This page is devoted to half-heavy horses, and particularly to those used for draught work rather than the saddle.
Prominent among them is the Cleveland Bay, which began its career as a packhorse but came to be regarded as an all-purpose farm horse in the northern counties of England. It derives its name from the Cleveland district of Yorkshire, a region so hilly and, until recent times, so primitive that it was poorly provided with roads. The ancestors of the Cleveland Bay carried virtually every commodity, from corn to coal, over the rough tracks by means of panniers.
The Cleveland Bay was then little larger than a pony, but with the construction of roads and the consequent introduction of the stage-coach, it came into great demand as a coach-horse and for this purpose was bred bigger. Later, when coaches were superseded by the railways, it had a new era of popularity as a carriage horse. Large numbers of Cleveland Bays were bred by Yorkshire breeders for the London market, where the best were acquired by the gentry and the others were employed as van horses. The breed therefore tended to split into two types, namely, the tall, handsome animals which fashion demanded, and the short-legged, sturdier type traditionally favoured for farm work.
Eventually, matters being brought to a head by the use of a Thoroughbred stallion whose offspring the Cleveland Bay Horse Society would not admit into its Stud Book, a break-away organization, the Yorkshire Coach Horse Society, was formed in 1886. Yorkshire Coach Horses were bred from Cleveland Bay mares mated with either pure or cross-bred Thoroughbred stallions. They had elegance, speed and quality and enjoyed considerable popularity until the motor-car ousted the carriages to which they were harnessed. The Yorkshire Coach Horse Society endured until 1937, when it was wound up.
The Cleveland Bay Horse Society itself was formed in 1884, though on standards laid down and recognized as early as 1827. The following are the official characteristics:
Height – 15.3 to 16 hands, though height should not disqualify a good sort on short legs.
Colour – “Bright” or “clear” bay, bay, or dark bay (liberally interpreted to include a colour approaching brown, this being admissible though not correct). Light bay with black points, i.e. black legs, mane and tail. Grey hairs in mane and tail do not disqualify. White is not admissible beyond a very small star.
Body – The body should be wide and deep. The back should not be too long, and should be strong, with muscular loins. The shoulders should be sloping, deep and muscular. The quarters should be level, powerful and oval, the tail springing well from the quarters.
Head and Neck – The head, characteristic of the breed, is often rather large and should be well carried on a rather long, lean neck (like a rag on a stick).
Limbs – The arms, thighs and second thighs should be muscular. Knees and hocks large and well closed. There should be upwards of nine inches of bone below the knee. Ankles neat, clean and not too big. Legs clear of all superfluous hair, and as clean and hard as possible.
Action – High action is not characteristic of the breed. Clevelands, being full of courage, will Hex the knees and hocks. The action is free all round, getting over the ground and fitting the wear-and-tear qualities of the breed.
Prepotency – The breed excels in the capacity of impressing upon the produce of its own good qualities, character and colour.
Activity and Strength – It excels all other draught breeds in its combination of strength with activity, due to the association of the highest quality of bone and muscle with courage and stamina; the test being that it can do more work at a greater pace, or at any pace, over a given period than any other draught breed.
General Utility – It is the most economical animal for the farm, being equal to every kind of work, eats less than any other agricultural breed, wears less shoe-iron, has a hardiness and robustness of constitution without compare, and has extraordinary vitality and longevity.
Grading Up – As a cross, it “grades” other breeds by adding bone, substance and size to lighter animals, without deterioration to quality and activity. It adds activity, endurance, courage and hardiness to heavier breeds without deterioration to size and substance, giving quality to bone and muscle.
Supporters of the four heavy breeds may find the claims made under the final three headings hard to digest. In particular, it would be interesting to stage some trials to determine which of all the heavy and half-heavy breeds can do “the most work at the greatest pace in any given period”. Nevertheless, we can accept that the Cleveland Bay is a splendid horse, capable of responding to any demands made upon it in the course of the work it is normally asked to do.
As with other breeds, the Cleveland Bay lost ground after the coming of the petrol engine. It became concentrated in its original territory of North Yorkshire, where a group of loyal breeders kept it flourishing, though now it has a number of studs elsewhere, including that of the late Captain L. Edmunds, of Cholderton, Salisbury, which was, until its owner’s death in 1973, the longest established stud in the country. In 1974 the Society had 26 stallions on its list, which was a record for recent years. Nineteen foals and 2 grading register fillies were admitted to the Stud Book during the year. At the Wetherby Horse Sales, at which Cleveland Bays feature twice a year (in May and October) 10 horses changed hands at the May sales, with a top price of £1,522.50, and 7 pure-breds with 11 part-breds at the
October sales. Foals fetched from 240 to 1,000 guineas, for pure-bred animals. In spite of this healthy trade, the number of pure-bred Cleveland Bays is now so limited that special arrangements have been made to avoid the pitfalls of too much in-breeding.
The breed is perhaps stronger overseas than in Britain today. The United States in particular has an active Cleveland Bay Horse Society, based largely on stock imported during the last three decades of the nineteenth century, when the transatlantic trade reached its zenith, though there have been other subsequent peaks and the traffic still continues. There is also a breed society in Australia. Other countries in which the Cleveland Bay is in strong demand include Pakistan, Brazil, Spain and Japan. In most overseas countries, however, it is employed chiefly to improve the quality of local breeds, which, although a compliment, tends to put a strain on the limited numbers of pure-bred stock available. And in Yorkshire a number of potential pure-breds are still being lost by the practice of mating Cleveland Bay mares with Thoroughbred stallions to produce the best type of hunter.
Until the eighteenth century horses were classified by type, according to the work expected of them. The aristocrats of the horse world were always the riding horses, which carried the wealthy. We have noted that the Great Horse of Europe had its origins in the need for a powerful animal to carry a knight in full armour. Then the fashion veered to lighter, speedier and more elegant horses, in the breeding of which Arabs and Barbs played a dominant role. The demand for a superb racehorse produced the English Thoroughbred. In America local needs resulted in the evolution of such breeds as the American Saddle-horse, the American Quarterhorse, the Palomino, the Pinto, the Tennessee Walking-Horse and others. The Cleveland Bay, as described above, for a time fulfilled the demand for a strong coach-horse but was later ousted to some extent by the Yorkshire Coach-horse, whose breeders, unlike those who remained faithful to the pure-bred Cleveland, did not mind introducing Thoroughbred blood.
Side by side with these specialist demands existed the perennial need for a working-horse, sufficiently versatile to undertake saddle, pack-saddle and draught work. In such a role, the Cleveland Bay excelled. While the best progeny of the breed found their way to London and other large towns to be employed as coach-horses, the average and undistinguished specimens stayed at home to work in the lanes and fields. And many a sprightly coach-horse went back home, when past its prime, to finish its day working on the land.
Although they are not strictly heavy horses, we here take note of half-heavy breeds (a term which eliminates the smaller ponies) which were, and in some instances still are, regarded as multi-purpose and which have been called upon to do much of the work that, perhaps ideally, is done by heavy horses.
A splendid horse of this type in Britain is the Cob (which is not a breed but a type), and especially the Welsh Cob. The latter animal is indeed of two types, one mainly a riding animal which seems to be commonest in North and Central Wales, and one a heavier horse bred chiefly for draught work. Although the standard type of Welsh Cob is clean-legged, the draught type is often well feathered about the feet, showing probable Shire influence. It was developed for haulage work in and around the pits, as well as for general farm purposes. The Welsh Cob can either carry or pull enormous weights and has a fairly fast natural pace. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it was widely used by mounted infantry and for pack work in the army.
Cobs in general have heavy, deep, well-rounded bodies and stand from 14.2 to 15.2 hands. They have powerful chests and quarters, immense stamina and a docile nature. In the past their tails were traditionally docked, a practice now prohibited.
We should also not forget the Dales Pony, which is a stocky animal up to about 14.2 hands, thus taking over from the Cob at that height. It has had at some time a sizeable infusion of cart-horse blood, probably Clydesdale, which have made it larger and heavier than the rather similar Fell Pony, with which it was once identical. The extra size and weight were needed to perform the all-purpose duties which were required of these animals in the hilly country of northern England. Not only did they do most of the draught work on the small hill farms but they were also in strong demand for pulling tradesmen’s carts and vans in city streets. At one time, too, they were extensively used as pack-horses, for carrying ore from mines to processing plants and docks. It is said that the normal weight carried was 16 stone on either side of the body. Being bred in a somewhat exacting climate, they are hardy and tough, but they are also easily broken in and willing to work.
The same conditions that led to the development ofthe half-heavy British breeds were duplicated on the Continent, though in most countries breeding was consciously influenced by rulers and governments with military needs very much in mind. Typical was the Polish Half-bred, which usually had an English Thoroughbred as a sire and a local mare as a dam. The prime purpose in breeding the Polish Half-bred was to provide mounts for the Polish Army, which demanded a horse of quality, endurance, good temperament and ability to rough it, standing about 15.2 hands. As with English half-heavy horses, however, the needs of agriculture were also borne in mind, and most second-grade horses found employment on farms.
Germany had, or rather has, several breeds that are similarly dual-purpose. Examples are the Holstein, the Hanoverian, the Mecklenburg and the Oldenburg. The Holstein was frequently employed as an artillery horse and, in times of peace, as a hunter and riding horse. On farms it did light draught work. It owed much to the Yorkshire Coach-horse but less to pure-bred Thoroughbred stallions. At one time it had a lively export trade to South America.
The Hanoverian is directly descended from the Great Horse of Europe, but much refined and lightened by the introduction of Thoroughbred and Arab blood, mostly from England in the reigns of the first four Georges. It has developed two types, the lighter specializing in riding animals, the heavier for harness work.
The Mecklenburg is very similar, both in history and present status, but the Oldenburg is, in general, larger and heavier, sometimes standing over 17 hands. Though bred in somewhat the same way, it is not a particularly handsome horse and is said to lack stamina, but it is strong, hefty and has a distinct asset in its early maturity so can be regarded as a useful general-purpose breed.
Of much superior quality is the Trackehnen breed, which dominated the horse-breeding scene in East Prussia prior to the Second World War. Its name is derived from the Trackehnen Stud, founded by King William I of Prussia in 1732 for the purpose ofbreeding superb horses, particularly for the Army. Enormous numbers were bred annually in the days before motor transport, and the Trackehnens have influenced most of the half-heavy breeds of Europe. Naturally, this is primarily a riding horse, but it is bred extensively by farmers who find a use for many of the progeny on their farms.
Over the border in the eastern provinces of the Netherlands live two rather similar breeds, the Gelderland and the Groningen, which, like the above-mentioned German breeds, have been evolved by the use of Thoroughbred and similar stallions on local heavy horses. Both now stand at 15.2 to 16 hands and produce a popular farm horse, useful for both harness work and for riding. Both are claimed to be docile and thrifty. In spite of their size and weight, they have a splendid action and show their quality well in the ring.
Another Dutch breed, noted for its always being black (though occasionally with a very-small star in its forehead), its the Friesian. Other attractive characteristics are its flowing mane and tail. It is a multi-purpose breed, in general use for farm work but also often pressed into service for drawing vans, traps and gigs. It has a quiet, placid disposition but moves well and is not slow.
In Sweden the most widely-used farm horse is the Swedish Ardennes, descended from horses of the Ardennes breed imported early in the nineteenth century. The northern parts of the country, however, have a draught horse known as the North Swedish Horse, based on local ponies up-graded by imported stallions. Breeds used for the purpose included the English Thoroughbred, the Anglo-Norman, the Oldenburg and the Hanoverian. They are half-heavy horses bred for light draught work on farm and in forest.
The Anglo-Norman, bred chiefly in Normandy, is a horse of very mixed origins. Early in the Middle Ages it was represented by the Norman war horse but later deteriorated through some indiscriminate crossing. Later still English Thoroughbreds and Arabs were brought in to improve it, and one type of the breed developed as a popular trotting horse. This characteristic served it well when employed as a coach-horse on the excellent paved roads of nineteenth-century France. It has been widely used as a military horse, for both riding and harness, and also for sport, but the heavier types have always lived out their lives on the farms.