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Cleveland Bays: A Breed with a Hunting Gene

Photo Courtesy of Images by KC

From the Equine Journal - May 2009

Cleveland Bays have long been favored mounts in the hunt field, first in their native United Kingdom, and later in North America. Paradoxically, it took until the 2008-2009 season for these horses to be able to earn "official" recognition as Field Huntersin a new program offered by the Cleveland Bay Horse Society of North America (CBHSNA).

Clevelands really do seem to have a hunting gene, appearing to learn the game of Run! Turn! Whoa! Wait! Run! Stand! -- adapting to the general chaos fairly quickly. Many seasoned hunters alert their riders to the presence of hounds or of game with an attentive focus of their ears, or an intense stare. They learn quickly to tolerate hounds between their legs, and the general bustle of horses, riders cracking whips, and frequent reversals of the field. Sometimes youngsters are far easier to manage in the hunt field than in the ring. They seem to intuitively understand the logic of hunting, but don't quite get the idea of moving forward energetically and on the bit while traversing multiple and identical circles.

In order to qualify for the CBHSNA recognition, the horse must be a registered , and the person seeking the certification must be a society member. Horses must hunt for a minimum of six outings and their performance certified by the presiding Master. Specific information is available on the CBHSNA website.

The first official CBHSNA certified field hunter is Native Regent, a 5-year-old partbred Cleveland gelding by Forbes Native Statesman, out of a thoroughbred mare. Reggie, as he is affectionately known, was bred by Statesman's Ridge Farm, introduced to hunting by the author, and is now owned by Wicomico Hunt's Joint Master of Foxhounds Jim Griffin. Reggie exemplifies the very traits that make Cleveland Bays exceptional mounts for chasing foxes.

Jim purchased Reggie at the beginning of the 2008-09 hunting season. He was only four, with a limited number of cubhunting outings under his belt, but demonstrated his affinity for hunting from the very beginning. Reflected Griffin:

Before I bought Native Regent (Reggie) I had only hunted thoroughbreds. For the most part they were reliable but tended toward being hot and not always a pleasure to hunt. With Reggie, every day, from the first hunt, one week after getting him, he has had a remarkable calmness and presence, beyond his years. He is gentle, intelligent, calm and very athletic, always keeping his feet under him and jumping cleanly even in trappy conditions. I could not ask for better in a field hunter.

Reggie and Jim have hunted together for two full seasons - more than 25 times this year alone. As Joint Master of the Wicomico Hunt, located on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Griffin shares responsibility for the management of the hunting side of the club. He also relies on his horse as together they lead the field of riders as they follow the huntsman and the hounds, sometimes for more than 3 hours at a time.

Many riders value the Cleveland Bay for its tractable and quiet nature. Partbreds with significant fractions of Thoroughbred blood excel in roles where speed, stamina, soundness and sensibility are required. Hunt Masters in Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts, among other states, ride Cleveland crosses. Pennsylvania's Idle Hour Stud has probably produced more Clevelands for Master's mounts than any other single breeder in North America. Idle Hour owner Marilyn Webster can often be seen in the ranks of the New Market - Middletown Valley Hounds, acquainting her young horses to the thrill of the hunt field.

CBHSNA Board of Directors Member Gabrielle Gordon was the first to complete the certification with a purebred. Her 6-year-old mare, Foxhollow (USA) Seashell, who is by Fryup Marvel. Gordon has hunted with the Hickory Creek Hunt in Boyd, Texas for about 17 years and currently serves as Honorary Secretary. Hickory Creek chases coyotes in addition to foxes. Gordon relates, "I love hunting purebreds. They are sensible and don't seem to get rattled easily. They are normally great around cattle and hounds running around. They seem to enjoy their jobs."

The last phrase really sums it up - Cleveland Bays really enjoy their hunting jobs. Almost as if they are born with that innate ability, almost as if they come equipped with a specific hunting gene... See a big bay horse in the hunt field, usually distinctive with its large ears and query its owner - more often than you would expect, you may have found a Cleveland Bay.


Written by Marcia Brody