It is a versatile breed of horse popular with royalty and farmers alike, but there are only five purebred Cleveland Bay mares remaining in Australia.
The Cleveland Bay Horse Society of Australasia (CBHSA) is at the centre of a push to preserve the heritage breed, which can be traced back to the 16th Century.
According to the society’s president, Brenda Boaden, there are only about 300 to 400 Cleveland Bays of breeding age left in the world.
“Most of them have been watered down, if you like, and crossbred,” she said.
“They’ve been servant to man for many centuries.
The ex-thoroughbred breeder has eight purebreds on her property in Coolup, Western Australia, including two stallions, one of which she imported from Wales.
“He’s just part of the family, we have used him for everything from cattle work to jumping,” Ms Boaden said.
This weekend the CBHSA held an event in Elmore, Victoria, to showcase the animals in the hope of keeping the breed alive.
Royalty to the rescue
The strongly built, powerful horses were originally used on farms to pull ploughs and on the battlefields.
The breed originated in the stony harsh Cleveland Hills of Yorkshire in the UK, but began to decline in the early 1900s after many were lost on the battlefields of France.
By the 1960s there were only four stallions left in England until the Queen gave the breed a boost by purchasing a purebred colt and making him available as a public stud.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), domestic livestock breeds are disappearing worldwide at a rate of one breed per month with many already lost.
Rare Breeds Trust Australia director Katy Brown said that along with disease and natural disasters the biggest contributor to the extinction of breeds was the commercialisation of livestock farming.
“We’re teetering on the edge all the time of losing breeds,” she said.
“Each time we lose something we lose the potential to incorporate those genes into a breed either as a pure breed or crossbreed.
Heritage breeds hardier in harsher climates
Ms Brown said the development of each breed to an area gave it specific traits suitable to that area.
She said it is now more important than ever to keep breed diversity given the uncertainly of the future with rising temperatures.
“[Diversity] may help animals, suit the climatic changes that we’re having better,” Ms Brown said.