This brief history of the Cleveland Bay was written for the CBHS by Past President Colin Green
The Cleveland Bay has its origins in the North East corner of Yorkshire known as Cleveland. Without doubt it is Britain’s oldest breed of horse and has been fixed in type for much longer than the Cleveland Bay Horse Society’s foundation date of 1884 suggests. The Church played a very large role in their early breeding. Throughout the Middle ages the Monastic houses in the North East were the principle breeders of horses. Pack horses were needed for trading goods between the various Abbeys and communities. Most certainly the ancestors of today’s Cleveland Bays, particularly on the female side, were such pack horses. These horses were known as Chapmen Horses, the name being derived from the name given to packmen and itinerant peddlers of those days who travelled the country selling their wares.
Later in time there was an influx of Barb and other Mediterranean horses into the port of Whitby and the stallions of these breeds were naturally used on the local mares – the Chapmen Horses. In the late 17th Century the main ingredients of this blend of breeds had come together to form the early ancestors of the Cleveland Bay and the Breed became fixed in type.
The next Century saw an increase in size and weight of horses through better feeding and no doubt through more selective breeding for specific purposes. The result was a powerful, versatile horse with a wide variety of general agricultural uses that included ploughing and drawing the very heavy, early models of coaches as well as being commonly used in the Hunting field.
The Breed has progressed over time but has remained remarkably the same right up to the present day. There have been difficult times in the history of the Breed as progress has affected the requirement for such powerful horses. Even before the coming of the railway, the breed suffered from Breeders of Pure Cleveland Bays being diverted away to the production of what became known all over the developed world as Yorkshire Coach Horses. To satisfy the enormous market for faster, sound coach horses as road surfaces improved, breeders began crossing their pure Clevelands mares with the faster, flashier Thoroughbred stallions (which incidentally has the same Yorkshire and ancestral origins as the CB) to produce highly desirable, and also very fashionable Yorkshire Coach Horses. This diverted many breeders to produce for the more lucrative market in coaching and thus depleted the stock of Pure Bred Cleveland Bays.
Just as things were bad for the Breed, there came the railways and the Breed suffered yet another blow. It was then that the Cleveland Bay Horse Society was formed with the objectives of preserving the Breed and this was only just in time for it was not long before the advent of the internal combustion engine. It is now the role of the CBHS to register all Pure Bred Cleveland Bay horses and since 1884 strict stud books have been kept of all Cleveland Bay Horses born throughout the world.