The Cleveland Bay is the only British clean legged breed of horse and originated in the Cleveland area of the North Riding of Yorkshire. It is noted for stamina and even temperament and was originally used as a pack horse to carry the coal, iron ore and alum from the moors down to the coast. The return journey would be of salt, fish or whatever could be sold. The 'Chapmen', as these merchants were called, used the local clean legged short coupled horses which were hardy and sure footed.
Animals were needed to pull the coaches of the time and the pack horses proved to be suitable for breeding carriage horses and the type which developed were known as the "Yorkshire Coach Horses". These gained a reputation for fast times between London and the North pulling the mail coaches. Dealers travelled from all over the country to Yorkshire to find and buy these horses and take them home. With a little luck, a farmer could sell his foals at the autumn 'horse fairs' to pay his rent for the year. Bred from the same stock, these pack and coach horses were bay with black points and became known as the Cleveland Bay taking the name from the area in which they originated although many were bred in other parts of rural Yorkshire. These horses were also used to pull gun carriages and many lost their lives in the service of their country.
The local farmers used their Cleveland Bay horses on the land - the clean legged quality being important because the predominant clay soils did not stick to their legs. Their horses were used in every aspect of country life, ploughing, hay making, pulling the cart to take produce for sale and as a riding horse for taking the children to school or rounding up the sheep on the local moors.
With the advent of the tractor, the Cleveland Bay horses became redundant and the numbers declined to critical levels. The breed reduced to only nine registered stallions and a few mares in the early 1960's and through the efforts of a handful of breeders in the traditional "Cleveland" country survived through to the 1970's. The Cleveland Bay horse was placed on the Rare Breed Survival Trust Register at Category 1.
Her Majesty the Queen bought the pure Cleveland Bay stallion Mulgrave Supreme to prevent his export to America. This purchase helped preserve the breed and maintained the use of the Cleveland Bay as a carriage horse in the Royal Mews.
The breed's potential has been recognised for many years by horsemen throughout the world and many have been exported to far distant lands including Australia, New Zealand, America, South Africa and Japan to improve their native stock. The Royal Stud of Japan has used the Cleveland Bay for many years to produce their carriage horses. Today's Cleveland Bay is the ideal cross for producing hunters and competition horses for every sphere. Some current pure bred Cleveland Bay stallions are Performance Tested with NaStA and several have competed in varying disciplines. Part bred Cleveland Bay horses are successfully competing and have represented Britain in dressage, show jumping, eventing and driving including Arun Tor, William Hill, Pembridge Minstral, Tregoyd Tor, Irn Bru, and Sutton Superstition. The success of the part bred is not limited to the UK as they are equally successful in all disciplines in Australia, New Zealand and the USA.
The Cleveland Bay Horse Society, based at York Livestock Centre, is responsible for the registration, licensing and promotion of the Cleveland Bay horse and welcomes new members and breeders. Activities are held throughout the country and classes for pure and part bred Cleveland Bays are included at many shows.
It is hard to believe that such a versatile and talented animal is still on the Rare Breed Survival Trust's Register as Category 1.
To end, I would like to quote two lines from a poem by Sir J.D. Paul printed in the Whitby Gazette in 1879:
"All things that live have parallel, save one: The Cleveland Bay Horse, he alone has none!"