The Cleveland Bay is the oldest breed of horse indigenous to the United Kingdom. It takes its name from the area in which it was bred, which included Cleveland and the North Riding of Yorkshire in northeast England.
It traces its roots back to the Chapman Horse, a clean-legged pack horse that was used in the mining industry to transport ore from the mines. During the English Civil War, from 1642 to 1649, Spanish blood was introduced. From 1661, when Charles II married Catherine of Braganza, there was constant traffic between the north African port of Tangier and the seaports of northeastern England. This allowed the Barb horse to be imported and have a strong influence on the development of the Cleveland Bay.
From the 18th century, there is no evidence of further introductions of new blood and by that time, the Cleveland Bay was firmly established as a fixed type. Its prepotency led to it being exported to Europe to improve and refine many European breeds. In 1884, the Cleveland Bay Horse Society of Great Britain established its first stud book.
For many years, the Cleveland Bay was considered the best and most powerful coach horse. Eventually, with the industrial revolution and a need for speed, the Cleveland Bay fell out of favor and the Yorkshire Coach Horse (a Cleveland Bay/Thoroughbred cross) gained popularity.
The Cleveland Bay is a big, powerful horse standing between 16 hands and 16.2. It is always bay with black points. The mane and tail are thick and luxuriant.
The head of the Cleveland Bay shows evidence of its spanish ancestry, with a hawk-like profile such as that seen in Andalusians.
The body is big and well-rounded with a lot of heart room. In fact, in a mature Cleveland Bay, the depth from wither to elbow is often greater than the measurement from the elbow to the ground.
The legs are clean, without feathering, and are sturdy, with short cannons and a 9-inch bone measurement. The hooves are good quality, with dense horn.
Today, the Cleveland Bay is experiencing a rise in popularity. Driven almost to the brink of extinction following World War II, it was essentially saved by HM Queen Elizabeth II. In 1962 there were only four purebred Cleveland Bay stallions in the UK and Her Majesty purchased the stallion Mulgrave Supreme who was to have been exported to the United States. Her Majesty instigated a breeding program using purebred mares, as wellas mares of other breeds and within 15 years there were 36 purebred stallions in the UK.
The Cleveland Bay is still extremely rare, with estimated numbers worldwide ranging from 500 to 800.
Cleveland Bays are now an integral part of the Royal Mews in London and can be seen drawing Royal coaches for State occasions, visits of foreign dignitaries and other events. HRH Prince Philip used to drive a team of Cleveland Bays in international driving events.
The Cleveland Bay is a good choice to cross with Thoroughbreds to produce quality horses suited to show jumping and hunting. It is to be hoped that this ancient and attractive breed of horse will continue to increase in numbers and so be assured a healthy future.
The Encyclopedia of the Horse - Elwyn Hartley-Edwards. ISBN 1-56458-614-6