A Rare Breed at Risk


     It is difficult to ascertain the exact numbers of breeding mares in the UK but it is thought that it is somewhere in the region of 200 to 250. This can always only be an estimate and it is partly based on the numbers of foals registered annually. For the last decade this has numbered about 55 per year. Of these, approximately one half are fillies, which are the important ones in survival terms, with fewer stallions being needed to serve the breed.

     Quite a number of pure-bred mares never actually breed a replacement as they may used as riding or driving horses or even as pets, or have been sold on without papers and maybe without their owners knowing of their importance to the Breed. So it is uncertain the numbers of productive breeding females.

     Attempts are always being made to encourage owners of pure bed Cleveland Bay females to breed back to a licensed pure bred stallion and to register the progeny but not every one is in the position to be able to do this. At present the breed is numerically holding its own and is only slowly making progress.

     It frequently comes as a surprise for those interested in horses to learn of this situation as they see the name ‘Cleveland’ frequently reported in the equine press. The majority of these will be part-bred Cleveland Bays. This aspect of Cleveland breeding, part bred breeding, being directed towards competition, general riding, driving and hunting, has been very successful indeed. Bearing in mind that there are only about 45 licensed stallions throughout the whole of the UK, then the ratio of successful part-bred Clevelands when measured against the proportion of horses of all other breeds, is outstanding and speaks so very highly of the tremendous potential of the Cleveland bay cross.

     Whilst it may appear at first sight to be of little genetic value to breed a non Cleveland mare to a Licensed Cleveland Bay stallion, or to be contributing to the survival of the pure bred Cleveland Bay, the opposite is in fact the case - but in an indirect way.

     Non Cleveland mares going to a Cleveland stallion allows more pure bred stallions to be kept and this makes them more commercially viable. This in turn helps the pure breed by encouraging more Stallions to be kept. Having more stallions available is the essential key to maintaining the wide genetic variation necessary within a pure breed and allows more choice for pure bred mares therefore avoids the dangers of ‘in breeding’.

     As already said, this is by no means the only reason for using a Pure-bred Cleveland bay stallion on mares of other breeds, because the resultant progeny make extremely fine horses in their own right. They bring great pleasure and reward to their breeders and owners. They are such talented, eye catching, attractive, and appealing animals and as a bonus, those breeding and owning them know that they are involved with a part of the British heritage. A heritage to be proud of and to be supported.  We ask all horse people to think about what could be lost if this British Breed is further depleted.

Although the Cleveland Bay horse is Britain’s oldest breed of horse, the numbers of Pure-bred Clevelands alive are so dangerously low that the Cleveland Bay is rated at the highest level of ‘at risk’ by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

The Horse History Part breds Breed Standards