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History of the Cleveland Bay

The Cleveland Bay is believed to be Britain’s oldest breed of horse and originates from that area of the north east of England once known as Cleveland.  In the Middle Ages, monasteries bred strong, sure-footed pack horses, to transport goods, in the days when roads were little better than cart tracks.  From this animal a strong pack horse developed, used by chapmen (travelling salesmen) to carry their wares.  This horse type – the original Cleveland Bay - became known as the Chapman Horse and this name continued to be used by breeders in the north east to the middle of the 19th century.  The Chapman Horse stood at about 15hh and today Cleveland Bays which stand between 15.-16hh are still called Chapman types, contrary to the modern myth that all Clevelands are 17hh giants.  Early Cleveland Bay (CB) studbooks recorded the powers of Cleveland Bays as pack horses, e.g.  “Carried 16 stones sixteen miles within the hour, trotting”.


There was considerable trade between the Barbary Coast of Africa and the north east of England during the 18th century, and Barb stallions were crossed with Chapman mares.  Jalap (grandson of the Godolphin Barb) and Manica (by the Darley Arabian) were two important influences in the breeding of the Cleveland Bay.  The north east of England was important for horse breeding, and another local breed was known as the Yorkshire Galloway.  In fact north east Yorkshire was famed for its racing Galloways, which are believed to be closely allied in origin to the Chapman horse.  As we all know, every Thoroughbred in the world descends from 3 Eastern stallions but also, of 78 original CB mares, more than 70 were racing Galloways.




by Zoe Woods

Pure horsepower harnessed


As horse-drawn vehicles replaced pack horses, the Cleveland Bay evolved into a carriage horse, where its strength, stamina and sure-footedness stood it in good stead on the poor quality roads.  The popularity of coaching led to an increase in demand for Cleveland Bays.  The Edinburgh Mail ran 400 miles in 40 hours, but when allowing for changes and stoppages for meals, this meant in fact that the horses averaged 14 mph on roads far inferior to those of today, working in all weather conditions.  There was also a demand for taller horses and over a century the Cleveland Bay increased in height by as much as 2 hands.


The coming of the railway led to a decline in road coaches but there was still a demand for matched pairs to pull private carriages, such as the Barouche and the Victoria; the Cleveland Bay which bred true to type was ideally suited for this purpose.  Such was the demand for upstanding carriage horses, CB mares were mated to Thoroughbred stallions to produce a taller, faster coach horse known as the Yorkshire Coach Horse.  John Fairfax–Blakeborough, (1883-1976), a well-respected and prolific writer on such matters, stated that “the beginning of the last century coach horse breeders found that the tendency towards too much blood, and that to preserve ‘the type’ it was necessary to keep up recourse to the old Cleveland Bay strains.  That is why after the formation of the Yorkshire Coach Horse Society in 1886, all pure bred Cleveland Bay stallions were admitted to their Stud Books”.1


During the 19th century Cleveland Bays and Yorkshire Coach Horses were exported all over the world - Buffalo Bill used to drive six Cleveland Bay Stallions to a stage coach in his Wild West show!  In 1849 three CB stallions and one Yorkshire Coach Horse stallion were purchased by Oldenburg breeders to improve their breed, and the Emperor of Japan to this day keeps a small stud of Cleveland Bays used for ceremonial duties.


The Holsteiner traces its lineage back to three sires imported from England in the 1800’s Yorkshire Coach Horses Brillant and Ostwick and the TB Burlington Turk.2   In fact Elwyn Hartley Edwards attributes the Holstein’s high, wide action and excellent temperament to the Yorkshire Coach Horse 3   and the Cleveland Bay was also used as part of the foundation stock for the Clydesdale.


Our Victorian forebears understood the utility of the Cleveland Bay – as a hunter, carriage horse and agricultural horse on lighter soils.  Nigel Cowgill includes some delightful anecdotes to this ‘utility’: the mare Star was an acclaimed show jumper and jumped 6’ out of a hollow, the mare Fanny Drape jumped 7’6”, and Peter Simple, a Cleveland Bay part-bred, was placed third in the Grand National in 1841 and 1842, and second in 1845.  The last race has been written up in the ‘History of the Grand National”, when the race was won by 6 lengths by Gaylad; Gaylad was ridden by Tom Oliver, the greatest steeple jockey of the day and Peter Simple by his owner, an amateur.  During the race Peter and his jockey parted company, but Peter was caught and remounted.  It is believed that, but for this mishap, the Cleveland Bay part-bred would have won the Grand National.  Had he achieved this record in the 20th century, no doubt he would have spent a happy retirement opening supermarkets and attending book signings!





With the advent of the train and motor car, the demand for carriage horses declined and, in spite of its value in other disciplines, the number of Cleveland Bays dwindled.  By the 1960’s there were only 6 stallions left in the UK, and the future of the breed looked grim.  Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth purchased the stallion Mulgrave Supreme to prevent him from being exported, and today Her Majesty is patron of the Cleveland Bay Horse Society and is a recognised breeder of Cleveland Bays.  They can be seen at the Royal Mews, working in harness on ceremonial occasions in Central London and each year at Royal Ascot.  Again their ‘Royal’ duties which entail coping with large crowds and lots of noise, emphasise the honesty and calm nature of this breed.


At the time of her purchase, three stallions were of huge importance to the breed’s continued survival: Mulgrave Supreme, Chapman (who stood at 15hh) and Forest Superman, who appears in the pedigree of many horses today who we would describe as ‘sport horses’.  A list of pure-bred stallions standing today can be found at:

Mulgrave Supreme Chapman

Mulgrave Supreme



Of course, many other dedicated individuals have contributed to the survival of the Cleveland Bay, some of whom have been committed to breeding Clevelands for more than 30 years, BUT the breed remains on the Rare Breeds Survival Trust’s critical list with only 500 pure-breds left in the world and only about 70 foals registered each year.


The Cleveland Bay Horse Society was formed in 1884 and has just celebrated 125 years.  Today pure and part-bred Cleveland Bays continue to fly the flag for our ancient British breed.  There is a great interest today in the CB part-bred as a ‘Sport Horse’ but it is important that Britain does not lose the blood lines of the pure-bred Cleveland bay.  The experience of the Yorkshire Coach Horse breeders shows how important it is NOT to lose the influence of the Pure-bred Cleveland Bay in the pursuit of the warmblood or sport horse.





Spring Pascal a promising young dressage horse who latest achievement was first in British Dressage under 25’s class at Sheepgate in August.(HannxCB)


Natterjack Toad champion lightweight and ladies’ hunter and HOYS qualifier (TBxCB)


Stainmore Reuben currently showing successfully in hand as a hunter.  Based in Scotland, he has been placed in every class he has entered.  (CB)


Baydale Velvet pony eventer in 2004 British Event Team (Baydale Juryman CB x Arab mare)


Badger Boy Novice SHP Champion BSPS Winter Championships 2005 part-bred CB


Mr Bojangle III part-bred CB  Dressage


Borderfame Prince Charming – eventer and first CB to be registered as a .sport horse’.


Prosperity (previously Market Reject) Grade A showjumper and prolific winner

My thanks go to member of the CBHS who assisted me in my research and provided photographs.




1 The Cleveland Bay Horse – Its History, Evolution and Importance Today, J. Fairfax-Blakeborough


2  Horse and Hound ‘What is a Warmblood?‘ 10/3/2005


3 The Ultimate Horse Book, Elwyn Hartley Edwards


4 Driving Horse-Drawn Carriages for Pleasure, Francis T. Underhill 1897