The historical beginnings of the breed are from the medieval time, when the churches and monasteries were breeding them in order to maintain a pack horse that is good for carrying goods from one to other monastery in northeast England. They got a nickname Chapman Horse by the traveling people that trade goods to earn profit, known as chapmen. Chapmen mares were crossed with Barb horses, brought from France and Andalusian horses that were bred in the royal stud in Cordoba, Spain.
That was the development of what is now the original Cleveland Bay. These crossbreeding were made during the period between 1685 and 1785 and the type grew bigger, heavier and more draft-like than the todays Cleveland Bay. The conformation of the breed was excellent for the agriculture needs, where strength on farms was required more than speed. Later things have changed, hence a need for a faster horse increased, thus the existing Cleveland Bay was crossed with Thoroughbred and Arabian bloodlines. The result was a horse suited for transportation and mostly used as coach horses. Physically they were lighter and faster, but at the same time strong and heavy in bone with powerful shoulders and well arched neck.
The Cleveland Bay has a large, bold head with slightly convex profile set on a long, well arched and muscled neck. The eyes are large and well set. The withers are well muscled and the chest is deep and wide. Legs are clean, short, but muscular and strong with large knees and hocks. The lower legs have no or little feather, because the breed was developed for work in the heavy clay soils and heavy feather led to diseases. The body is deep and wide the croup is slightly sloping and shoulders are deeply muscled and slopping. The feet are excellent with flat cannon bones and must be blue in color, large and sound.All Cleveland Bay must be bay in color as they gain their name. The most desirable are the reddish, but ordinary bay, dark and light bay are also accepted. Grayish hairs in the mane and tail are considered to be a characteristic for pure blood horse. On the other hand white markings are not allowed and those horses cant be registered in the stud book, accept if they have a small star on the forehead.
A pure bred Cleveland Bay has black points, although horses with red below the knees and hocks are not disqualified from registration. This characteristic appears when a Cleveland Bay mare is crossed with a chestnut Thoroughbred stallion. At the beginning of their development they always had a counter shaded dorsal stripe, but during the 18th century when other blood was added to the breed it disappeared. The Cleveland Bay is a tall horse and its average height is between 16- 17 hands high. They can weigh between 550- 680 kg.The Cleveland Bay horse has a long lifespan. Despite the physical features in the breed standards a new section was added that judged the horse on their abilities of movements, especially at the trot. Horses that have a good trot are also potential good jumpers.