings to the Church in some respects as the Monastic houses were well known for breeding horses of good bone and substance as pack horses for taking their goods between Abbeys and Monasteries.
The Cleveland Bays were originally the ‘Chapman’s Horse’ – A ‘Chapman’ being the travelling salesman of the day back in the 17th Century. They were a horse with clean limbs (no feathering that you see on the draught breeds), ample bone, and had the ability to plough the fields all day, take the family to town in the buggy over rough roads and terrain, carry the farmer to church or to town with all his goods for market, or go hunting all day – a real “jack of all trades”.
The breed, as its name suggests, is believed to have been derived from the Cleveland/Yorkshire area in England’s north, however the Chapmen were not exclusive to that area – with travelling salesmen being just that – they travelled all over! It is believed that there was some Barb blood brought in and used over the Chapman mares, which created what we know today as the Cleveland Bay.
What became known as the Yorkshire Coach Horse was a ¾ Cleveland Bay ¼ Thoroughbred – bred specifically for, as its name suggests, Carriage work. Faster, taller, more elegant horses were much sought after by Royalty and the ‘upper classes’ – the Yorkshire Coach Horse fit the bill perfectly. In the late 18th Century, Yorkshire Coach Horses were exported all over the world to provide ‘matched pairs’ and teams.
With the invention of the motorcar and tractor, the need for the Cleveland Bay came to an end and saw a lot of horses exported to other countries. A handful of dedicated breeders in the North of England thankfully kept breeding them.
They are an established breed and so breed true to type and of course colour. Their characteristics and traits are passed on to their progeny. This makes them an ideal out-cross to solidify temperament, bone, trainability etc in other breeds of horses – commonly known as ‘improver bloodlines’ in the background of many of the modern breeds.
America, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand and many other countries have imported Cleveland Bays to improve their stock. In the 1880s Cleveland Bays were brought to Australia, at the same time, Buffalo Bill was using them in his Wild West Show in America.
Many European Warmbloods, particularly the Gelderlander, Oldenburg, Holstein, and Hanoverian owe much to the Cleveland Bay influence. Some European and Baltic draught horses such as the Russian Vladimir and Danish Schienswig have the benefit of Cleveland blood. Breeds such as the Clydesdale, Welsh Cob, Morgan and Standardbred even have the Cleveland Bay to thank for part of their makeup!
Cleveland Bays are on the Critical Breeds list with only a small amount of purebreds in existence – so critical in fact that they are using the SPARKS program that the Black Rhinos, Giraffes and other critically endangered species are using to ensure genetic diversity to keep the breed alive and hopefully save them from extinction.
Queen Elizabeth II is a breeder of Cleveland Bay Horses, and when numbers were very low (at that time there were only 4 purebred Cleveland Bay Stallions left in the UK) she purchased a young stallion named Mulgrave Supreme – who was supposed to go to America, however Her Majesty stepped in. Her Majesty is the Patron of the Cleveland Bay Horse Society in the UK and without her support over the years, the Cleveland Bay may not have built back up to the numbers it has now.
You will find Cleveland Bays and Cleveland Bay Sporthorses (which is what Partbred Cleveland Bays are sometimes known as in some parts of the world) doing a bit of everything and succeeding in the Olympic Disciplines of Dressage, Showjumping and Eventing, as well as being fantastic horses for Showing – in hand and under saddle, Hunting, Stock Work, Adult Rider and Pony Clubs, and even in the Police Force! In the past Cleveland Bays have been used in Cavalry Horse breeding and work as well.
The CB is a brilliant all round horses, which can turn its hoof to anything you ask of it. They are known for their even temperament, good sound legs and strong well shaped hooves and can quite often get away without the need for shoeing even on harder ground. They are easy to train – which also means that they can pick up a bad habit just as easily as a good one – so you need to teach them the right way to do something from the beginning. Having said that – they are fairly easy to teach the right way if they have a habit you wish to break, just keep repeating the ‘right’ thing and they will pick it up pretty quickly.