Cleveland Bay

Cleveland Bay

HEIGHT: 16–16.2 hands

PLACE OF ORIGIN: Yorkshire, England

SPECIAL QUALITIES: A category 1, Critical Rare Breed; demonstrates great uniformity in color, type, and quality; has long been used for the improvement of other breeds

BEST SUITED FOR: Field and show hunters, dressage, combined driving, improvement of other breeds

One of the great breeds of English horses, and the oldest of England’s native breeds, the purebred Cleveland Bay is quite rare, numbering only about five hundred horses throughout the world. Originating in northern Yorkshire, England, the Cleveland Bay is thought to have been developed by crossing local bay mares on Oriental (Arab, Turk, or Barb) and Andalusian stallions during the seventeenth century. Even early in their history they were a very distinct type —strong, short-legged, and able to carry great weight. The breed was initially known as the Chapman Horse, for the salesmen, called “chapmen,” who used this breed exclusively for packing goods prior to the advent of passable roads and wheeled carriages in rugged Yorkshire.

Northern Yorkshire is known for its harsh climate and rough, hilly terrain, but these horses thrived and grew strong there. Cleveland Bays were used as farm, riding, and packhorses in the mining area of the North York Moors. They could reportedly carry six hundred pounds of ore per load out of the mines. Loaded horses were led long distances in pack strings over very rough hills to the iron smelters.

This Cleveland Bay has a mildly convex profile and demonstrates the calm, kind, and assured expression known to the breed.

Cleveland Bays and Cleveland Bay crosses are almost born to drive. They are ideal competitors in the sport of combined driving.

Close to Extinction

By the mid-1800s, the pure Cleveland Bay almost became extinct because it was crossed extensively, especially with Thoroughbreds, to produce superior carriage horses. The most famous of these crosses was the Yorkshire Coach Horse, which was widely regarded as the finest coach horse in England. In 1884, the Cleveland Bay Society was formed to prevent the breed’s extinction. By the end of the coach and carriage era, it was the Yorkshire Coach Horse that had disappeared, but the Cleveland Bay continued to hang on.

The numbers of remaining horses were greatly reduced when they were used to pull artillery in World War I, and declined further as the age of mechanization ascended and use of horses waned. By the 1960s, only five or six purebred stallions still existed. But just as the breed seemed certain to vanish, determined breeders from Yorkshire managed to save it.

The Queen of England became the patron of the breed and carries on the tradition of using Cleveland Bays and Cleveland crossbreds in royal ceremonies. Prince Philip’s famous team of international driving horses was composed of Cleveland Bay–Oldenburg crosses.

The cannons are quite short in these strong, powerful horses, and they are good gallopers, a trait often passed to crossbred offspring.

Since the late 1840s, the pure Cleveland Bay has carefully been bred without any infusion of Thoroughbred genes. The breed has been, and is still, widely used to improve other breeds. In Europe, Cleveland Bays have been used for improvement of the Oldenburg, the Holsteiner, and the Hanoverian. Breeding programs in Japan, Pakistan, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia also use Cleveland Bays to improve a number of their horse breeds.

The first Cleveland Bay stallions were imported to the United States in the early 1800s, and they caught on. William Cody, better known as Buffalo Bill, used Cleveland Bays in his Wild West Show. In western states, Cleveland Bays were often crossed with wiry range horses to produce excellent ranch horses.

Breed Characteristics

Cleveland Bays are well known as dressage horses, driving horses, and top-notch hunters. Crossbred Cleveland Bays have made excellent event horses.


Cleveland Bays stand 16 to 17 hands high and weigh 1,225 to 1,500 pounds. The head, often featuring a pronounced convex profile, is bold and not too small, carried on a long, lean neck. The eyes are well set and kindly in expression, the ears large and fine. The shoulders are sloping and muscular. The body is deep and wide, with muscular loins, and the back is strong but not overly long. The quarters are quite level, powerful, long, and oval, with the tail “springing well” from the quarters. The legs and thighs are muscular, with large, strong joints, sloping pasterns, and very good feet.


Cleveland Bays must be true bays with black points. Other than a very small star, white is not permitted. Gray hair in the mane and tail is characteristic in certain strains of purebred Cleveland Bays.


There is no American registry for Cleveland Bays. According to the Cleveland Bay Society in the United Kingdom (founded in 1884):

• Seventy stallions are licensed worldwide.

• There are 300 mares worldwide and an unknown number of geldings.

• About 50 new foals are registered each year, almost all of them in the United Kingdom.

• The Cleveland Bay Society also registers part-breds.

• The North American Society (formed in 1885) reports there are 99 purebred Cleveland Bays in North America, of which 47 are mares.

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