Visitors to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, are transported back in time to America’s 18th century capital. The town is a living museum of colonial life providing a dimensional perspective to America’s history. The historically accurate experience fully embraces its colonial legacy from its original buildings, cadre of Nation Builders portraying historical figures right down to serving historically accurate meals.
Visitors strolling down the tree lined streets may well cross paths with Thomas Jefferson and find themselves engaged in casual conversation or invited to stomp clay in bare feet to help brickmakers mold the thousands of bricks needed for the town each year. There is a great deal to absorb at Colonial Williamsburg but what one sees during a visit is only a small part of the tremendous effort made to provide a historically accurate experience.
For instance, many visitors may not be as aware of its conservancy program, which preserves period species including the critically endangered Cleveland Bay Horse, a popular 18th century carriage horse. This year Williamsburg is making history again becoming one of the country’s leading breeders of Cleveland Bay Horses.
In 2017, Colonial Williamsburg welcomed five Cleveland Bays to its conservancy program; stallion – Lord Brigadoon, aka Clarence, gelding – Kenjoc Etay Buckshot, mare – Penrose Willow, gelding – Old Dominion Royal Lancer and mare – Old Dominion Islode, aka Isabelle. The same year Clarence was granted official status as a breeding stallion in both the US and UK. Multiple attempts to breed Clarence with Willow and Isabelle with Penrose Dictator in this first year were unsuccessful when both mares were unable to carry foals beyond 60 days.
In 2018, Willow and Clarence produced three viable embryos, two were transferred to mares Fudge and Cricket. Fudge gave birth to a healthy colt on April 28th. Williamsburg Valiant, named for a famous racehorse “Valiant” from Colonial times. Valiant is the first foal in 16 years born at Colonial Williamsburg.
“He has a huge personality,” said Paul Bennett, Director of the Coach and Livestock program at Colonial Williamsburg. “He walks along the fence looking for people to talk to. He even has a fan club, people come to Williamsburg just to meet him.”
On June 2, Isabella gave birth to another male, Fearnaught a.k.a. Monty. According to a post on Colonial Williamsburg’s Facebook page, “Monty is full of spunk and energy, we’re pretty sure this little firecracker is just as happy he’s here as we are.”
Valiant and Monty will soon be joined by 2 more foals. Cricket is due June 25 and Willow July 7. None of the mares will be immediately bred back. Bennett explained that the conservancy wants to give them ‘plenty of time to raise their foals and spend time together.’
The foals born this year will place Colonial Williamsburg as one of the top breeders of purebred Cleveland Bays in North America. Every foal is vital to the breed’s survival however quantity is not the program’s objective but rather quality. Breeding to enhance the genetic pool is a priority for Williamsburg coordinating its efforts with the US and UK Cleveland Bay Societies.
By the 1960’s Cleveland Bays were nearly extinct, only four stallions were left in Great Britain. Queen Elizabeth purchased a stallion named Mulgrave Supreme which stood at stud. Their popularity soared and the breed was saved but enthusiasm to breed to the Queen’s stallion came with a price. The genetic pool was significantly narrowed so much so that breeders today are pressed to compensate in order to secure the breed’s future.
“When you look back 3 or 4 generations you will see many of the same names listed on most pedigrees,” explained Paul Bennett, Director of the Coach and Livestock program.
The US and UK Cleveland Bay Society utilizes a software program known as Sparks. The program analyzes pedigree and genetic information used by breeders strengthen genetically challenged animal populations. Sparks has been utilized by zoological organizations for years but the Cleveland Bay Society is the first equine organization to make use of the technology. When searching for a stallion to breed with Isabella, Sparks suggested six stallions. The conservancy made the final selection based on physical characteristics and traits to compliment Isabella. Their choice, an stallion named Stanmore Wolfhound.
Breeding is just one aspect of the conservancy program at Colonial Williamsburg. With the exception of Willow, the sole brood mare, all four Cleveland Bays work at Colonial Williamsburg. Buckshot and Lancer drive, Isabella is ridden by actor Katherine Pitman as Martha Washington and Lancer was ridden by actor Mark Schneider as the Marquis de Lafayette and currently in training to drive along with his half-brother Clarence.
Colonial Williamsburg’s Cleveland Bay conservancy program is supported by its donors; Carolyn and Lowell Larson of Burlington, WI; Claudette and Steve Tallon of Williamsburg, VA; Jeanne Asplundh of Fort Washington, PA and Cindy Kiser of Verona, VA. Visitors to Colonial Williamsburg can see these endangered horses working and living as they did centuries ago. Thanks to the conservancy program and its supporters, visitors will certainly enjoy the Cleveland Bays for centuries to come.