As long ago as the Middle Ages, a bay-colored pack-horse was bred in the northeast quarter of Yorkshire's North Riding, an area that includes Cleveland. It was known as the Chapman Horse because it carried the wares of the chapmen, who were the merchants, traveling salesmen and carriers of the day.
The Chapman Horse was the foundation for the modern Cleveland Bay, later influenced by infusions of Spanish blood. There were numerous Andalusians in Northeast England in the latter part of the seventeenth century and there was also the Barb, for there was much trafficking between the Barbary Coast of North Africa and the northeast sea ports.
From this amalgam, was bred, without recourse to either cart, or in later times, Thoroughbred blood, a powerful, clean-legged horse able, as none other, to work heavy clay lands and to haul considerable loads; a horse that could carry heavy men out hunting and was a notable jumper. Above all, of course, it was a coach horse unsurpassed by any other up to the reign of George II.
With the arrival of the paved roads, the Cleveland Bay was judged too slow for coaches able to travel at an average speed of 8-10mph. As a result, the Yorkshire Coach Horse, a Thoroughbred/Cleveland cross, came into being. The Yorkshire Coach Horse's stud book was only closed in 1936 when it was, to all intents, extinct.
The head of the Cleveland Bay still displays some characteristics that are reminiscent of the Andalusian, although these features are not so notable in the modern Andalusians as they were in his Renaissance ancestors. The sometimes covex profile, which in former days was termed "ram-like" or "hawk-like", is a typical characteristic of Spanish stock. The modern Cleveland Bay, though lighter than its predecessors, is especially powerful in its neck and through the shoulder. Although a powerful horse, the Cleveland Bay is remarkably active. The bone measurement below the knee in 9" or more. When mature, at 6 or 7 years old, the measurement from wither to elbow equals or exceeds that from elbow to ground. Clean legs, without feather, are an essential feature of this horse. They allow the breed to work in the heavy clay of Northeast England and to jump out of some of the most deep going to be found in any hunting country. The Cleveland Bay is always bay with black points. Most Cleveland Bays stand between 16 and 16.2hh.
Reference: The Ultimate Horse Book; Elwyn Hartley Edwards; 1991
The Cleveland Bay Horse Society
Background and reference photo courtesy of The Cleveland Bay Horse Society