The Cleveland Bay is the oldest British Breed of horse in the UK, dating back from Medieval times, and is sadly now the rarest breed in Britain, rating Critical on the Rare Breeds Survival list. The horse stands between 15.3hh and 17.hh in height.
Its colouring is purely Bay with black points, black legs to just above the knee, black mane & tail. In the mid 18th century they were known as Chapman horses, and were used extensively as pack and agricultural horses. Cleveland Bays were admired as they still are for their strength and courage, they are quite able to carry excessive weights for long distances, and in the mid 18th Century were a valuable asset for use as pack-horses.
The Cleveland Bay has nice action covering the ground well with elegant paces, they are highly intelligent and learn fast, once taught they never forget. They mature around six years of age, and are reknowned for longevity indeed a stallion in South Wales, Gillshaw Comet, owned by Mr Dai Phillips has just been retired from stud duties at the grand age of 29, and he is still looking very sprightly. Returning to the Clevelands action, it was noted in the mid 18th century that if a Cleveland Bay was crossed with a thoroughbred mare, it produced a carriage horse of such elegance that they were very much sought after by aristocracy and landed gentry, they were the Rolls Royce of the day as far as transport and carriage driving were concerned, this particular cross became known as the YORKSHIRE COACH HORSE.
The Cleveland Bay derives its name from the area where it was bred, East and North Yorkshire being the predominant areas, and the home of the Cleveland Bay Horse Society is at York Livestock Centre to this day, the society was formed in 1884 to help preserve the breed, sadly by the early seventies stallions had been reduced in numbers to an all time low, through too much cross breeding. Her Majesty the Queen has kept Cleveland Bays at the Royal Mews since King George V introduced them, and the Hampton Court Stud, still actively breeds Clevelands for state and ceremonial duties, at every state event the Royal Cleveland Bays will be seen drawing the state coaches, Her Majestys coach is always drawn by Windsor Greys, but the other members of the Royal Family and guests are drawn by the Bays, they are resplendent in harness, and it is proof of their temperament that they have been selected for such important duties.
Displaying courage has always been one of the outstanding characteristics of the breed, along with stamina, and quality and substance, and it is because of these characteristics, that many warm blood breeders have sent mares to Cleveland stallions, to reintroduce bone and courage. In the earlier part of the 20th century, members of the hunting community, found that the Cleveland Bay could carry a man or woman to hounds all day without the need to change horses, they also found that they were sure-footed and could get out of the deepest mud and clay quite easily, and the Cleveland was quickly making his name as a good all round horse, farmers could work him one day and hunt him the next, and on the third day he would be back in harness working again.
As time rolled by and the car made inroads there was no need anymore for carriage horses, this began the decline of the Cleveland Bay, many ended up at the battlefields of France hauling guns and carrying cavalry in the First World War, never to return to their beloved Cleveland Hills, but those that did stay found new pursuits and the age of the leisure horse had begun.
Today you will find Cleveland Bays and part breds competing in showjumping, dressage (Arun Tor) and (Powder Monkey) eventing, driving, hunting, endurance and simply hacking. The Cleveland Bay is a genuine honest horse, they are loyal to their owners, and will remain deeply embedded in British Equine history, they breed true to form and pass on their qualities to their youngstock, I personally have never come across a bad Cleveland Bay, only bad handlers.
For more information on Breeders, or the CLEVELAND BAY HORSE SOCIETY, and any questions you may wish to ask write to Margaret Ashton at Chaseview@btinternet.com
This information and pictures for this article were kindly provided by Margaret Ashton of Chaseview Stud.