History of the Cleveland Bay
The Cleveland Bay was developed in Yorkshire, England, from a foundation of native horses with some additions of Galloway, Andalusian, and possibly Arabian blood. It was selected for strength, speed, soundness, and stamina, the qualities needed for performance in long distance transport, farm work, and riding over rough terrain. The Cleveland Bay existed in its modern form by 1800, with the breed name “Cleveland” referring to the Vale of Cleveland in Yorkshire, and “Bay” to its color (reddish brown with black points). The Cleveland Bay Horse Society was formed in Britain in 1884.
Two hundred years of pure breeding have resulted in a horse breed that is genetically consistent. This distinguishes it from the other medium weight horse breeds known as warm bloods, which have recently had extensive introductions of Thoroughbred blood. In fact, the breed’s genetic distance from the Thoroughbred gives it excellent hybrid vigor in a cross, and Cleveland Bay stallions are often bred to Thoroughbred mares to produce sport horses, which combine the best qualities of both breeds.
Cleveland Bays are always bay in color with no white markings except an occasional small star. The horses stand 16-17 hands (64-68″) at the withers and weigh 1200-1500 pounds. They have well-muscled hindquarters, sloping shoulders, and dense bone. Sound, durable feet are characteristic of the breed, as is a calm disposition. The Cleveland Bay gives an overall impression of dignity and strength.
The breed became rare in the 1900s when mechanization eliminated the demand for farm, coach, and road horses. The growing market for sport horses was of little help, because the lighter and faster Cleveland Bay crossbreds had more value than did the purebreds. This economic reality led breeders to crossbreed their mares. The decline of pure breeding nearly caused the breed to become extinct. By 1960, only six purebred Cleveland Bay stallions remained alive. The British royal family and a few other breeders took the initiative to conserve the breed, and its fortunes have slowly improved. There are perhaps as many as 1,000 Cleveland Bay horses alive today, with about 180 purebreds in North America.
Cleveland Bay horses were first imported to the United States in the early 1800’s. The Cleveland Bay Society of America was founded in 1885, and over 2,000 horses were registered by 1907. Buffalo Bill Cody was among those interested in the breed, and he drove a hitch of four Cleveland Bay stallions in his Wild West Show. The breed’s fortunes waxed and waned, however, and the Society became dormant. It was reestablished in 1985 and the numbers of horses and breeders in North America are now increasing.