The Cleveland Bay is a rare warmblood horse breed, native to England. Unlike modern warmblood breeds, which have open studbooks and significant Thoroughbred influences, the Cleveland Bay has been genetically distinct for centuries.

Named for their characteristic bay colouring and origins in the Cleveland district of Yorkshire, these horses descend from the extinct Chapman pack horses of Medieval England. Today, the Cleveland Bay is a critically endangered breed.

Royal patronage saved these talented driving and sport horses from extinction in the 20th century. While population management tools and careful breeding decisions have improved genetic diversity, the small worldwide population of Cleveland Bays is a significant concern for the preservation of the breed.

This breed profile will review the history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the Cleveland Bay horse. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for these horses.

Cleveland Bay Horse History

While there are several native pony and draft breeds with long histories in the British Isles, the Cleveland Bay is the oldest English warmblood breed. The modern type of Cleveland Bays emerged in the 18th century, but the breed’s history goes back to the Middle Ages.

Origin

Cleveland Bays descend from pack horses bred by Monastic houses in Northeast England. These houses operated the region’s most prominent horse breeding programs during the Middle Ages.

The Cleveland Bay’s pack horse ancestors transported goods between monasteries, abbeys, and churches in the Yorkshire Dales during the Middle Ages. Travelling merchants in medieval England were called chapmen, and the horses eventually became known as Chapman horses.

Genetic studies suggest breeders crossed Chapman mares with imported Turkmen stallions to produce the original Cleveland Bay. The cross produced a powerful horse that quickly gained popularity in the local countryside and beyond. [1]

Breeding programs designed to produce an agricultural type of Cleveland Bay increased the size and build of the breed over the next century. But when roads improved in the late 18th century, breeding focused on developing a lighter and flashier Yorkshire coach horse.

The modern Cleveland Bay name originates from the Cleveland Vale of Yorkshire. Centuries of breeding concentrated the bay colour of a reddish-brown coat with black points. Despite outside influences on the breed, bay coats were considered a sign of purity. [1]

Historic Use

Original Cleveland Bays produced by crossing Chapman horses with imported stallions were versatile agricultural horses used for draft work, riding, and driving in the English countryside.

The more refined Cleveland Bays worked extensively as carriage horses. Yorkshire coach horses gained popularity throughout England and were exported worldwide. [2]

Colonel Richard Henry Dulaney imported Cleveland Bays to North America. Dulaney founded the Upperville Colt and Horse Show in 1853, the oldest horse show in America. The hunter/jumper show still features Cleveland Bay classes today.

Other famous fans of the breed in North America included Buffalo Bill, who used a team of four Cleveland Bay stallions in his Wild West Show.

British Cavalry officers rode Cleveland Bays in the First World War, but advances in weaponry soon made cavalry horses obsolete and led to a significant decline of breeding stock. The decline continued after World War II until only four purebred stallions remained in the UK in 1962. [3]

Queen Elizabeth II helped preserve the breed in Great Britain by purchasing the stallion Mulgrave Supreme before his export to an American buyer. Interest in the breed as a sport horse gradually increased, leading to renewed efforts to preserve the Cleveland Bay’s heritage.

Breed Registry

The Cleveland Bay Horse Society (CBHS) published its first stud book in 1884. Some pedigrees in the first studbook trace back to 1723. But many founding lines were lost before 1971 when the Rare Breed Survival Trust recognized the breed as endangered. [3]

Founded in 1885, the Cleveland Bay Horse Society of North America maintains census data on all purebred and part-bred Cleveland Bays in the United States and Canada. The 2023 census recorded a total population of only 219 purebred Cleveland Bays in North America. [4]

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Breed Characteristics

The official breed registries for Cleveland Bays established breed standards that describe the ideal characteristics of purebred horses. These characteristics help the breed excel as a sport horse in many modern equestrian disciplines.

Conformation

Most Cleveland Bays stand between 16 and 16.2 hands tall. Their conformation should have well-balanced height, weight, and bone. The general appearance conveys activity and strength.

The ideal Cleveland Bay has a broad, deep body with a short back and muscular loins. Sloping shoulders and long quarters enable powerful movement. Their motion is true, free, and straight.

These horses also have bold heads carried on long muscular necks. Round, convex muzzles known as “Roman noses” are common. Their ears are large but refined, and their eyes are well-set and expressive.

Muscular legs, broad joints, and good bone promote soundness in the breed. The pastern is sloping but not too long. Narrow or shallow feet are undesirable.

Colours

All Cleveland Bays have bay coats with black points. Their manes, tails, and legs are also black. Bright bay horses with reddish tints in their coat are preferred. Dark bays, light bays, and ordinary bays are also seen. Horses with red legs are rare.

Hooves are dark-coloured. White markings beyond a small star and a few white hairs on the heel are prohibited. However, grayish hairs in the mane and tail are a common breed characteristic.

Temperament

Cleveland Bays have docile temperaments and sensible personalities. These traits make the breed more suitable for timid riders than hotter warmbloods, but personality can vary between individual horses.

Many Cleveland Bay owners find these horses are intelligent and willing equine partners. Their breeding prioritized producing mannerly coach hoses with the work ethic and amiability to work long hours in teams pulling carriages.

Disciplines

Cleveland Bays are versatile horses suited for a variety of disciplines. The breed is still a popular driving horse today for competition and recreation. Cleveland Bays are also frequently found in the British Royal Mews and are used to pull royal carriages in ceremonies and parades.

Like other warmbloods, Cleveland Bays excel as English sport horses. Cleveland Bays with mixed lineage competed in show jumping in the 1964, 1968, and 1976 Olympics. Other popular disciplines for the breed include dressage, eventing, and hunting.

Cleveland Bay Horse Health

Cleveland Bays were developed to be hardy and long-lived horses. While decreasing genetic diversity and inbreeding threaten the health of future generations, strategic breeding management and proper care can support efforts to conserve the breed.

Genetic Diversity

Thanks to centuries of pure bloodlines, Cleveland Bay horses are genetically distinct from many modern breeds affected by common genetic diseases. However, the purity of their bloodlines now threaten the future survival of the breed. [1]

Research studies reveal that Cleveland Bays have less genetic diversity than most other horse breed, due to a genetic bottleneck in the breed during the mid-20th century. [1] Genetic bottlenecks result from a sharp decrease in the breeding population size, often leading to inbreeding and increased vulnerability to diseases.

One study found that 50% of the genome in the UK Cleveland Bay population derives from just three ancestors, demonstrating a high degree of inbreeding. [5]

Small populations with limited genetic diversity have an increased risk of health disorders and are often more susceptible to environmental stresses and diseases.

To maintain genetic diversity in the breed, the CBHS used pedigree analysis as part of their breeding management program. Over a 16 year period, this program reduced the rate of inbreeding from 3% to less than 0.5% per generation. [3]

Health Problems

Cleveland Bays are susceptible to the same health problems that commonly affect equine athletes. Many of these conditions are associated with increased stress and high-energy diets.

Gastric ulcers and other digestive problems are common in horses in regular training, including Cleveland Bays. Poor digestive health can impact other aspects of equine wellness and performance by causing discomfort and interfering with nutrient absorption. [6][7]

Intense exercise can also increase wear and tear on joints and worsen degenerative joint disease in Cleveland Bay hoses. Repetitive strain can lead to arthritis and lameness in performance horses.

These horses are also at risk of athletic injuries affecting their bones, tendons, and ligaments. [8]

Care and Management

Whether your Cleveland Bay is a performance horse or not, all horses need quality basic care that meets their physical and behavioural needs.

Owners should work with their veterinarian to develop an annual wellness program that includes the following:

Your Cleveland Bay also need regular hoof care from a qualified farrier, including frequent trimming to maintain hoof balance. Some Cleveland Bays may need to wear shoes for extra protection.

A daily grooming routine is also important to keep this breed’s iconic bay coat healthy and shiny. Grooming not only promotes circulation to the muscles but also prevents moisture and debris buildup on the coat, which can lead to skin irritations.

Performance horses often live inside, but excessive stall confinement can be stressful and contribute to health problems. If your Cleveland Bay lives in a stall, ensure he gets daily turnout to help reduce stress and provide social interaction. [6]

Cleveland Bay Horse Nutrition

Nutrition plays a significant role in maintaining the health and well-being of Cleveland Bays and other performance horses. A balanced diet can also support reproductive success in endangered breeds.

Weight Maintenance

Cleveland Bay horses are typically average keepers. While some of these horses may need extra energy in their diet to support heavy exercise, most can easily maintain weight on a balanced diet.

This breed does not have the same predisposition to equine metabolic syndrome as other native British breeds. However, Cleveland Bays that are overweight or obese have a higher risk of joint issues.

You should regularly monitor your horse’s body condition to track weight changes and adjust their diet as needed. An ideal body condition is represented by a score of 5 on the 9-point Henneke body condition scale.

If you notice sudden weight changes in your horse, contact your veterinarian to investigate for any underlying medical problem.s Unexpected weight loss could indicate digestive health issues, such as gastric ulcers, in Cleveland Bays.

Sample Diet

The following sample diet is intended for a mature 660 kg (1,450 lb) Cleveland Bay horse with normal body condition at maintenance (not exercising).

Feed Amount per day
Mid-Quality Hay (8% crude protein) Free-choice
Salt 30 g (2 tbsps)
Omneity Pellets 250 g (2.5 scoops)
Diet Analysis
Digestible Energy (% of Req) 105%
Protein (% of Req) 127%
HC (ESC + starch; % Diet) 8.8%

 

Mad Barn’s Omneity vitamin and mineral supplement is added to this sample diet to address nutrient deficiencies commonly seen in forage-based diets. Omneity is formulated with higher-quality organic trace minerals, complete B-vitamin fortification, essential amino acids, and yeast to support digestive health.

Feeding Omneity ensures your horse receives a balanced diet with adequate nutrients to support hoof health, joint function, the immune system and exercise performance. Omneity contains no added starch or sugar, making it ideal for supporting metabolic health in average keepers, such as Cleveland Bays.

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Forage

Cleveland Bays should eat a forage-based diet with free-choice access to forage to support digestive health.

The amount of forage your horse needs is calculated based on their body weight, physiological status and activity level. Typically, horses are expected to consume roughly 2% of their body weight in forage per day on a dry matter basis. [10]

Based on this, the average 660 kg (1,450 lb) Cleveland Bay is expected to consume approximately 13 kg (29 lb) of hay daily. Average quality, low-starch, low-sugar grass hay is a good option for these horses. Starch and sugar (ESC) are collectively known as hydrolyzable carbohydrates. This fraction is digested in the small intestine and can stimulate insulin secretion, unlike non-structural carbohydrates (NSC) which has components that have no effect on insulin.

Cleveland Bays in heavy work may need their diet supplemented with energy-dense alfalfa hay to help meet their calorie and protein needs. [11]

Horses at maintenance or in light work may gain excess weight with unrestricted access to high-quality forages. Overweight horses may need forage restricted to 1.5% of body weight and hay provided in slow feeders to prolong their access to forage.

Full-time pasture turnout on lush grasses can contribute to weight gain and an increased risk of laminitis in Cleveland Bays. Consider using a grazing muzzle to regulate grass intake or turning your horse out on a dry lot with lower quality hay.

Feeding Recommendations

Cleveland Bays that are not in heavy work likely do not need commercial feeds. Overfeeding high-starch grains contributes to digestive health issues and other concerns in horses.

Instead of a ration balancer or complete feed, consider using forage cubes or beet pulp as fibre-based carriers for any nutritional supplements in your Cleveland Bay’s diet.

Our nutritionists recommend adding 3 – 4 tablespoons of plain loose salt directly to your Cleveland Bay’s daily ration. Feeding loose salt encourages hydration and helps meet your horse’s nutritional requirement for sodium, a nutrient that is commonly deficient in equine diets.

In additional to alfalfa hay, Cleveland Bays in heavy work can benefit from fat supplements to provide cool calories and help meet energy requirements. Fat is a superior energy source compared to grain-based concentrates for performance horses.

Feeding fats with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids can also support health in these horses. The omega-3 DHA supports fertility in mares and stallions and may be beneficial for breeding programs focused on preserving this breed. [12][13]

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  • Helps to fight inflammation
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  • Palatable source of Omega-3's

Nutritional Supplements

When formulating a feeding program for your Cleveland Bay horse, the first priority is to balance the overall diet and meet all of your horse’s requirements for energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals. After balancing the diet, you can consider additional supplements to support your horse’s individual needs and performance goals.

  • Visceral+ is a comprehensive gut formula that helps to maintain stomach and hindgut health, and supports the immune system. Performance horses have a high prevalence of stomach issues and can benefit from added gut support to counteract the effects of their stressful lifestyle.
  • MSM is a popular natural joint supplement that supports healthy connective tissue and mobility in horses. This supplement supports the synthesis of collagen in connective tissues and helps to maintain normal control of inflammatory processes.
  • Natural E/Organic Se is a pelleted antioxidant supplement that contain natural vitamin E and selenium yeast in a highly bioavailable form. Exercising horses have higher requirements for vitamin E, and this supplement can help to support immune health, muscle function, and post-exercise care in performance horse.

Looking for personalized guidance on what to feed your Cleveland Bay horse? Submit their diet online for a free consultation with our experienced equine nutritionists to help you formulate a balanced diet.

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References

  1. Khanshour, A. et al. Genetic Characterization of Cleveland Bay Horse Breed. Diversity. 2019.
  2. Moore-Colyer, R. Aspects of Horse Breeding and the Supply of Horses in Victorian Britain. Ag Hist Rev. 1995.
  3. Dell, A. et al. 16 Years of breed management brings substantial improvement in population genetics of the endangered Cleveland Bay Horse. Ecol Evol. 2021.
  4. CBHSNA. Cleveland Bay Census March 2023. CBHSNA. 2023.
  5. Dell, A. et al. Genetic analysis of the endangered Cleveland Bay horse: A century of breeding characterised by pedigree and microsatellite data. PLoS One. 2020.
  6. Cayado, P. et al. Hormone response to training and competition in athletic horses. Equine Vet J. 2010.
  7. Malmkvist, J. et al. Behaviour and stress responses in horses with gastric ulceration. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2012.
  8. Baccarin, R. et al. Osteoarthritis: a common disease that should be avoided in the athletic horse’s life. Anim Front. 2022.
  9. Carslake, H. et al. Equine metabolic syndrome in UK native ponies and cobs is highly prevalent with modifiable risk factors. Equine Vet J. 2020.
  10. Cipriano-Salazar, M. et al. The Dietary Components and Feeding Management as Options to Offset Digestive Disturbances in Horses. J Equine Vet Sci. 2019.
  11. Lybbert, T. et al. Feeding alfalfa hay to exercising horses reduces the severity of gastric squamous mucosal ulceration. Proceed AAEP. 2007.
  12. de Medeiros Ferrera, J.R. et al. Uterine Involution of Mares Supplemented with Dietary Algae-Derived Omega-3 Fatty Acids During the Peripartum Period. J Equine Vet Sci. 2021.
  13. Brinsko, S.P. et al. Effect of feeding a DHA-enriched nutriceutical on the quality of fresh, cooled and frozen stallion semen. Theriogenol. 2005.