Cleveland Bay

Cleveland Bay

The Cleveland Bay is a carriage-type horse, and is almost always true to its color: bay. This uniform color is desired in carriage horses because a team is more easily matched. The recessive chestnut colour has not been eliminated entirely, and on rare occasions still occurs in pure-bred Cleveland Bays. In Britain, they are still used to pull carriages on state occasions.


As its name suggests, the Cleveland Bay is always a bay horse. No other color is allowed except a small white star and some white in the mane and tail. Any purebreds not meeting these rules, such as the occasional chestnut, or those with excessive white, are retained in a grading register to ensure valuable genetic material is not lost from what is a very rare breed.

They are generally 16-16.2 hands high (160-165cm), and have a good temperament. They have a long, sloping shoulder, strong limbs with plenty of bone, a strong back and hindquarters, and a large head with a fairly straight face. The legs are 'clean' (long hair on the legs would not have suited the heavy clay soil of the region). The stud book has been closed since 1883.


Believed to be the oldest breed in Britain (besides the native ponies), the Cleveland Bay was bred in the Cleveland area of north-eastern England. The foundation stock is said to have dated back to the times of the Romans, and there are records suggesting that the breed was in existence in medieval times. They were originally known as Chapman Horses, since they were used as pack horses for traveling salesmen known locally as 'chapmen'.

The now-extinct Galloway pony was thought to have been added to give the Cleveland Bay more surefootedness, while Barb blood was added for refinement (Barbs came to the region as a result of work to create a harbour at Tangier in Morocco by Yorkshire contractors). Andalusian stallions present in north-east England after the Civil War may also have contributed to the breed.

These big, strong horses were used for a variety of purposes, from working the land, to carrying goods, to fox hunting and carriage work. As roads improved, there was a need for a faster carriage horse and Thoroughbred blood was introduced to create a tall, elegant animal known as the Yorkshire Coach Horse. They were very popular and exported to countries including South Africa, India, Russia and the United States of America.

After the Second World War, the car made the Cleveland Bay all but disappear. Because pure-bred Cleveland Bays were more versatile, they remained as hunters, carriage, and farm horses. By 1962, only four stallions were left in Britain.

Luckily, there was a revival in the 1960s, due mainly to Queen Elizabeth II, who bred many top-quality Cleveland Bays for the royal stables. Today, they are very popular for crossing with other breeds for their size, substance, and docility. A number of warmblood breeds, especially from Germany, have benefited from their blood.


In recent years, the Cleveland Bay has been used as a competition horse. The part-breds have really excelled, especially those with Thoroughbred in their veins. The part-breds excel in the jumper, dressage and show arenas, as well as in eventing.


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