Last week, the topic of discussion was the great English coaching horse breed, the Cleveland Bay. This week will be dicussed the taller, lighter, faster cousin of the Cleveland Bay, the Yorkshire Coach horse. More a Cleveland Bay hybrid than a separate breed, the Yorkshire Coach horse was also often known as the New Cleveland Bay. They quickly became popular with the sporting set to horse their curricles, tilburies, high-perch phaetons and other light-weight vehicles.
A gallop through the annals of the Yorkshire Coach horse …
The favorite boast of the Cleveland Bay breeders was that their horses had "No taint of Black nor Blood." By that, they meant that their horses did not descend from the Old English Black Horse, sometimes called the Lincolnshire Black, nor had the Clevelands any Thoroughbred blood. Which is quite true. There is no evidence that the Cleveland Bay had any crosses from the Old English Black Horse in its ancestry. Probably because the Old English Blacks were centered in the southern counties and it is unlikely any of them made their way as far north as the Vale of Cleveland or the Yorkshire ridings. Nor did the Clevelands carry any Thoroughbred blood in their veins, despite the fact that two of the most important and prolific of the Cleveland stallions in the first half of the eighteenth century were direct descendants of two of the foundation sires of the Thoroughbred line, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian. Both Arabian sires, it should be noted, were bay in color.
Manica was foaled in 1717, the son of the Darley Arabian, while Jalap, the grandson of the Godolphin Arabian, is believed to have been foaled in the 1750s. Both were out of Cleveland Bay mares and were perfect exemplars of the Cleveland Bay breed. Manica and Jalap became the most important sires of the Cleveland Bay breed in England, and one or the other of them, and sometimes both, are found most often in the pedigrees of Cleveland Bays throughout the eighteenth century. Yet, despite the fact that these two stallions were direct descendants of two of the three foundation sires of the Thoroughbred line, the Cleveland breeders boast that their horses contained no “blood,” meaning no Thoroughbred blood, is quite true. Neither Manica nor Jalap carried any Thoroughbred blood, since their sire and grandsire, respectively, were so near the root of the Thoroughbred genealogical tree that they were both more true to the Oriental type horse than they were to what would become the English Thoroughbred.
In fact, the Cleveland Bay breed pre-dates the English Thoroughbred by nearly a century. The characteristics of the Cleveland Bay were fairly well set by the 1680s, while the horse type which became the English Thoroughbred were not fixed until about 1760. Though the foundation sires of the Thoroughbred line had been imported into England in the early decades of the eighteenth century, it took several decades of cross breeding Oriental stallions with English mares to develop the unique breed which came to be known as the Thoroughbred. Coincidentally, like the Cleveland Bay, the English Thoroughbred breed originated in Yorkshire, probably in the Vale of Bedale. Here, breeders crossed the sons and grandsons of the Eastern hot blood stallions with English racing mares, many of them the fleet-footed Yorkshire Galloways, which were believed to carry the blood of the hardy horses which escaped the destruction of the ships of Spanish Armada when they broke up in storms along the northern coast of Britain in 1588.
By the mid-eighteenth century, English Thoroughbred breeders were no longer importing Eastern horses. They had begun to achieve the type of horse with the conformation, speed and stamina which was making a good showing on the race tracks of England. Rather than continuing to introduce additional Oriental blood, they were concentrating on perfecting the breed using the significant stock of races horses with those characteristics already available to them in Britain. Yet it was not until the last decade of the eighteenth century that this breed of horse actually came to be known as a "Thoroughbred." Prior to that time, the term "thoroughbred" was used to refer to people who were well-educated and highly accomplished. The use of the term in that sense died out as the Thoroughbred horse came to prominence as the century came to an end.
As the eighteenth century slipped into the nineteenth, the roadway system of Britain was slowly being expanded. In addition, the various government bodies who controlled those counties through which the roads passed were given the responsibility of ongoing maintenance of their portion of the road surfaces. Cleveland Bays had excelled at pulling heavy coaches over rough terrain at reasonable speeds for more than a century. But with a better maintained and expanded roadway system, the need for sturdy, heavy coaches gave way to the development of light-weight, well-sprung carriages which could be drawn by lighter, flashier, preferably faster, horses. Breeders in Howdenshire, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, began to experiment by crossing Thoroughbreds with Cleveland Bays. In most cases, using a Thoroughbred stallion to cover a Cleveland Bay mare. Typically, they selected the tallest, sturdiest horses of each breed for these crosses, in the hope of increasing the height, and in particular, the length of the leg, in the offspring of these pairings. For the most part, breeders also selected Thoroughbreds who were bay in color, in the hope of producing bay foals, since bay was still the most preferred horse color in England at that time, especially for coach and carriage horses.
Initial breeding efforts had mixed results. The new horses were usually taller, standing between 17 to 17.5 hands when full grown. And most had the longer legs of their Thoroughbred sires. Though many of these half Thoroughbred, half Cleveland Bay foals had great speed, they also retained much of the fractious temperament of their sires, rather than the calm, even temperament and intelligence of their dams. They tended not to be as strong, nor did they have the stamina to work in harness for long hours as did a purebred Cleveland Bay. Some less scrupulous breeders allowed their Cleveland Bay mares to be serviced by chestnut-colored Thoroughbred stallions instead of bays. This could sometimes result in a bay foal with the unacceptable fault of "red legs." Such foals were often bright bay in color, but they did not have the black points of a classic bay, with legs that were black from above the knee to the hoof. These red-legged foals would have legs with the bright bay color right down to their feet. And many of them also had brown rather than the very hard blue-black hooves so prized in Cleveland Bays.
But in time, the Howdenshire breeders discovered the secret for producing the perfect fast, tall elegant carriage horse. The mating of a half Thoroughbred, half Cleveland Bay stallion and a purebred Cleveland Bay mare resulted in a foal with all the strength, loyalty, even temper and intelligence of a Cleveland Bay, yet also had all the height, length of leg and athleticism of the Thoroughbred, while retaining the classic bay coloring. By 1805, prizes were being awarded in Howdenshire for this magnificent new coach horse hybrid. Locally, it was most often called the Howdenshire Bay, but throughout the rest of Britain it was known as the New Cleveland Bay, or more often as the Yorkshire Coach Horse.
Once the successful breeding combination was understood, the prepotency of the Cleveland Bay blood ensured that the Yorkshire Coach Horse bred true. This three-quarter version of the Cleveland Bay had all the qualities of its purebred cousin, but was consistently more refined in conformation, with a elongated body and much longer legs, a longer, more clearly arched neck and slightly smaller head. It retained the large, dark luminous eyes of the Cleveland, as well as its bay coloring and hard, blue-black hooves. The Yorkshire Coach Horse also had a dash of the flash of the Thoroughbred in the proud arch of its neck, large flaring nostrils and alert stance. Its long legs gave it a much greater reach on each stride than its purebred cousin, enabling the Yorkshire Coach Horse to cover more ground at every step to achieve speeds never before seen on the roads of England. It also had a higher knee action and a flashier way of going than did purebred Clevelands, which appealed to many sporting gentlemen. But true Yorkshire Coach horses were very expensive and their price alone restricted who could own them. During the Regency, a gentleman could expect to pay anywhere from £500 to £700 per horse for his team of Yorkshire Coach horses, if he selected his team himself. There was usually an additional charge from the horse dealers, if they had already assembled a team and were selling them together. Thus, a pair could run at least £1,500, while a team of four horses could easily cost £3,000, or more, depending upon the quality of the horses.
With its highly desirable bay coloring, elegant appearance and greater height and speed, the Yorkshire Coach Horse was immediately popular with wealthy and aristocratic driving enthusiasts across England. As with the Clevelands, matched teams were not overly difficult to assemble and when harnessed to a racing curricle or high-perch phaeton, a gentleman could travel at speeds of which his father or grandfather had never even dreamed. By the Regency, though the Cleveland Bay retained its position as the preferred coach horse for large enclosed coaches, the Yorkshire Coach horse was the ideal horse for use with well-sprung light-weight open carriages. Cleveland Bays remained a status symbol for wealthy, established, respectable families and the horse of choice to draw their sturdy, sedate, if perhaps a bit stodgy, closed coaches. But among the younger set, especially sporting gentlemen, the status symbol was a team of Yorkshire Coach horses hitched to a high-perch phaeton or racing curricle. Because of their refined appearance, the older generation was not long in coming to appreciate the quality of these elegant and fashionable horses. During the Regency and well into the reign of Queen Victoria, many open vehicles, occupied by ladies and gentlemen of all ages, were to be seen in Hyde Park during the social hour, all drawn by Yorkshire Coach horses.
Once the Yorkshire Coach Horse had become established, they were bred in vast numbers. In addition to their popularity with English gentlemen of a sporting turn, they also became popular with European sportsmen with a need for speed. Those who could afford it purchased Yorkshire Coach Horses for export to their home countries, especially once Napoleon was finally removed from the Continent and commerce with England had been re-established. But the demand for Yorkshire Coach Horses was even greater in its home region. Though Cleveland Bays had provided the motive power for the mail and stage coaches which plied the Great North Road between York and London for more than half a century, they were supplanted by their taller and faster cousins as the Regency began. With a team of four Yorkshire Coach horses, a coach could average ten miles an hour on the open road, while on the better stretches, a top speed of nearly twenty miles an hour, for short bursts, was possible. With a four-horse hitch, the trip between York and London was routinely accomplished in less than twenty-four hours. But to keep the York to London coaches moving at top speed and have enough horses for all the stages along the route, at least two hundred horses were needed, stabled at the various coaching inns along the Great North Road. Despite the fact that Yorkshire Coach horses, like their Cleveland Bay cousins, were very long-lived, most public coach horses lasted only about three years in service before they had to be retired. Therefore, the need for fresh horses to keep the coaches moving was never-ending.
It was also during the Regency that the lighter, elegant Yorkshire Coach horses, with their tremendous athletic ability, strength, stamina, speed, calm disposition and loyalty, were soon seen to be an excellent horse for use as hunters and general saddle horses. It was not long before they were sought after by the wealthy and knowledgeable as riding horses as well as carriage horses, just as had been their purebred Cleveland Bay cousins before them. Yorkshire Coach horses could be easily trained to the saddle, and had a smooth way of going which made them a comfortable ride, even during long days in the saddle. Due to their dual use as both carriage and saddle horses, Yorkshire Coach horses were in great demand and were bred all across Yorkshire by a number of breeders. In addition, many Yorkshire farmers with a purebred Cleveland mare would have her covered by a half-bred stallion and, regardless of the stud fee, the sale of a single weanling would usually net them enough to pay the rent on their farm for a full year. A farmer who had more than one Cleveland Bay mare could become quite prosperous, even breeding only one or two Yorkshire Coach horses a year.
But what became of all those half Cleveland Bay/half Thoroughbred cross horses which were produced while the right breeding combination for a strong, speedy coach horse was being refined? Many, particularly those with color faults like red legs, were sold to European horse buyers who shipped them to their own countries, where perfect coloring was not an issue, for use in improving the speed of their own coach horses. However, quite a few of those half-bred horses were sold in England for use as carriage horses to those who liked their flashy looks and believed such horses had greater speed. And some of them did have more initial speed, but many of them did not have the greater strength and stamina or the even temperament of the three-quarter-bred Yorkshire Coach horse. They tended to be harder to handle, more easily spooked, and could not maintain a high rate of speed over a long course, even when hitched to a very light-weight vehicle. Thus, in races against a team of true Yorkshire Coach horses, they might have the edge on a short course, but at longer distances, they simply could not keep up and would usually fade before the finish. Very often, it was these half-bred horses which were sold to less knowledgeable and/or parsimonious buyers by opportunistic and unscrupulous horse dealers.
The Yorkshire Coach Horse remained the most popular and fashionable coach and carriage horse from the Regency right through the reign of Queen Victoria. The advent of the railways soon eliminated the need for public coaches and thus the large numbers of coach horses needed to draw those vehicles. But many private carriages were still in use and were drawn by Yorkshire Coach horses, well into the early decades of the twentieth century. But as automobiles became more common, even private carriages ceased to be used and by the early 1930s, the Yorkshire Coach horse had become extinct. However, since the Yorkshire Coach Horse was a hybrid of the Cleveland Bay and the Thoroughbred, and both of those breeds still exist today, it would be possible to re-create the Yorkshire Coach Horse in modern times, should any horse breeder be so inclined.
Though a team of greys, chestnuts or blacks might be described by Regency authors in their fiction, in point of fact, the most popular color for coach and carriage horses in England during the Regency was bay. Cleveland Bays were preferred by many people to draw closed coaches, especially for travel to or from their country estates and London, or on other long journeys. But among younger people, especially the sporting set, a team of Yorkshire Coach horses was prized above all other horses. For making a show in London in an open carriage, within a year or two after the Regency began, even those of the older generation were finding Yorkshire Coach horses quite the most fashionable for the purpose, assuming, of course, that they could afford them. However, there is no doubt that there were some very old-fashioned, traditionally-minded people who refused to horse their coaches with those newfangled Yorkshire Coach horses and continued to use Cleveland Bays. There were also those who were not good judges of horseflesh and therefore were easily bamboozled by shifty horse dealers into buying half-bred horses instead of true Yorkshire Coach horses. These half-breds would have lots of flash, but they would not have the even temper, intelligence, stamina and strength of genuine Yorkshire Coach horses. Such horses could be downright dangerous in the hands of an inexperienced driver, while, though a knowledgeable and experienced horseman would never buy such a team, he would be able to handle them, should the need arise.
Both Cleveland Bays and their cousins, Yorkshire Coach horses, were the very best horses available, and the most popular, during the Regency. No Regency author can go wrong by giving the sporting gentlemen in their novels a hitch of Yorkshire Coach horses for their high-perch phaeton or racing curricle, if they want them to have an elegant, fashionable, fast, strong and intelligent team. Heros might prefer a Yorkshire Coach horse when hunting or when they ride out over their estate, or perhaps have to chase a villain, or the heroine, on horse-back. Those characters very conscious of their own consequence may horse their large, stately coaches with Cleveland Bays, and may also make sure everyone knows they can afford these high-status horses. Since these horses were very expensive, less affluent characters cannot afford them, but may envy those who can. Dear Regency Authors, the next time one of your characters has need of a very good horse, might you give them a Cleveland Bay or a Yorkshire Coach Horse?