It has been an exciting year for Lancer and Isabella! They are our very first Cleveland Bay horses who arrived in Williamsburg during a snowstorm last January. The pair has been busy ever since, serving as 18th-century mounts for our Nation Builders.
The two are more than just historically correct; they are also England’s oldest (and critically rare) horse breed, with fewer than 500 purebred examples in the entire world! In fact, according to the Cleveland Bay Horse Society of North America, Isabella is one of only about 40 breeding-age mares in the United States.
Earlier this month, the two participated in their first off-site promotional event in Maryland. They represented Colonial Williamsburg, and attended the Annual Cleveland Bay Hunting Day, sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Cleveland Bay Show Series, along with the Howard County Iron Bridge Hounds. The group is made up of licensed stallion owners, breeders, trainers, riders, and other enthusiasts who support the conservation of the Cleveland Bay.
Paul Bennett, Director of the Coach & Livestock Department, was excited we were included in this invitational event, which is intended to raise awareness of the horses here in the United States. “Our participation was a fantastic way to promote Colonial Williamsburg’s reputation as a conservator and advocate for rare breeds in general, and for the Cleveland Bay horse breed in particular,” Paul tells us. “It was also an opportunity to renew important contacts among Cleveland Bay enthusiasts and breeders, and to make new ones.”
The members of the Mid-Atlantic Cleveland Bay Show Series did all they could to make it easy for us to participate in the hunt by arranging overnight accommodations for horses and people alike, and hosting a social hour to let everyone get acquainted over some light hors d’oeuvres.
The morning of the hunt dawned with a light dusting of snow, but the crew need not have worried about Lancer and Isabella, who were still sleeping soundly when their breakfast was served! The pair had traveled well and slept even better, despite their unfamiliar surroundings. So far, they were living up to the breed’s reputation for adaptability and versatility. It wouldn’t be long before that reputation was put to the test in the field.
After grooming the horses and braiding their manes, Colonial Williamsburg joined their hosts in a convoy to the event. Paul would ride Lancer, and Stable Groom Kris Goeckeritz, an accomplished dressage rider, would ride Isabella.
As the hounds arrived and the Field Masters prepared to start the hunt, the horses lined up for an impressive group photo featuring 11 Cleveland Bays, five of which were purebreds. Two of them, our very own Lancer and Isabella.
Overall, the hunt lasted about three hours. The terrain covered forest, farmland, roads, and fields—accompanied by the baying of hounds and the sounds of the Huntsman’s horn—a very different environment from the Historic Area!
Kris, who rode Isabella during the event, was a bit nervous setting off, because the situation was completely new to these young horses. “I’ve only cantered her twice before this,” she confided. As it turned out, Isabella was a natural! “She took to hunting like a duck to water,” Kris reported afterward, as the participants enjoyed a warm potluck lunch in the sub-freezing temperatures. “I can’t believe how good she was. She is a bit of a city girl, but handled obstacles, ditches, and logs. She was so brave, even though it was all very new. I’m over the moon with her performance.”
Paul was equally pleased with Lancer. The four year old became noticeably more confident of himself as the hunt progressed. “This breed is known for having a good disposition, and considering this is his first time outside the Historic Area, and his first at an event like this, he did really well.”
For the record, no foxes were found during the hunt. “We almost never even see the foxes,” explained one of the event’s hosts. “They’re there, but we don’t really try very hard to catch them, because we want to be able to continue this tradition.”
Paul is looking forward to the Foundation’s participation in more events organized to promote awareness of the breed, and to establishing Colonial Williamsburg as an important conservator. In 2017, the Cleveland Bay Horse Society – North America plans to hold its Annual General Meeting right here in Williamsburg. “This is hopefully just the start of more great things to come for the Cleveland Bay and for our Rare Breeds Program,” says Paul.
Special thanks to Daniela Stephanz Anderson, Carlene Kerr, and Wayne Reynolds for helping with the pictures for this post!
GUEST BLOGGER: ROBIN N. PHILLIPS
Robin N. Phillips worked for Colonial Williamsburg during her college years before embarking on a career as an Army officer. During all her travels abroad, Colonial Williamsburg always remained near and dear to her heart. After a long career in communications, intelligence, policy and national security, she eventually returned home and settled in Williamsburg in her retirement.
She holds a BS degree from the College of William & Mary, and an MA from the Naval Postgraduate School. She is also a graduate of the Defense Language Institute and the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies.