From the Equine Journal - November 2009
I have often asked myself "why is the Cleveland Bay horse one of the rarest horses in the world with the dubious honor of being on the American Livestock Breed Conservancy's "Critical" list?"
Over the past 7 years, our farm has bred and placed Cleveland Bay horses with new breeders and horse enthusiasts across North America and the best reason that I can come up with is that the Cleveland Bay has a publicity problem. So, in an effort to get the word out, I would like to share some insights into this versatile breed.
The Cleveland Bay is the United Kingdom's oldest breed of horse. It was developed in a time in European history when the horse was used to work fields, carry loads, pull coaches, hunt and carry men into battle. This unique time in history was a crucible for horse breed development that produced in the Cleveland Bay a horse that is intelligent, versatile, sensible with a quiet nature, hardy with great soundness and stamina, and is what we would now call an easy keeper that can thrive in conditions that would be difficult for many breeds. We here at the farm also feel that these horses are loyal and affectionate with a kind eye that seems to look back at you with intelligence. These qualities, though difficult to capture in a breed standard, are arguably the intangibles that bond horses to humans and are worthy of further inspection.
Versatile - as a warm blood, the Cleveland Bay and Cleveland Bay Sport Horse can be used for just about any horse discipline including pleasure riding, dressage, hunter/hack, in hand showing, driving and is a favorite in our area as a hunter. You will never see a Cleveland Bay running the Kentucky Derby but Cleveland Bay Sport Horses have competed at the top levels of Olympic equine disciplines.
Intelligent - by intelligent I mean an ability to quickly learn and adapt to the demands placed on it by the trainer/rider. I would also list under intelligent a willingness to please. A smart horse that fights you for every gain can be more frustrating than a dull one who takes longer to train.
Hardy with great soundness and stamina - the Cleveland Bay is famous for its stamina, soundness, bone and hooves. The breed has been used to great success in endurance riding and as a driving horse where these qualities enable it to excel. The Cleveland Bay hoof is a farrier's dream with strong blue hooves and thick hoof walls ideal for shoeing. As the saying goes, no hoof no horse.
Sensible with a quiet nature - one of the reasons Cleveland Bays are so popular with the hunt is that those who hunt a Cleveland Bay know (as does the rest of the field) that their mount will take care of them. By that I mean the horse won't ride you into a tree branch and seems to instinctively take the most sensible line. Their quiet nature also makes for a steady mount that is unfazed by loud noises, hounds at foot or the odd deer breaking cover in the wood.
Easy Keeper - in tough economic times, a horse that can maintain its condition on less feed/ground is a good thing.
Loyal and affectionate - if you have spent any time around horses you know the difference between a horse that is connected to you and one that is not. I had never experienced that until I spent 3 days at the Kentucky Horse Park with our stallion and 5000 of our closest friends. Through all of my ham fisted handling, bad cues and the circus that we were surrounded by, he took care of me, never put a hoof wrong and made it look as if I knew what I was doing.
Now setting aside my obvious bias towards the Cleveland Bay, I would find the attributes listed above to be compelling for any breed of horse. Our hope and the hope of those who love this breed is that horse enthusiasts will give the Cleveland Bay a chance to win them over. I would encourage you seek out a Cleveland Bay to see if you believe as I do that the Cleveland Bay is a horse worth preserving. Please visit the following links to learn more: www.clevelandbay.org, www.clevelandbay.com, and www.albc-usa.org.