Great Britain's Indigenous Horses

The Cleveland Bay

The Cleveland Bay is an indigenous English breed and Britain’s oldest horse breed. It is also now one of its rarest. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust has placed the breed on its ‘critical’ list.

The Cleveland Bay is very prepotent and, when crossed with other warmbloods, produces excellent sports horses. It is particularly successful when crossed with thoroughbreds, producing an elegant, powerful horse with a big jump and up to carrying a heavy adult. This, combined with a stable temperament and an honest outlook, makes it a favourite with those that demand such qualities.
Cleveland Bay
Credit: Cleveland bay in hand
The breed has its origins in the north of England. Being big, strong and versatile, it was used on farms and as a pack and coach horse. It also had an enviable reputation as a weight carrying hack/hunter. It was often known then as ‘Chapman horses’ as they were extensively used by travelling merchants or ‘chapmen’. At that time (the mid 18th century), the Cleveland/thoroughbred cross was known as the Yorkshire Coach horse.

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Like many native breeds, it was in real decline once mechanisation started taking over from horses and by the 1950s only four purebred stallions remained in England. Luckily its sterling qualities have not gone unnoticed and it is now back in demand.

Originally it came from east and north Yorkshire. The Cleveland Bay Society has had its headquarters at the York Livestock Centre since 1884. Once the Breed society was set up, the purity of the lineage was jealousy protected and there has been no outcrossing. Subsequently, the breed is now very uniform as regards size, stamina, conformation and colour. Clevelands are very sure-footed with calm, sensible dispositions. They have quality and bone to spare along with great endurance. They are also natural jumpers and add courage and substance to sport horses. The Cleveland is a very honest worker, kind and sensible.

In England, the Cleveland Bay has also had a place as a ceremonial carriage horse since King George V’s day. It was not hard to find a matching team when all prospective animals are so alike. Today The Cleveland Bay is still being bred at the Hampton Court Stud, supplying replacements for the Royal coaches. While the Windsor Greys may be better known and recognised, the Clevelands are used extensively for many purposes. At one time, Prince Philip drove a team of Cleveland Bays, competing in Combined Driving Events.
The breed was utilised during World War I with many becoming artillery or cavalry horses. They are extremely prepotent and have been exported to many countries, producing fine crossbreds for various purposes.

According to the Breed Standard, the preferred height is 16hh to 16.2hh. The only permissible white is a very small star although grey hairs are sometimes found in the mane and tail. Otherwise the colour is bay with black points (mane, tail and legs). The legs are black to above the knees and hocks, and should not show any feathering.

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The profile is convex (Roman nosed) and the head rather large. The eye is large and kind and he has an intelligent expression. The neck is long and slightly arched. Powerful hindquarters give the impetus for a great jump. The body is wide and deep. There should be at least 9 inches of flat bone when measured below the knee. The pasterns are strong and the feet of good shape. The movement is straight and ground-covering with free movement from the shoulder. The action is not high but there is sufficient flexion to allow the powerful quarters to drive the movement forward.

With today’s great interest in saving breeds from extinction and with the Cleveland Bay’s great qualities, it is to be hoped his place is now assured in the equestrian world.