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Rare Breeds - The Cleveland Bay

Who would have thought that some of our oldest native breeds of horse are so at risk of disappearing if we don't take enough care to preserve them. We have all heard of endangered species that could be at risk of disappearing, such as the Black Rhino and Polar Bears, but we might not realise that some of the breeds closer to home could also be facing a similar fate. The much loved Cleveland Bay is one of those listed as most at risk.

The organisation Rare Breeds Survival Trust monitors the numbers of rare and native farm breeds including equine, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry, based on the approximate numbers of registered adult breeding females in the United Kingdom.

In their latest Watchlist it categorises the breeds into Critical, Endangered, Vulnerable, At Risk and Minority. Critical having the least amount of registered breeding females; fewer than 300 in the UK. Endangered has between 300 and 500, Vulnerable has between 500 and 900, At Risk between 900 and 1500 and Minority between 1500 and 3000.

The Cleveland Bay

Originally associated with the Cleveland district in North East England, the Cleveland Bay horse is one of Britain's oldest breeds and is listed as Critical on the RBST Watchlist 2016. Often noted for their strength, versatility and endurance; they make great sports horses and are known for having wonderful temperaments.

You can identify a Cleveland Bay by the colour - as the name suggests they are bay (reddish-brown), have black points (black legs, mane and tail) and normally no white markings on the face or body. They are larger horses measuring around 16.0 hh to 16.2 hh with bold heads, long necks, muscular shoulders, deep wide bodies and powerful oval quarters.


The Cleveland Bay's ancestors were used for general purpose work and as pack horses back in the middle ages. They also became known as 'Chapman horses' as they would carry goods for merchants. These strong horses were crossed with other lighter breeds such as Arabs and Thoroughbreds the Cleveland Bay that we know today was formed. As travel by horse drawn coach or carriages became more popular, there was more demand for strong but fast horses and the Cleveland Bay was an obvious choice.

The Cleveland Bay Horse Society (CBHS) was formed in 1884 when the breed started to come under threat from the new forms of transport - such as the railway. Over the years the Cleveland Bay has had its ups and downs, including the World Wars causing the loss of many horses and the breed was eventually reduced to only a few breeding stallions and mares by the 1960's.

Royal Connections

Today Her Majesty the Queen is a patron of the Cleveland Bay Horse Society and has been instrumental in saving the breed. Her Majesty purchased a Cleveland Bay called Mulgrave Supreme in the 1960's, who was put to stud instead of being exported and helped to increase numbers of the breed for a while and many of the offspring became successful sports horses. The Queen's Grandfather had also been a breeder of the Cleveland Bays in the 1920’s, yet even with these royal connections the breed is still struggling.

Status Critical

With an estimate of less than 300 registered breeding females in the UK this places the Cleveland Bay in a Critical status according to the RBST's 2016 Watchlist.

There are organisations across the globe helping to promote the Cleveland Bay, develop breeding programmes, preserve the standards and prevent this wonderful versatile horse from disappearing in the future.


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