The Cleveland Bay is a rare warmblood horse breed, native to England. Unlike modern warmblood breeds, which have open studbooks and significant Thoroughbred influences, the Cleveland Bay has been genetically distinct for centuries.

Named for their characteristic bay colouring and origins in the Cleveland district of Yorkshire, these horses descend from the extinct Chapman pack horses of Medieval England. Today, the Cleveland Bay is a critically endangered breed.

Royal patronage saved these talented driving and sport horses from extinction in the 20th century. While population management tools and careful breeding decisions have improved genetic diversity, the small worldwide population of Cleveland Bays is a significant concern for the preservation of the breed.

This breed profile will review the history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the Cleveland Bay horse. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for these horses.

Cleveland Bay Horse History

While there are several native pony and draft breeds with long histories in the British Isles, the Cleveland Bay is the oldest English warmblood breed. The modern type of Cleveland Bays emerged in the 18th century, but the breed’s history goes back to the Middle Ages.

Origin

Cleveland Bays descend from pack horses bred by Monastic houses in Northeast England. These houses operated the region’s most prominent horse breeding programs during the Middle Ages.

The Cleveland Bay’s pack horse ancestors transported goods between monasteries, abbeys, and churches in the Yorkshire Dales during the Middle Ages. Travelling merchants in medieval England were called chapmen, and the horses eventually became known as Chapman horses.

Genetic studies suggest breeders crossed Chapman mares with imported Turkmen stallions to produce the original Cleveland Bay. The cross produced a powerful horse that quickly gained popularity in the local countryside and beyond. [1]

Breeding programs designed to produce an agricultural type of Cleveland Bay increased the size and build of the breed over the next century. But when roads improved in the late 18th century, breeding focused on developing a lighter and flashier Yorkshire coach horse.

The modern Cleveland Bay name originates from the Cleveland Vale of Yorkshire. Centuries of breeding concentrated the bay colour of a reddish-brown coat with black points. Despite outside influences on the breed, bay coats were considered a sign of purity. [1]

Historic Use

Original Cleveland Bays produced by crossing Chapman horses with imported stallions were versatile agricultural horses used for draft work, riding, and driving in the English countryside.

The more refined Cleveland Bays worked extensively as carriage horses. Yorkshire coach horses gained popularity throughout England and were exported worldwide. [2]

Colonel Richard Henry Dulaney imported Cleveland Bays to North America. Dulaney founded the Upperville Colt and Horse Show in 1853, the oldest horse show in America. The hunter/jumper show still features Cleveland Bay classes today.

Other famous fans of the breed in North America included Buffalo Bill, who used a team of four Cleveland Bay stallions in his Wild West Show.

British Cavalry officers rode Cleveland Bays in the First World War, but advances in weaponry soon made cavalry horses obsolete and led to a significant decline of breeding stock. The decline continued after World War II until only four purebred stallions remained in the UK in 1962. [3]

Queen Elizabeth II helped preserve the breed in Great Britain by purchasing the stallion Mulgrave Supreme before his export to an American buyer. Interest in the breed as a sport horse gradually increased, leading to renewed efforts to preserve the Cleveland Bay’s heritage.

Breed Registry

The Cleveland Bay Horse Society (CBHS) published its first stud book in 1884. Some pedigrees in the first studbook trace back to 1723. But many founding lines were lost before 1971 when the Rare Breed Survival Trust recognized the breed as endangered. [3]

Founded in 1885, the Cleveland Bay Horse Society of North America maintains census data on all purebred and part-bred Cleveland Bays in the United States and Canada. The 2023 census recorded a total population of only 219 purebred Cleveland Bays in North America. [4]

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Breed Characteristics

The official breed registries for Cleveland Bays established breed standards that describe the ideal characteristics of purebred horses. These characteristics help the breed excel as a sport horse in many modern equestrian disciplines.

Conformation

Most Cleveland Bays stand between 16 and 16.2 hands tall. Their conformation should have well-balanced height, weight, and bone. The general appearance conveys activity and strength.

The ideal Cleveland Bay has a broad, deep body with a short back and muscular loins. Sloping shoulders and lon