The Cleveland Bay is England’s oldest breed of horse with a history that goes beyond a time when records were kept. It is an incredibly versatile horse that can turn its hoof to all disciplines, a legacy of its need to adapt through the ages to the changing face of civilisation. It is a horse with substance, activity, stamina and a temperament that is unsurpassed by any other breed of horse.
In the middle ages in the county of Yorkshire there was a race of clean legged horses, bay in colour which were the general purpose horses of their time that is to say for pack and pillion work. They had always been there for the people but nobody could map out their past.
They carried the goods of the Chapmen (Travelling Salesmen) and as a result initially became known as Chapman horses. The name Cleveland bay developed later as their colour and their association with the Cleveland district of North Yorkshire linked together.
Coaches were not known until the reign of Queen Elizabeth the first and the Cleveland Bay with its natural strength, activity and endurance was well suited to pull the first heavy vehicles. The Chapman therefore was developed to this new role to add to its growing list of attributes as the people of Yorkshire by now already used the Cleveland Bay to plough the land, pull their Carts, take them hunting and of course take them to church.
As the roads improved there was a desire amongst the public for improved journey times. It was natural that the Cleveland bay should receive more pace. In the early 1700’s the eastern imports that founded the Thoroughbred breed were imported into Yorkshire and the descendants of those horses such as the Darley Arab and the Godolphin Barb were used on traditional Cleveland mares and their offspring became an integral part of the breeds history and transformed the breed in that respect.
The Cleveland Bay generally stands between 16 and 16.2 hands (64 and 66 inches, 163 and 168 cm), and is always bay in colour. Bright bay horses (bays with a more reddish tint than normal) are the most preferred by breeders, followed by ordinary bay, dark bay and then light bay.
The breed has a large head, slightly convex profile, and a long, well-muscled neck. The withers are well-muscled, which often makes them less pronounced, the chest is broad and deep, the shoulders are muscular and sloping, and the croup slightly sloping. The legs are short in relation to the body, but strong and well-muscled. The legs have little or no feather, as the breed was developed partially for working in the heavy clay soils of its native country, where heavy feather led to increased disease prevalence. They are hardy and long-lived horses, and docile in temperament.
The Cleveland Bay is a versatile horse and is still used today for many tasks, including driving and farmwork. In the 1920s, Cleveland Bays replaced black Hanoverians in the British royal stables, and both the Cleveland Bay and Cleveland Bay/Thoroughbred crosses are used as royal carriage horses today. The horses are used as heavy hunters, as they are powerful and able to carry a man weighing 250 pounds (110 kg) for a full day of hunting over large obstacles and through heavy clay. When crossed with Thoroughbreds, the resulting progeny are lighter and faster, but still strong and heavy of bone. When show jumping was first beginning as a sport during the mid-19th century, Cleveland Bays were among the initial stars.
As a brief look at the breed reveals, the Cleveland bay is a horse with substance, activity, stamina, strength and a temperament unsurpassed by any other breed of horse.