Davenport Horses … See How They Last

By Charles Craver
Copyright 1991 All Rights Reserved
Arabian Visions May 1991
Used by permission of Charles Craver

In 1906, an American newspaperman, Homer Davenport, imported 27 Arabian horses directly from Arabia to this country. Most people who saw the horses recognized them as wonderful horses. There were a few detractors, a good many of whom had horses from other sources which they preferred. To each his own.

The Davenport horses were written about, ridden, publicized, shown, raced, and bred to almost every other kind of Arabian that came to this country. They seemed to do fine regardless of what was asked of them. They had a unique capability as a bloodline: they endured. Everything else that came to this country when the Davenports arrived, as well as a good many that have arrived since then, was crossed in with additional bloodlines to the point that survival of bloodline identity was submerged into the American melting pot from which most current “Domestic” Arabian horses derive.

Not so the Davenports. They indeed were bred to everything else, but ever since their arrival in 1906, a few have been bred to each other. Some foals have always been produced so that the original bloodlines of the importation survived intact without anything else being added to them. The total number of such horses is still scant, but there are more of them now than there have ever been before.

That is a breeding history of 85 years duration now: a long, long time. The integrity of a bloodline is a fragile thing. If timing and support of mares, stallions and owners is not exactly right, it is lost. Luck is always necessary but something else has to work, too, to bring essential engredients together. There have to have been other good reasons for the survival of the Davenport bloodlines.

Davenport owners will tell you that the most important of these reasons, is the continuity in Davenport breeding of characteristics which American breeders want. The horses which Davenport brought to this country in 1906, had those characteristics. Horsemen of those days recognized that these horses had characteristics which they wanted. Every generation of American horsemen since then has had the ability to supply those characteristics in a clear-cut, simple way which their owners have felt was important to continue.

This is not to say that other lines of Arabian horses have not supplied the same needs, but there has been something special about the way that the Davenport bloodlines have fit into American life. The purpose of this article is to indicate some of the ties of continuity between past and present, which has caused this to happen.

When the Davenport horses were obtained by Davenport, he had several goals in mind. Part of his mission was to get horses that would be suitable for establishment of a remount stud for the U.S.Cavalry. The backing he received from President Theordore Roosevelt was partly intended to work towards this purpose. It may be that one of the reasons he got so many males (17), was that he wanted a supply of remount stallions. If this was something he had in mind when he made his selection in Arabia, he must also have realized that remount officers back home would be looking at his selections according to how they would produce cavalry horses. The demand of this part of his market was for a useful, general purpose horse of quality. That is what remount officers would have wanted then and what American horsemen have wanted ever since.

Davenport had other goals, too. On the way to Arabia, he wrote that he wanted to get stallions that could be bred to western American mares to produce high-grade ponies for the polo market. Elsewhere, in describing the goals of his horse breeding venture, he writes that he wants to produce the best polo ponies that ever followed a ball. Americans have always loved tough, handy horses suitable for polo-type utilization, and many of the Davenport horses over the years have continued to remain that kind. Raswan commented that Letan (*Muson/*Jedah) was the best polo horse in California of his day, and anyone who has occasion to work with horses of that vital, muscular bloodline, knows what it is to have a horse that swaps ends not for meanness but just for the ecomony of the thing. It is a very frequent pattern with Davenport horses.

Davenport also gives as a goal for his desert horses, the production of elegent horses for pleasure riding. In those days, that was not some kind of maniac horse that did a weird gait, but rather a horse whose motion and carriage were of style and beauty and pleasent to ride. The Davenport horses themselves and through their influence have been noted for the production of this kind of horse. The carriage of the Hanad line particularly presents an example. A touch of Hanad adds a grace to a horse in the showring, but nowhere more importantly than when riding for pleasure through the countryside. The same bearing and ease stand well in Dressage competition.

Davenport himself obviously prized his horses as useful, elegant, and athletic animals. He was, how unique among our founding Arabian breeders in this country in recognizing that in the coming day of the automobile, the ultimate value of the Arabian horse would not be in its physical usefulness, but rather in the pleasure it would give as a companion animal for woman, children, and older people. That is the way the Arabian horse utilization has worked out in this country, too. A few people have these horses for their ability to perform, and Davenports do well for such people, but most Arabians and most Davenports are owned by people who have them because they love them as companions.

The Davenport horse has a special gift for this. many people who have had experience with various kinds of Arabians will observe that their Davenports are different; still requiring of horsemanship, but easier to handle, some of them exceptionally intelligent, none of them suited to training by abuse.

Maybe these horses are that way partly because of Davenport’s attitude in buying and breeding the foundation stock. One of the most touching passages in his book about his importation, My Quest of the Arabian Horse, is the part telling about his personal communion with his mare *Wadduda on her return to the desert:

“*Wadduda had stopped short again and was scanning the horizon. I touched the mare with my heels, but she did not move. She was thinking. Of what, who knows?…So for a long time we waited together–the mare and I, in the gathering dusk, and as we waited I almost wished that we could always be alone. The call of the desert came strong to both of us then.”

In the years since that day in 1906, Davenport horses have meant much to many people. The importance of the personal relationship is a constant factor and is probably the single most significant item justifying the expense and trouble of maintaining the historic breeding group.

There are a number of individual items of continuity from the original imported horses which were valued at the time of importation and are still valued in descendants now. Some of these concern the stallion *Muson, who was a horse of unusual individuality. On his way home from the desert, Davenport wrote to his wife about this horse as a spectacular animal, and commenting on how he would be valued in New York. The horse had his opportunity for such fame when he was used as an exhibition mount by “Buffalo Bill,” in his Wild West Show in Madison Square Garden.

*Muson was noted for his fascination with sounds and objects in the distance. George Ford Morris, the artist, commented that he had often seen him assume a characteristic ‘listening” pose. The inclination to do this continues in *Muson’s descendents, and they still do it in recognizable form 85 years after the original importaion, and owners still marvel at this remnant of desert behavior.

A horse of particular note in the Davenport importation was *Abeyah. She was a real beauty, famous for a bulging jibbah and for exceptional speed in the desert. The jibbah passed on and rather frequently turns up in her current Davenport descendants. There has been less opportunity to identify the legacy of speed, but some of her descendants have been noted for the characteristic. At the age of 12, with little specialized preparation and having spent his life as a show horse and breeding stallion, her great-grandson, Antez (Harara X Moliah) equaled the Arabian record for one-half miles.

Subsequently, Antez ws exported to Poland, where he sired a horse named Hashem Bey, who is reported as the high-point horse at the Polish Arabian races, which were held at Lwow in 1940. In the U.S. another Antez son, Sartez, set speed records over a variety of distances. Realistic race evalutation of current Davenports has not occurred.

One of the unique features of present Davenports is their lovely coat characteristic. Many Davenports shine. They do it on their own. Grooming is not necessary and may not even do much good. As they get older, the greys often have a beautiful opalescent color. The chestnuts and bays have a corresponding burnished appearance, with some of the chestnuts having the bright copper-penny look.

From her pictures, one suspects the coat characteristic came from the imported mare *Reshan. Whether for that or another reason, the Bedouins loved the mare. They had lost her by sale and tried to buy her back by offering to trade, according to which story is taken, either 30 or 50 female camels for her. In either case, the valueation is considerable, since a frequent rate of exchange between mares and camels in Arabia was five female camels per mare.

One of the most famous of the imported Davenport horses was the stallion *Haleb. Davenport described him as “Our great horse.” George Ford Morris, who may have been America’s finest horse painter and was an expert judge of all kinds of horses, described him as the only horse he could not fault. In Arabia, *Haleb had also been considered a prime animal. At the time of his importation to this country, over 200 mares were said to be in foal to him.

Pictures of *Haleb show him to have been a horse of magnificent balance of body. Parts of his skeleton were preserved, including his fine, hard cannon bones and his skull, which had a pronounced dish. Unfortunately, a good picture was not preserved of his head.

A horse like *Haleb was the kind of horse that Americans have always liked: well-balanced, athletic, useful for a variety of purposes, and handsome. He left only a few foals before dying. Included among them was a Saqlawi line from the mare *Urfah. One of the characteristics which occures in this line from time to time is a pronounced dished profile, which may have its origin with the cross to *Haleb.

The major breeding stallion of the Davenport importation was *Hamrah. He was only toe when the importation occurred, so, of course, we have no way of knowing anything of his origin in Arabia, except that he was the son of a particularly important mare and by a noted stallion. In this country, he matured to a magnificent stallion with a short back and a long hip. Statistical analysis of the AHC studbooks show him to have been the most significant Arabian stallion in this country through 1946.

In Davenport breeding, *Hamrah’s influence has been pervasive with many horses tracing to hm at the grandparent level of concentration, or closer. His ability to project influence over years and generations may have much to do with the uniformity and general “frame” of current Davenport breeding. Chances are that many of the characteristics which most current Davenports share come from this prepotent desert-born ancestor who is strongly in the pedigrees of all of them.

If we knew more individually about the 15 foundation Davenport horses which are represented in the pedigrees of currently living Davenport horses, no doubt we could identify the source animals for many other characteristics which add to the attractiveness of the Davenports we have today. Unfortunately, we are never going to be able to make this kind of study in the detail which we would like. Full information of this sort about the foundation animals has simply not been preserved.

There is a final point, however, for which further detail is not required. That is that these bloodlines have persisted since 1906, while retaining the essential factors of identity which they had from the beginning. This is so to point that, if we could have a conference with some of the oldtime founding breeders of Arabians in America, they wold still recognize what we call Davenport Arabians as the same kind of horses Homer Davenport went to the desert to get: nice moderate-sized, athletic horses that are friendly and look like the real thing. Some of them obviously show family characteristics that come from the old horses: *Haleb’s balance, *Reshan’s coat, *Abeyah’s jibbah, *Hamrah’s coupling, *Muson’s vitality, a certain inner spark that may have come from *Wadduda, if it did not also come from all the others.

These are characteristics that Americans have prized enough to keep these bloodlines going. In all the generations of horses since 1906, there have no doubt been many times when American breeders went to considerable trouble to maintain matings between Davenport horses, although it has nearly always been an easy option to instead do attractive outcross matings. Sometimes survival has been by a thin thread of devotion, but it has held and the horses are still with us as a blessing for the present, and as an example of continuity in the breeding of Arabian horses in America.