Cleveland Bay: Horse Breed Profile

Training, Grooming, and Care Tips

Cleveland Bay and woman standing in a pasture

Tim Graham / Getty Images 

With its distinctive coat color and noble appearance, it’s common to find the Cleveland Bay serving in the Royal Mews, competing in a driving class, or being ridden under saddle. This versatile breed has been in existence for centuries, but with a decline in its numbers, this breed is now highly rare. Thanks to the work of Queen Elizabeth II and other breeders, the Cleveland Bay’s numbers are climbing, and hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy these horses for centuries to come.

Breed Overview

Weight: 1,200 to 1,500 pounds

Height: 16 to 16.2 hands

Body Type: Well-muscled and with significant bone

Best For: Driving, riding, and sport

Life Expectancy: 25 years

Cleveland Bay History and Origins

The Cleveland Bay has a rich history and holds the distinction of being the oldest breed native to England. The breed originated in the Cleveland and North Riding of Yorkshire areas, hence its name. The Chapman Horse, a pack horse, was crossed with Spanish horses in the mid-1600’s. After 1661, the Barb also contributed to the breed’s development.

By the 1700s, the breed type of the Cleveland Bay was established, and this breed was exported through Europe and influenced many other breeds. The Cleveland Bay became a heavier, well-muscled horse favored for agricultural use. However, as speed in transportation became more important, Thoroughbred and Arabians were introduced to create a lighter Cleveland bay better suited as a coach horse.

In 1883, the British Cleveland Bay Horse Society was founded. During the 1800s, many Cleveland Bays were exported to countries including the United States, India, New Zealand, and Australia.

This breed influenced American horse history, too. These horses were first imported to states including Maryland, Virginia, and Massachusetts, where they gained popularity. Colonel Richard Henry Dulaney, who lived in Virginia and who was so proud of his Cleveland Bay horses, created the Upperville Colt & Horse Show in 1884 to showcase his Cleveland Bays. In 1885, the Cleveland Horse Society of America was created, and an American stud book was established.

Britain equipped its cavalry with Cleveland Bays before the First World War, but many horses were lost during the war. Britain established an initiative to encourage the breeding of these horses to replenish their numbers. With increased mechanization and the Great Depression, the breed’s popularity and numbers dropped again.

Queen Elizabeth II purchased a stallion, Mulgrave Supreme, who was one of just four purebred stallions left in the UK by 1962. In doing so, she saved the breed, helping to gradually replenish its numbers. Interest in these horses gradually increased, and they were used in international driving competitions and as riding horses. Cleveland Bays and crosses proved to be highly talented jumpers, and while interest in the breed has returned, its numbers are still minimal.

Cleveland Bay Horse Size

This is a larger breed typically standing between 16 and 16.2 hands high. They usually weigh between 1,200 and 1,500, thanks to their thick bone structure and significant muscling.

Cleveland Bay competing cross country in eventing
Tim Graham / Getty Images 

Breeding and Uses

This breed is still extremely rare, with only 500 to 800 of these horses living today. The breed is often crossed with Thoroughbreds to create sporty, athletic horses that are ideal for show jumping and hunting.

Today, the Cleveland Bay serves in the Royal Mews in London, pulling coaches for special events. The future of this breed depends on the work of breeders who are dedicated to preserving the Cleveland Bay.

A Cleveland Bay competing in a horse show under saddle
 Tim Graham / Getty Images

Colors and Markings

The Cleveland Bay always has a bay coat with black points, including lower legs that are completely black. Horses come in a variety of bays, including the most preferred bright bay, as well as the dark bay and light bay. Horses may have a small white star on the forehead, but the stud book will not register horses with any other white markings on the body.

Cleveland Bay competing in a showjumping class in a horse show
 Tim Graham / Getty Images

Unique Characteristics of the Cleveland Bay

The Cleveland Bay’s coat color is a distinctive characteristic, but this breed is also known for its strength and stamina. In fact, the Cleveland Bay helped to create the Oldenburg and improve the Holstein and Hanoverian because of its desirable traits.

Diet and Nutrition

Cleveland Bays are often easy keepers, and with their naturally heavier stature, it can be important to monitor their diets to keep them at an appropriate weight. These horses may do just fine living at pasture, though horses in heavy work may benefit from hay and grain supplementation. Any horse that’s an easy keeper will need attentive care to help prevent excessive weight gain and the health issues that can result.

Common Health and Behavior Problems

This breed is known for being well-mannered and agreeable, making for easy training.

The Cleveland Bay may be susceptible to health issues that can occur in easy keepers, like the worsening of arthritis and the potential for founder.


This breed will benefit from regular, thorough grooming. Currying can help to stimulate circulation and bring the coat’s natural oils to the surface for a beautiful shiny coat. Grooming sessions also give owners a chance to carefully monitor a horse’s health. Most Cleveland Bays are shown with pulled manes, which may be braided. Keeping up with mane pulling can make for easier show preparation.

While Cleveland Bays tend to have strong, healthy hooves, regular farrier care is still important.

  • Strong horse with significant bone

  • Well-mannered and agreeable

  • Versatile

  • Rare and difficult to find

  • Crosses tend to be better than purebreds for highly athletic sports

Champion and Celebrity Cleveland Bay Horses

Tregoyd Journeyman, a Cleveland Bay stallion, served as inspiration for a Breyer model horse in 2006.

Various Cleveland Bay crosses have completed in the Olympics, and Cleveland Bays and crosses continue to serve in the Royal Mews today.

Is the Cleveland Bay Right for You?

The Cleveland Bay can make a great riding or driving horse, and its strength and athleticism makes it a versatile addition to any stable. These horses are strong enough to carry heavy adults. With their agreeable temperaments and high degrees of trainability, Cleveland Bays can succeed in many avenues.

While there are plenty of benefits to this breed, Cleveland Bays are more expensive than similar breeds. Be prepared to spend $10,000 or more on a purebred, trained horse; prices can reach $20,000 or $30,000. Cleveland Bay crosses and sport horses may bring lower prices.

How to Adopt or Buy a Cleveland Bay

Because the Cleveland Bay is so rare, it may be difficult to find purebred horses for sale. It’s more common to find Cleveland Bay crosses and sporthorses in the United States, so if you have your heart set on a purebred, be prepared to pay a higher price and to likely ship the horse across multiple states. It may be possible to find a purebred Cleveland Bay from a breeder or a private seller, but be prepared to be patient, since these horses are few and far between.

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