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The Versatile And Unique Cleveland Bay

From the Northern Ohio Dressage Association Newsletter February 2010Member_photo
Written by Elizabeth Sayre Jenkinson

Disclaimer:  The following article was researched and written by a member of the CBHSNA. The article has not been edited by the CBHSNA and its contents and facts not been verified with the CBHSNA but are the direct result of research and information gathered by the author.

In offering this article to the CBHSNA website, I wish to comment on my ancestral connection to the Cleveland Bay breed which overwhelmingly influenced my purchase of IdleHour Forio.   I had long known of my roots in Yorkshire on my maternal side.  I am a direct descendent of Jonathan Fairbanks (Fayerbanke, Farebanke, Fairbank etc.) who hailed from Sowerby in West Riding, Yorkshire, England. 
The Fairbank name is a long established line in Yorkshire dating back to the Celtic tribes.  Jonathan and his wife, Grace, emigrated to the colony of Massachusetts in 1633 and in 1637 built the Fairbanks House in Dedham.  This structure is the oldest timber-frame home standing in North America and a museum owned by the Fairbanks Family in America, Inc., having been in continuous family possession since its origin.

Truly a horse “for all seasons” of your life, the Cleveland Bay can do many things very well while being a unique mount to own and love.  With a Cleveland Bay you have an entrée into an historical breed that is noted for its endurance, visual beauty, grace under pressure, extreme intelligence and, above all, safety.  I must admit that I am biased in their favor because I have the privilege of owning my partbred Cleveland Bay gelding, IdleHour Forio, sired by *Ramblers Renown.  In this article I take my opportunity to showcase a rare “British Warmblood” in order to contribute in helping save the breed from extinction as the Cleveland Bay, both purebred and partbred, is on the endangered species list worldwide.  It was precisely for the qualities listed above that the Cleveland Bay almost paid with its very existence in the time of the first and second World Wars by suffering during battle used as mounts and for pulling artillery wagons.  Mechanization also contributed to declining numbers as work horses became obsolete.  If Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II, of Great Britain had not stepped in and patronized the breed in the early 1960’s, I might not today have the pleasure of riding one.  As one of the last four stallions remaining in the United Kingdom, Mulgrave Supreme, was purchased by Queen Elizabeth to produce the famous carriage horses used by the Palace to this day for ceremonies of state.

The origin of the Cleveland begins during the seventeenth century in the North Yorkshire Cleveland district of England which is a rugged climate fostering the legendary hardiness of these horses who happily live outdoors in all weather.  Considered the oldest established horse breed and only non-draft developed in Britain, their ancestors are a combination of indigenous Middle Age pack horses known as “Chapman” crossbred initially with Andalusian and Barb blood then later with Arabians and Thoroughbreds.  Interestingly, CB’s have been used in the creation of the Hanoverian, Holstein, and Oldenburg infusing these breeds with their stamina, strength and jumping ability.  The most desirable cross with a purebred Cleveland is the Thoroughbred producing a competitive sporthorse.  Clevelands are easily recognizable uniformly stamping their descendents in color and disposition over the centuries.  Strict breed standards are overseen by the parent registry in Great Britain, the Cleveland Bay Horse Society, founded in 1884, which published its first Studbook in September of that year.  All Cleveland Bays are registered in Great Britain and issued an equine passport.  Purebred prospects for registration must be sired by a Licensed Cleveland Bay stallion and registered purebred Cleveland Bay mare while partbreds must have at least one great grandparent in the full CBHS Studbook.  

The Cleveland Bay Standard of Points makes note of the general characteristics and prepotent traits of the CB.  Regarding height purebreds average 16.0 to 16.3 hh while partbreds can be in the 17.0 hh range.  As the name implies, registered horses are to be bay with black points and white, other than a small star, is outside Breed standards.  The body is strong, muscular and well-conformed with ground covering strides.  Nine inches of cannon bone is common with superb blue-black hooves that are a farrier’s dream.  Clevelands have a bold head with a kind eye and are noted for their large expressive ears.  These horses generally reach peak maturity around the age of six or seven.  As part of an ongoing effort to preserve the breed, the entire CBHS Studbook has been entered into a software program called SPARKS designed to guide captive breeding programs for the world’s most rare and endangered species.  This enables breeders to avoid inbreeding of rare lines and promote ideal genetic matings.  Additionally, there is an ongoing genetic variation study underway at the Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences at Texas A & M University.

First bred to produce a dependable market cart horse they evolved into saddle horses over time that could carry their masters in the hunt field and pull the family coach when needed.  In the modern era Clevelands are talented sport horses competing as driving, eventing, hunter, jumper and dressage horses from the lower levels to FEI and Olympic venues.  They continue to excel as field hunters especially in the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic states where they were first imported into this country in the early nineteenth century.  Gentle and kind Clevelands are equally at home as the family pleasure horse.  The saving of the Cleveland Bay breed involves the effort of many people working on two continents an ocean apart.  The Cleveland Bay Horse Society of North America began in 1885 closely assimilating the values of the CBHS of Great Britain registering 2000 stallions and mares by 1907.  However, the same fate of war and industrial advances affected the population on this continent as in Europe.  In the 1930’s due to the efforts of Alexander Mackay-Smith, noted horseman from Virginia, Clevelands experienced a brief revival when he imported breeding stock for hunters.  Today there are approximately 180 pure Clevelands in the United States and Canada with a global population of purebred individuals numbering around 700.  They remain on critical endangered status of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust in England and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy critical list.

Founded by the late Thomas C. H. Webster and his wife, Marilyn Webster, IdleHour Stud in St. Thomas, Pennsylvania, has played a pivotal role in the resurgence in modern times of the Cleveland Bay in North America with their famous sire, *Ramblers Renown (now deceased).  Here I offer Marilyn’s description, in her own words, of how they became involved with this breed of horse.

“The history of IdleHour had its beginning in our friendship with Alexander Mackay-Smith.  I mentioned to Alex that my husband, Tom, was interested in standing a stallion and he said, “I’ll show you the stallion you want!  He is a Cleveland Bay owned by Lord Townshend in Middleburg.”  *Ramblers Renown had been imported from England by the Townshend’s to cross on Lady Townshend’s Arab mares for size and substance – a logical cross as the Arabian appears in the foundation breeding of the Cleveland Bay.  Lady Townshend had succumbed to cancer before she fulfilled her dream.  An appointment to see *Rambler was quickly made.  I watched *Rambler being ridden then climbed aboard for a bit of flat work and a few fences.  It was a sealed deal at that moment and in 1989 *Ramblers Renown became IdleHour’s foundation sire as well as North America’s leading sire of Cleveland Bays.

The next project was importing a band of seven pure Cleveland Bay mares for our stunning sire from the Rambler Stud in the United Kingdom.  These mares represented all of the mare lines present in the UK at that time.  Simultaneously, *Ramblers Richard Lionheart, a pure CB yearling colt, was imported as an outcross for the *Ramblers Renown mares.  Following that, I went to Texas A & M to learn Equine Reproduction preparing for breeding live cover, artificial insemination, culturing, and semen shipment.  Now it was time to help with the reorganization of the Cleveland Bay Horse Society of North America.  We could not effectively promote a stallion without a strong breed association.  The original punters were Jane Scott, Penny DePeyer, Wendy Forbes, BJ Field, Faye Mulvey, Alex, Tom and myself.  Hope I have not forgotten anyone . . .The first showing of our Cleveland Bays was Dressage at Devon closely followed by Dressage at Lexington.  *Rambler competed successfully in Eventing winning at the Novice level in Lexington.  Then it was a clean sweep of Rose Tree, Elkridge-Harford and Beaufort Hunter Trials.  In the meantime, *Rambler had been foxhunted and qualified for Hunt Night at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show where he lead the Plum Run Hunt team followed by two of his daughters, IdleHour Slippers and IdleHour Firefly.  I eventually trained in England as a Cleveland Bay Inspector and recently qualified as an Equine Appraiser for the ASEA.  Currently, IdleHour now stands IdleHour Yorktown, QA, and *Ramblers Richard Lionheart.  In 2009, IdleHour Yorktown was CB Hunter Reserve Champion for the Virginia/Maryland series bested by his daughter, IdleHour Muthaiga, as Champion.  *Ramblers Richard Lionheart is the sire of IdleHour Nakuru, Cleveland Bay Dressage Champion, out of IdleHour Kiwi (*Ramblers Renown).”

Once owned rarely parted with influences the availability of young stock when considering a Cleveland prospect.  Green youngsters are most often available to the rider looking to mount up immediately as CB’s with more under saddle skill are less likely to be up for sale being so prized by their owners.  It is well worth the effort to bring along a Cleveland and those new to the breed often become afficionados for life purchasing more than one of these special horses in their riding careers.  I feel one of the most marketable attributes of a CB is their ability to fill a special niche in partnering with the adult amateur equestrian facing the challenge of a mid-life search for a new mount that is affordable, reliable, comfortable to ride and eye-catching – these equines come equipped with proven capability in the showring but also sanity elsewhere.  Cleveland Bays while not always sporting the “largesse” of size and movement seen by European Warmbloods possess the more distinctive quality of a willingness to please with forward gaits and an intelligence I have experienced as close to human in reasoning out new information when it is presented.  Coupled with their elevated level of intelligence comes the challenge to the rider of working with a tendency to occasional stubbornness.  For the self-assured rider this poses no problem and, in my case, I find it refreshing to work with a horse of personality.  Highly trainable with an enjoyment in learning is not an exaggerated statement in referring to a Cleveland Bay.  Forio’s trainer, Nancy Lewis-Stanton, has often said to me, “he is the easiest horse in the barn to teach and I look forward to my time riding him because we have such fun learning together!”  A prime example of the CB attitude toward life can be made in comparing their response to startling new stimuli versus the usual equine “fight or flight” reaction – Clevelands typically stand their ground evaluating the situation then look to their rider for a signal.  They are bred to put their trust in humans and not their natural instincts which make them, on average, much more tractable.  These horses present a self-confident exterior with an emotionally sensitive interior disposition that thrives under handler praise and affection.

Since acquiring, IdleHour Forio, I have a new mission helping to spread the word about this marvelous breed of horse that is contributing so much to my life!  I invite you to explore the many possibilities and highlights of potential Cleveland Bay ownership by visiting the Cleveland Bay Horse Society of North America website today.