Named after a district in Yorkshire rather than the State in the U.S.A., the Cleveland Bay made its name as an outstanding carriage horse in the days when horses were the main mode of transport and having the right “coach-and-pair” was essential for the upper classes. They are still used as driving horses today and are being increasingly recognized as capable riding horses.
The history of the Cleveland Bay is summed up in its name. It was developed in the Cleveland district of Yorkshire and it's bay. It was created by crossing hardy pack-horses with more refined horses such as Andalucians, Barbs, Arabs and Thoroughbreds. The initial aim was to create a refined horse for pulling carriages. This is why the horses were bred to be bay in particular. Not only did it make it easy to create matched pairs, but the horses could also be used for any occasion. This distinguished them from white horses, which were perceived as being unsuitable for sombre occasions and black horses, which were unsuitable for festive ones. They became the carriage horses of choice for the wealthy and continue to be used for royal carriages today. The breed reached the height of its numbers and fortune in the 19th and early 20th Centuries when they were highly in demand as cavalry horses. Unfortunately that meant that many of them were killed along with their riders. By the end of World War One, the breed had suffered a severe drop in numbers, which led to efforts being made to protect them. Initially however these efforts met with little success given the depression of the 1930s, followed by World War Two, followed by the decline in horse-drawn transport. In 1962, Queen Elizabeth II stepped in buying one of the four remaining purebred stallions in the U.K. just before it was sold to a buyer in the U.S.A. The progeny of this stallion went on to replenish the breed. Meanwhile Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh raised the breed's profile by competing with them very successfully in driving competitions. This led to them being rediscovered as riding animals with Cleveland Bay crosses being used in several Olympic games as show jumpers.
The Cleveland Bay is generally around 16 to 16.2 hands in height. Again this relatively narrow range in heights helped to make them easier to pair for drawing carriages. They are always bay although they may come in various shades of it. Although white hairs in the mane and tail are acceptable, white markings on the legs are not. Cleveland Bays do not have feathering on their legs. A small star is permitted on the face but nothing more. Physically the Cleveland Bay is an impressive and imposing horse. It is strong and muscular from the neck down to the broad, deep chest though the body and into the quarters. In spite of its size it has relatively short legs and like its body these are strong and muscular.
Cleveland Bays were bred to be hard-working horses and to this day they remain honest workers. They are also highly intelligent and versatile. Although no horse is ever going to be able to match a native pony for sure-footed resourcefulness, the Cleveland Bay does extremely well for an animal of its size. Possibly this is due to its early development in the rugged landscape of Yorkshire. At high level competitions, Cleveland Bays are strong and capable partners for their riders. At lower levels they can be great purchases for riders looking for a trustworthy horse on whom they can gain experience or on whom they can compete successfully at amateur level. Purebred Cleveland Bays tend to be preferred when there is a premium on strength, specifically jumping ability. This generally means cross-country riding and show jumping. They have elegant movement, which makes them more than capable of performing well in the dressage section of three-day events although for pure dressage lighter horses may be preferred, with Cleveland Bays being crossed with Thoroughbreds. This can, however, make the horses livelier to handle, which may or may not be desirable depending on your point of view. It's also worth noting that the purebred Cleveland Bay copes very well in traffic. Those used by Buckingham Palace regularly draw carriages through streets lined with humans waving flags and making all sorts of noises and may be escorted by outriders on motorbikes, which are likewise noisy as well as moving quickly. Of course, these horses receive special training for this, but in general those who need a horse that can be trusted in traffic could find the Cleveland Bay a particularly good choice. Likewise they may also be a good choice for taller teenagers, for whom ponies are simply not a practical option.
Cleveland Bay Health
As horses go, Cleveland Bays are hardy and long-lived. Their roots in Yorkshire mean that they are more capable of dealing with cold conditions than many more delicate breeds. There are no significant health issues reported with the breed itself. Those interested in buying a Cleveland Bay cross would be well advised to check any health issues related to the other breed. Thoroughbreds in particular are known to have health concerns. Some of these can be connected to its uses as a race horse, but some are common across all members of the breed.
Caring for a Cleveland Bay
In principle Cleveland Bays can live out during the warmer months and can still spend most of their time outdoors as temperatures drop, provided that they are well rugged-up. Once the weather gets really cold, they will need to come in at night, although they will still appreciate turn-out time in the day. They will also probably need hard feed to compensate for the cold even if they are not working. Daily grooming is strongly recommended, as it stimulates the blood flow as well as keeping the animal clean. It also provides a good opportunity to check for minor injuries. They will also need regular attention from a farrier and worming all year round.
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