The Cleveland Bay is considered Britain’s oldest non-draught breed, whose origins dates back as far as the middle ages. Their name resulted from where they were bred (the Cleveland district of Yorkshire) and their colour (bay), although they were originally known as Chapmen (travelling salesmen’s) horses. The conformation, strength, and beauty of these animals made them popular for pulling heavy wagons and coaches, and farmers used them to plough the land, pull their carts, take them hunting and to church.
The public gradually desired faster horses as the roads improved, so Cleveland Bay Horses were mixed with the foundation stock of the emerging Thoroughbred breed to produce the lighter, elegant carriage horse that is seen today. In turn, the Cleveland Bay was used to improve other breeds, notably European warmbloods such as Oldenburgs.
However, by the 1880s the popularity of the breed had dwindled to the point it was nearly extinct. The Cleveland Bay Horse Society (CBHS) was formed in 1884 to preserve and promote the breed. Their recognition and popularity continues to grow thanks to support from associated societies in the United States and Australia. Regardless, the Cleveland Bay breed is still nearly obsolete and listed on both the United Kingdom-based Rare Breeds Survival Trust and the United States-based Livestock Conservancy which consider the population to be at critical limits for extinction.
Cleveland Bay horses were once among the most common mounts in the stables of many members of the British Royal Family, now and throughout their history. These English horses are part of the tradition that surrounds some of the ceremonies and they are still used to pull carriages in royal processions today.
Cleveland Bay Horses must be bay with black points (legs, mane and tail). They stand between 16-17 hh, with a wide, deep body and strong, muscular loins. The head is attractive, with large, kind eyes. Strong legs lead to solid feet that tend to be blue in colour. They move freely with action that is true and straight. The breed is intelligent, confident, calm, strong, honest, and has plenty of stamina.
Today, Cleveland Bays are competing in every conceivable discipline from showjumping, dressage, hunting, eventing, and driving, to western competition, as police mounts, working cattle, trail riding and more. Most of the bay horses in the Royal Mews (the British Royal Stables) are purebred and crossbred Cleveland Bays.