Cleveland Bay

The Cleveland Bay is a superb carriage horse native to Yorkshire, Britain. Also known as Chapman horse, it has been known in the Cleveland district of North Yorkshire since medieval times. The name comes from medieval times when the breed was very popular among travelling salesmen, known as "chapmen." It is a substantial, impressive horse and also a historic British breed with a long past full of valuable contributions.

The exact origin of the Cleveland Bay horse is somewhat obscure. Some have assumed that the breed has descended from Roman days in Britain, and comes from the union of Oriental horses and English stock. The use of Scandinavian blood has also been suggested. Other authorities offer the theory that this breed has been gradually developed from the native horses in southern England, with possibly some help in early times from Oriental and Thoroughbred blood. In spite of these various theories, nothing definite is known on the subject. The mares of Cleveland Bay were, no doubt, crossed more or less with Thoroughbred, and plenty of evidence exists to show that in early times, at least, the breed was not of absolute purity. This, however, applies to most other breeds as well.7

There are several types of harness horses, also called carriage horses: Hackney, French Coach, German Coach, Cleveland Bay, Yorkshire, Russian Orloff, and American Carriage Horse. They were primarily used to pull coaches. The large harness horses are called draft horses, and the light ones are those intermediate in size between ponies and darft horses and which usually have more range, a greater degree of quality, better action or greater speed. LIght horses in general are well adapted to mountainous sections and where the land is rolling, in which localities they are useful for farm horse power and for riding and driving purposes.6

[Photo of Cleveland Bay horse]
<Cleveland Bay
Photo source: Legacy Farm

The Cleveland Bay's greatest value is perhaps in its versatility, being used as a pack-horse, on the farm, in harness and under saddle. The Cleveland Bay was highly prized by Yorkshire farmers for its stamina, ability to carry heavy weights and speedy gait. Because it was lighter than heavy-draft horses, it was not used on heavy land. At the same time, on light soils it could do the same type of work as a Shire or a Clydesdale. It was faster, did not need as much fodder and did not wear through shoes as often as heavier horses. Outside Yorkshire, the Cleveland Bay was much used as a carriage horse, and still is in the Royal Mews.5

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The first Cleveland horses imported into the United States were shipped to Virginia and Massachussetts in the early 1800s. They were commonly referred as "coachers" or "English coach horses," as well as by breed name. The American West utilized Cleveland Bay stallions in the breeding of range horses, appreciating their endurance, easy maintenance, and ability to handle the biggest of steers.

[Photo of Cleveland Bay horse]
Cleveland Bay

The Cleveland Bay is also an exceptional hunter. The beed has excelled as Olympic jumper and competitor at the international level in driving, dressage and eventing.4 It is greatly appreciated for its intelligence, beauty and temperament. The Cleveland Bay horses make ideal heavy weight hunters, but also possess the necessary quickness for eventing, and can be exhibited in the show ring either as in-hand, ridden or working hunters. The Cleveland Bay is a unique horse which deserves to be preserved.2 The fact that its athletic ability is underestimated contributes to its critically rare status. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy has designated the breed as critical on its 2007 Conservation Priority List. 3

Cleveland Bays horses crossed with Thoroughbreds produce top-class hunters and show-jumpers.

Bay (reddish brown) is the only color allowed in the breed. The mane, tail and legs are black. No white markings on the legs are permitted and only a small white star is allowed on the forehead and a few white hairs on the heel. More white, the breeders say, indicates foreign blood. However, in a more recent effort to help preserve the rare breed, individuals who exhibit more white than usual are still eligible for registration as long as notation is made in the studbook.3 The color may be dappled and dark bars may occasionally be seen on the lower arm or possibly above the hock. Its legs are free from any feathering. It stands 16 to 16.5 hh and has a fine head, full, bright eyes, long, arched neck, sloping shoulders, deep chest, short back, long quarters, strong, cordy legs, and perfect hooves. The joints are broad and well formed. The back tendons of fore-limbs are very strong and plainly seen. The thighs are muscular, furnishing fullness of outline. The hocks, viewed from one side, are deep from front to rear; the elbows stand out showing room between the legs and chest, indicating easy moving power.

The Cleveland Bay Horse Society of North America, one of the oldest warmblood registries, is dedicated to promoting the Cleveland Bay Horse. The North American society is supervised by the British Society, registering both pure and partbred Cleveland Bays. Fans of the breed feel that a renaissance of the Cleveland Bay is again possible.


  1. The Horse. Pamela Macgregor-Morris & E. Hartley Edwards.
  2. The Official Horse Breeds Standards Guide. by Fran Lynghaug
  3. Horse Breeds: 65 Popular Horse, Pony & Draft Horses. Samantha Johnson, Daniel Johnson
  4. The encyclopedia of historic and endangered livestock and poultry breeds. Janet Vorwald Dohner
  5. The best of James Herriot. James Herriot
  6. Breeds of light horses By Herbert Harshman Reese
  7. Types and breeds of farm animals By Charles Sumner Plumb



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