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The Cleveland Bay Horse
courtesy of Liia Becker

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If you visit the Cleveland Bay Horse Society website you will see the catch phrase, “A British horse with a history and a future”. By itself, this phrase may not make a whole lot of sense to those who don't know the breed, but a little knowledge will explain all. The Cleveland Bay is a horse with a rich and interesting history. It also happens to be a horse that a mere 40 years ago, was on the brink of extinction. Due to the dedication of Queen Elizabeth II and the many breeders around the world the Cleveland Bay has increased in numbers to boast 700 worldwide. Still critically endangered, the future does now look promising for this most noble of breeds.

The origins of the Cleveland Bay trace back to the area in England that was then known as Cleveland. This area was recognized for centuries as having the leading edge in the breeding of horses. You might know it better as North Yorkshire as many have read the James Herriot books and have gotten a feel of the area through his wonderful stories. Many historians say the breed existed through Roman times or onward in the crusades, but the first real facts place the Cleveland Bay as the Chapman horse in the 1700's. The Chapman horse was a horse of all trade's. This was a horse that plowed fields, pulled carts, could carry a heavy rider and even have the ability to hunt. The name Chapman comes from the traveling salesmen, who were called chapmans, who used this sturdy mount to carry wares for sale from town to town.

In the mid 1800's the Darly Arabian and the Goldolphin Barb arrived in Yorkshire. At this point the sturdy bay Chapman horse was bred to these fine barbs. The Cleveland Bay we know today was evolving and in 1884 the Cleveland Bay Horse Society came into existence. The reason this is so important, is that the Cleveland Bay is one of the few breeds that has stayed true to it's blood and not allowed infusion of new blood from other breeds into breeding programs as it is a closed registry. This had made the Cleveland Bay horse very true to type and they stamp their progeny, even their crossbred progeny with remarkable uniformity in color and conformation as well as a kind temperament, athletic ability, stamina, and soundness.

The first Cleveland Bay stallions were imported to Maryland, Virginia and Massachusetts in the early 1800's. The 1884 Upperville Colt and Horse Show in Virginia was created to showcase Col. Dulany's imported stallion Scrivington and his offspring. Later William Cody, America's Buffalo Bill chose the Cleveland Bay for his Wild West show. Western states utilized the stallions in their breeding of range horses, noting their staying quality, easy maintenance and a match for the biggest of steers. The Cleveland Bay Horse Society of North America was founded in 1885, with 2000 stallions and mares registered by 1907. It is indeed hard to imagine at this point the breed would almost die out over the next 60 years. With the coming of the railway, the demise of the horse in war, the emerging of the car and tractor, all marks the end of the horse as a commercial and agricultural commodity.

The Cleveland Bay survived in the region of its birthplace during these difficult times but in the 1960's only five mature stallions were left. Due to the foresight and determination of the Yorkshire admirers the breed has survived and numbers have grown. The Queen became the Patron of the breed and the Royal Mews continues the tradition of using Cleveland Bays and crossbreds in ceremonial duties. In Japan they are also used as the carriage horses for the Emperor. The numbers have now grown to 700 worldwide, with 150 pure Cleveland Bays in North America. The number of crosses commonly called the Cleveland Bay Sport Horse probably numbers in the 300-400 range.

Cleveland Bays do make excellent driving horses. At one time prior to mechanization they were considered the premier coach horse. Today they are still sought after by competitive driving enthusiasts. But it would be a mistake to label this very versatile and talented horse as solely a driving horse. Their talents reach beyond the driving circles and they usually draw a crowd in doing so. They are also highly successful in jumping, eventing, dressage, field hunting and Clevelands make pleasurable riding mounts. These big boned equines cover ground quite nicely and have a dynamic presence that immediately draws the spectator's eye. Cleveland Bays have strong hindquarters that propel them forward with just enough action to get great engagement. Clevelands also are very competitive in the show ring for all the same reasons and more that their partbreds counterparts have excelled in the ring for decades.

For example, IdleHour McHenry owned by Cindy Banks of Ohio, after receiving national dressage titles through fourth level, went into eventing as a 12 year old. Ridden by Mary McKeon, he then went on to a hugely successful Beginner Novice eventing season, finishing the year with Fifth Place at the National Level for Beginner Novice with the USEA (United States Eventing Association) and Reserve Champion for Area 8 in 2006. Henry and Mary qualified for and attended the American Eventing Championships in Raedford, NC in the fall of 2006, where they were Beginner Novice Champions. They again qualified for the American Eventing Championships in 2008, as well as Tipperary Clementine, with her junior rider. You can find many other competitive Cleveland Bay sport horses all across America. An amazing fact considering the number of Cleveland Bays in North America has grown to 150 purebreds and under 300 for the Cleveland Bay part bred.

Something to also keep in mind, many Warmblood owners are riding horses with Cleveland Bay blood. Many European Warmbloods, particularly the Gelderlander, Oldenburg, Holstein, and Hanoverian owe much to the Cleveland Bay influence. Even here in the United States you can find Cleveland Bays in the pedigrees of. Morgans, Standard breds and Quarter horses.

Cleveland Bay Sport Horses have represented Britain at the Olympics in show jumping. They have competed in driving at world championships. Now they have started to make their mark here in America with regional and national championships in dressage and eventing. The numbers are still small as the Cleveland Bay is crtically endangered, but every year the numbers of pure Cleveland Bays and Cleveland Bay Sport Horses grow as horse people realize what a truly wonderful horse this is. Sir J D Paul wrote a poem that was published in the Whitby Gazzette, in England in 1879 that stated:
"All things that live have parallel, save one:
The Cleveland Bay Horse, he alone has none!".

If you have a chance, take the time to ride one. Feel the powerful, yet sensitive horse beneath you that is keen to work with you in earned mutual respect. You'll discover they are kind and clever, with a huge heart.

To find more on Cleveland Bays, visit the Cleveland Bay Society of North America at www.clevelandbay.org for more information, breeders and news. Any breed crossed with a licensed stallion is elgible for registration as a Cleveland Bay partbred by the Cleveland Bay Society, www.clevelandbay.com , based in the UK.


This article was provided courtesy of Liia Becker.

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