Nuns Fret Not

By Charles Craver Copyright 1988 All Rights Reserved
Arabian Visions May 1988

Used by permission of Charles Craver.

Readers who enjoy English literature can take pleasure in Wordsworth’s poem telling how he, too, found restrictions of his own choice a source of freedom.

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells;
In truth, the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is; and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

–William Wordsworth, 1806

Our favorite poem about Arabian horse breeding was written in 1806 by William Wordsworth. Maybe he never saw an Arabian horse, but he wrote a sonnet which is very pertinent for many of today’s breeders of Arabian horses and particularly for the people who are interested in this little group of Arabian horses which are called Davenports.

Wordsworth chose the sonnet form for this poem. The sonnet is one of the most rigorous forms of poetry in the English language. Much can be said in a sonnet, but what makes a sonnet a sonnet is that everything must be stated in 14 lines of rhymed iambic pentameter. No more. No less. Nothing else will do.

Wordsworth’s sonnet begins “Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room…” He goes on to tell of other people who choose restricted lives yet feel no confinement because their choices are voluntary. Then he expresses his contentment at the restrictions of the sonnet form in poetry.

There was a time when most Arabian horses were owned for very utilitarian purposes. The Arabs had them go on raids, and, when horses ceased to be useful for that purpose, most Bedouin owners no longer kept them. Although the horses are a heritage to us from such hands, they are usually not objects of utility in our lives. In large part, our interest in them is aesthetic.

Where we keep and breed these animals for beauty, we are not so different from William Wordsworth, who was seeking beauty, too; In the strict lines of the sonnet, he found freedom of expression. In the strict lines of Arabian horses, we, too, find freedom to express the loveliness of these horses.

Horsemen who breed Davenport horses as a field of activity have chosen one of the most restricted of all Arabian breeding groups in overall scope. Far from being a handicap, since 1955, these restrictions have helped bring this group from a little nucleus of about 15 horses to their present number (in 1988) of about 500 breeding individuals. In spite of this growth in numbers, Davenport horses are still a rarity and an endangered species in the Arabian horse kingdom. More important than their rarity is that these five hundred horses are successful individuals which fit into a number of vigorous, distinct breeding programs within the large Davenport context. Each one of these has a very good prospect of going on and being successful in its own right or alternatively of combining with parallel Davenport breeding groups in an effort to bring the good features of each group together in one horse.

Davenport breeding started in 1906 with the 24 [1. The ’24’ accounts for the horses which actually arrived in 1906. In addition, three were imported in utero, one of which (*Moharra – no get) was shown as imported and two of which (Saleefy and Meleky – both having important lines in Davenport breeding) were not.] horses which are registered by the Arabian Horse Registry as imported from Arabia by a man named Homer Davenport. Of these, 20 appear in the pedigrees of current registered Arabian horses. However, only 15 (*Haleb,*Muson, *Hamrah, *Wadduda, *Gomusa, *Deyr, *Reshan, *Abeyah, *Urfah, *Werdi, *Farha, *Hadba, *Jedah, *Haffia, *Abbeian) are represented in pedigrees which do not also trace to something else. By custom, the living horses tracing to these 15 horses and no others are called “Davenport” Arabians.

Obviously, any breeding group of Arabian horses tracing to only 15 ancestors who lived in 1906 is pretty restricted to begin with. As Arabian breeding developed in this country, the restriction was further tightened because usually little systematic effort was made to keep Davenport bloodlines intact as a breeding group. Many nice Davenport horses were bred, but these horses were so successful in outcross breeding that they tended not to be bred to each other except almost as a matter of accident. By 1955, after having been in this country for 49 years and having produced literally thousands of descendants, there were only about 25 horses left which were Davenport in background without having crosses to some other kind of Arabian breeding.

In most respects, the pedigrees of these horses were very similar. They traced to about the same imported animals. There were close relationships in shared parents and grandparents. Four were full brothers and sisters, and several had half-sibling relationships. The general consensus among knowledgeable Arabian breeders was that the bloodline was too scant as to numbers and too inbred to still be a successful long-term breeding group.

Yet there was so much that was attractive about the horses. They had such fine skin, such big eyes, such a human orientation in attitude. Taking the descriptions of the horses of Arabia as the old writers had written about them, these were obviously the same kind of horse that people had gone to Arabia to buy in the first place: a moderate-sized, athletic, beautiful horse that still looked like the pictures of the horses that came from Arabia.

Furthermore, these were horses of a wonderful history. Their ancestors had been brought from Arabia in an extraordinary importation that was possible only because of joint support by the President of the United States and the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire. They had been in this country almost since the beginning of Arabian breeding here. They had contributed to the pedigrees of most of the finest horses in American Arabian breeding, and they had produced famous individual horses that everyone knew and admired: horses like Hanad, Antez, and Letan. It seemed that this was a kind of horse that somehow should be permitted to survive.

In those days, nobody talked about such things as “investors” or “marketing.” There wasn’t a national show, and most states didn’t even have state Arabian organizations. People just got horses they liked and began, without worrying too much about the future.

That’s the way renewal began with the Davenports. In 1955 a program was started at Craver Farms, Hillview, Illinois, with the purchase of Tripoli (Hanad/Poka). Before purchase, he had fallen on hard times, but, when his ability to sire foals became apparent, Davenport mares were purchased to breed to him.

It was not possible to just go out and buy mares like that in a lump. First they had to be identified as alive through careful study of the stud books and current Arabian literature. Then they were traced to ownership through the Registry or other sources. Finally, owners would be contacted for purchase. Prices were not great because horses did not cost much in those days, and these were mostly mares that were older. It was not always easy to achieve a purchase. Sometimes it was not possible. Nevertheless over the years mares were acquired, and the few remaining stallions became available to add to what had begun with Tripoli. Eventually, 16 horses were utilized to form a “second foundation” of Davenport breeding.

A number of owners took part in this effort. There was very little competition as to who would purchase or work with a given mare or stallion. The whole venture would have been impossible if there has not been a general attitude among breeders of cooperation and friendliness in working towards the goal of preserving the Davenport Arabian horse. This attitude has persisted over the years, to the great advantage of Davenport bloodlines.

When Davenport breeding began in 1955, there was no long-range plan for how it should be conducted. Only one stallion was available, and he was bred to the mares. What a thrill it was when the noted scholar of Arabian breeding, Carl Raswan, solicited the picture of one of the earliest foals (Alaska, foaled in 1958; she was actually the second produced, and is still living) to be run under the heading, “Lest we forget, the authentic, the pure Arabian,” in conjunction with all-time greats of the breed: *Nasr, *Ibn Mahruss, Mahroussa, and Mesaoud. Success such as this was thought to be enough of an achievement in strict breeding in itself, but in time it became clear that there was a much larger issue involved with the Davenports than the production of a few individuals of unique breeding. The real problem was how this group of horses should be saved on a long term basis: What would be the best way to breed these few, inter-related individuals so as to preserve the maximum number of their good qualities without adding other blood?

This is a similar problem to that faced by breeders of any endangered genetic group of animals. We frequently hear of it in conjunction with salvage breeding programs at zoological institutions, where the effort is made to preserve breeding groups of rare wild animals. Siberian tigers, California condors, Alpine goats, Peregrine falcons, giant pandas, and cheetahs are examples of animals where such breeding programs are in place. In the horse world, a major effort is being made to preserve the Przewalski horse. Many of these threatened breeding groups have the resources of the international zoological community working on their behalf plus the further advantage of starting from a broader genetic base than the tiny group of 16 with which the Davenports started in 1955 or from what they have now at about 500 individuals of breeding potential.

As Davenport breeders saw it, there were two possible ways of managing the remaining Davenport horses for long-term survival. The first was to systematically breed them for maximum hybrid vigor. This called for keeping inbreeding levels as low as possible and working towards long-range pedigrees where foundation and intermediate foundation animals tended to be in balance. That is apparently the approach taken at most zoological institutions. there is no question that it can be successful, but it has the disadvantage that the “blend” of bloodlines it produces may cause desirable individual features of foundation animals to be lost through dilution or inadvertent adverse selection. If it had been followed with the Davenports in 1955, practically all living Davenports would now be grey, muscular Kuhaylan types with pricked ears and great vitality. They would be fine horses but would represent only a fraction of the genetic potential of Davenport bloodlines.

The way of management which was instead chosen was to divide the foundation breeding group along lines of difference which existed between its individuals to produce even smaller breeding groups. Priority was then given to breeding within these groups. This added major new restrictions to how Davenport horses would be bred but it had the advantage of allowing individual traits of animals and types within each group to have maximum opportunity for expression. This way the danger that such traits would be diluted away or covered up would be minimized. Actually, there was little long-term danger to the approach chosen. As long as the animals were bred, their blood would be preserved according to either plan. If the need arose, the groups could always be merged, at a future time. But with the advantage that their best characteristics would have been enhanced by selection.

Initially, the surviving Davenports were divided along the oldest concept in Arabian pedigrees. This was the concept of family strain. Some of the earliest records of Arabian pedigrees show that the bedouins of Arabia divided their purebred horses into different families. The names of these families come to us almost unchanged literally over hundreds of years of records. Prominent among these are “Kuhaylan,” “Saqlawi,” “Abayyan,” “Hadban,” and “Mu’niqi.” Family names are transmitted on the tail-female side of a pedigree, so that a daughter is of the same strain as her mother. According to the classic writers such as Lady Anne Blunt and Carl Raswan, all “asil” or purebred Arabians in Arabia had family names. Sometimes these designations have been lost as the horses came from Arabia into countries with stud books, but such names where known are still shown in some stud books, although not in those of the Arabian Horse Registry after Vol IV, 1937, and its supplements.

Opinion is divided as to how much the family or strain name of an Arabian horse means. Modern pedigrees are so long and complex that, for most Arabian horses, strain designations may not mean much. The Davenports, however, were still very close to the desert both as to generations of descent and physical appearance in them that correlated with their family strains. Accordingly, they were separated into a Kuhaylan group and a Saqlawi group, and, where other practical considerations of breeding did not interfere, Kuhaylan were mostly bred to Kuhaylan and Saqlawi primarily to Saqlawi. Previously this had been done from time to time with good results, but not systematically.

The result was very interesting. It turned out that the Kuhaylan Davenports began to be more uniform with every generation of breeding within the Kuhaylan strain and to look more like what authorities had written of as the classsic prototype of the Kuhaylan Arabian horse. The same thing happened with the Saqlawi: they became more and more uniform and more and more like the standards of that strain. The changes were not merely apparent in one or two individuals but obvious enough so that almost any informed visitor to the pasture of Davenports could identify many of them by strain.

After the initial division into Kuhaylan and Saqlawi breeding groups had proven to be a success, a further division of the Kuhaylan group was made according to “substrain.” In Arabia, the “substrain” of a horse was an integral part of the identification. It served to identify the specific branch within a major strain to which a horse belonged. There were two substrains present among the Davenports of the Kuhaylan strain, deriving from the original imported individuals. These substrains of the Kuhaylan were the Haifi (written Kuhaylan-Haifi) and the Kurush (written Kuhaylan-Kurush). The division of the Davenport Kuhaylans into these two groups turned out to be very successful with excellent individuals being produced within each group. There was no question that both groups were of overall Kuhaylan type, but also none that they were different from each other and able to breed on as separate families of horses.

A final division as to strain among Davenport horses has been made in recent years when the tail-female descendants of a mare named *Hadba of the 1906 importation have been bred to each other on strain principles. *Hadba was of the Hadban-Inzihi strain. It appears that a group of Davenports of this strain is now being put together even after all the years and generations since the importation. Davenport breeding is the stronger for it.

At present division of Davenport horses along strain lines approximately as follows: 60 percent Kuhaylan-Haifi, 14 percent Kuhaylan-Kurush, 22 percent Saqlawi-Jidran, and 4 percent Hadban-Inzihi. Where the total number of Davenport breeding individuals is in the neighborhood of 500, it will be seen that the actual numbers of horses involved in the major strains is considerable. A further point of interest is that in the Davenports the practice of breeding so that strains of sire and dam are similar is long standing. Some Davenport pedigrees show three and four generations where all individuals are of the same strain. Pedigrees of this sort nearly always result in animals which are an excellent demonstration of the powerful effect of strain breeding in the Arabian horse.

Even as strain breeding was becoming established for Davenport horses, it became apparent that there were other differences of pedigree in the breeding stock which also should be separated out. Some of these differences seemed small. In the Kuhaylan-Haifi group there was a difference in animals according to whether they traced to a mare named Fasal. Fasal was a famous mare. She was of similar breeding to a number of the other early Davenports but a breeding group could be set up according to whether or not she was in pedigrees. Horses not tracing to Fasal were identified as “non-Fasals.” They were neither better nor worse than other Davenports, but they seemed a little different. This has been a difficult group to maintain. It has included some of the most successful Davenport horses in re-establishing Davenport breeding and continuing it, but there were several years when not enough replacement fillies were produced along with the stud colts. In recent years the deficiency has been corrected, and the group now has excellent prospects, although it numbers only about 4 percent of living Davenports.

Similarly, a breeding group was established according to whether the stallion Tripoli was present in a pedigree. Tripoli has been the most prominent stallion of Davenport breeding beginning in 1955. He had the rare gift as a sire of being successful with mares of the whole range of Davenport breeding. As a result, his blood is extremely strong in almost all Davenport horses. There were a few from which it was absent, however, and from these it was possible to set up a breeding group under the name “non-Tripoli.” This is a group which crosses strain lines: some in it are Kuhaylan, some are Saqlawi. Two stallions of this group, Ibn Alamein and Regency CF, are among the most influential of currently living Davenport stallions. Ultimately, the non-Tripoli group may be of special value as an outcross for the Tripoli influence. It makes up 5.5 percent of living Davenports.

Other divisions of Davenport breeding stock also exist on a quiet basis, and they are maintained with a minimum of public attention. Among these are a group based on the absence of the blood of the mare Dharebah, divisions within the large Saqlawi breeding group in which the lines to Antan, Maedae, Kamil Ibn Salan and Antarah are separated from each other. Other groups are developing according to whether they concentrate the blood of the mares Dhalana, Ceres, Dharebah or Tyrebah.

A type of division which has hardly been approached is to set up breeding groups based on the individuality of horses. It would be very practical to orient Davenport breeding programs towards certain goals in type: the dish face, color, the “Hanad” type carriage of body, markedly pricked ears-these and others are characteristics about which breeding can be organized with excellent results. They have all been done successfully. It only remains to connect them with breeders who have the room and resources to develop them. The rewards to such breeders are great: To adopt one of these projects is an opportunity to do one’s own thing, while still taking part in a larger, worthwhile movement in Arabian breeding.

The reward for Davenport breeding is great, too, because each one of these successful and somewhat separate breeding efforts adds strength to the overall bloodline. Something all groups have in common is that they come from very similar parent stock. They trace to almost all the same desert bred ancestry, usually through the same horses that were prominent in Davenport breeding through the 1940’s. A definite harmony exists between the inheritance and appearance of these groups. With many of them, it is possible to interbreed with benefit while still maintaining their parameters. For instance, both the Saqlawi and Kuhaylan groups have been strengthened by occasional use of stallions of the other strain.

Ultimately, along with continuation of the major divisions of Davenport breeding into breeding groups, a final process of synthesis will probably occur in which the various groups are brought together. At the point, breeders may find that additional groupings of Davenport horses are emerging which build on the successes of the older ones. We are likely to see horses in which almost all of the foundation horses of 1906 and 1955 are blended but in which some aspects of the blend are preferred by some breeders, other aspects by other breeders. Arabian horse breeders would not be human if they did not start with these variations to make something new and their very own. The potential for new, creative subdivision is always present. As long as there are new breeders with a love for the beauty and heritage of this type of horse, there is no logical limit to its continuing development. The source of foundation Davenport blood is reliable and self-renewing.

That is the freedom that comes from the restrictions in Davenport breeding. This little group of horses tracing to only 15 in 1906 and 15 in 1955 has been subdivided and subdivided along increasingly narrow lines of breeding. Of course, the process has not always been easy, but the result is that the numbers and excellence of horses has grown and at the same time the number of people supporting them has grown. Far from being a limit of activity, the restrictions have been a source of success. A choice which Davenport breeders constantly enjoy is as to which of the alternative restrictions they should choose in order to make their horses still more what they want, still more successful.

There is only one caution, which applies to other Arabian breeding as it does to the Davenports: the dividing of breeding group into its component parts for separate development of each is a powerful tool for the breeder. Where it has not been used properly, it has historically caused major harmful results, with the actual destruction of some bloodlines and the creation of whole breeding groups which are apart from the best standards of historical Arabian breeding. It is essential that this method of breeding be used in conjunction with effective selection of individuals according to realistic, historical standards for Arabian type. Considerations of size, proportion, soundness, conformation, disposition, and type remain extremely important. The pedigree cannot be successfully separated from the horse.