An Interview with Charles Craver

December 1, 1987
KHAMSAT, Volume Five, Number One, January 1988
Produced for the Khamsat by Carol Lyons
Copyright by Carol Lyons. All rights reserved.
Used by permission of Carol Lyons

Most anyone who knows Charles Craver is aware that you rarely get a simple, uncomplicated answer from him. His answers are usually as thought provoking as they are modest. Despite his years of intense involvement with Arabian horses, and his obvious success – or perhaps because of it – he insists that he is no Guru, and feels that he has more questions than pat answers. In keeping with this philosophy, many of his following comments on strains, breeding and management provide food for thought for all serious breeders, regardless of bloodline interest or experience.


QUESTION: When you first started gathering foundation breeding stock in the early 1950’s, none of the books such as the RASWAN INDEX, THE ARAB AND HIS HORSE, by Carl Raswan, and THE BLUE ARABIAN HORSE CATALOG by Jane L. Ott had yet been published. Were you aware of any purist movement within Arabian breeding?

CC: No, there wasn’t a purist movement, but there were a few purists. There have been purist breeders in America since the very beginning of Arabian breeding here. Primarily those that I knew were Jimmy Wrench and Alice Payne, and they weren’t within the Al Khamsa context. Not all purists have to be within that context. When I got Tripoli, the pedigree of Skowronek, as we now know it, was not public yet. There was no reason to avoid him in a pedigree. At that time, purists avoided certain other bloodlines.

QUESTION: When and how did you first become aware of Carl Raswan and what role did he play in developing your early breeding program?

CC: I first learned of Raswan in about 1949 through Carl Asmis, a prominent early breeder in the East, and then of course through Alice Payne and Jimmy Wrench on the West Coast. Raswan was considered important by them and I respected those breeders. Beginning in 1955, my relationship with Dr. Doyle reinforced what I had learned in previous contacts with Payne and Wrench. Raswan material formed part of the matrix of my thoughts in starting to breed Arabian horses, along with standards from Asmis, Payne, Wrench, Dr. Munson and Bazy Tankersley, along with a bunch of books. Like any beginner, I was a sponge.

QUESTIONS: When did you start corresponding with Raswan and what were some of his comments about what you were doing?

CC: A correspondence had developed by at least 1958. I sent him photos of Sir and Alaska. His response was very cordial and encouraging with comments that I was doing historical work. Of course he wrote nicely to everyone, but without solicitation he used the photo of Alaska along with pictures of *Nasr, Mahroussa (MNL), Ibn Mahruss, and Mesaoud under the heading “Lest we forget the authentic, the pure Arabians” when he published the real pedigree of Skowronek. I have always felt that this statement showed what bloodlines Raswan considered vital. I have worked in various ways to preserve all of these, but especially, of course, the Davenports. We continued to correspond until his death in 1966.

QUESTION: Did you ever meet Raswan?

CC: Yes, in 1965, through Alice Payne. Later, I was planning another trip out there, and in fact even had my reservations, when word came of his death.

QUESTION: Why did you choose to breed Davenports instead of some other bloodlines.

CC: I got started with the purchase of Tripoli in 1953 for the following reasons:

1) he was of interest to Alice Payne as a breeding stallion, and I considered her to be the foremost breeder of the time and her opinion was very important;

2) I had decided that most breeding programs go wrong because of limiting pedigree factors, and Davenports were freer of those than other bloodlines then available to me;

3) only two programs offered future progress without such limiting factors – Egyptian and Davenport;

4) I intended to cross with intensely bred Skowronek horses;

5) Davenports blended so well with everything (lines that didn’t blend with *Raffles were not well thought of at that time); and

6) Davenport outcrosses were so successful at the time. Horses such as Ankar, Hanida, Garaff and Hanraff were considered extraordinary as was the straight Davenport Ibn Hanad and

7) the straight Davenports were in the process of becoming extinct through their success with other lines. (Note: I first learned of Skowronek’s real pedigree in April, 1955 from Dr. Doyle.)


QUESTION: What is your understanding of Carl Raswan’s strain breeding concept, especially as it applies today?

CC: First, it is important to understand that in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s when Raswan was writing about strains, the horses he knew were close to desert breeding. The great grandparents of those horses were consistent, and not mixed up in pedigree. The great, great grandparents of today’s horses were the living horses of Raswan’s time. It is extremely difficult to apply his strain ideas were REAL, not mystical. Strain breeding is type breeding. (Having a certain strain name does not guarantee that a given horse will be of the type which was associated with that strain in the desert.)

QUESTION: What is your understanding of the term “strain breeding” and how does “strain breeding” relate to “generations bred in a strain”?

CC: Strain breeding is simply using the knowledge of Arabian strains to produce a desired type of horse. The breeding of one or more generations in the same strain is a particular kind of strain breeding. It is no better or worse than any other strain breeding program. It is of value only if it produces the kind of horse you want. Strain breeding and/or producing multiple generations in the strain is only one of a whole group of things that a breeder must consider.

QUESTION: You have been utilizing strain-type breeding longer than anyone else in Al Khamsa, can you describe how the strains express themselves?

CC: I visualize the strains we work with as a continuation from Kuhaylan to Saqlawi. All of these horses are blends of the basic strains, with some blends inclining one way or another. In the Davenports we have a major population that inclines one way (ed. note: Kuhaylan) plus a few individuals that stand out as being on the other end of the continuum. We have something like TRILL (Tripoli x Moth by Tripoli) on the Saqlawi side of the balance and a lot on the other end of the continuum. You can slant things either way and you are really talking about different varieties of nice horses… but not the only nice horses. I think that sometimes this strain thing is terrifically overemphasized. On the other hand we do not get extreme examples of strain type from pedigrees that do not call for them!

QUESTION: Is there any particular value in breeding multiple generations in a strain?

CC: Well, there is the fun of assembling the pedigrees, the intellectual exercise. The strains are of value only if they produce a certain kind of horse. If you want that kind of horse, that is where the value is. It is not a moral matter. It is a practical matter in the production of a desired object.

QUESTION: A basic part of Raswan’s advice on strain breeding Arabian horses dealt with breeding away from Muniqi. Is this still valid today?

CC: Raswan said to breed away from Muniqi, so it is automatic. Strain breeding is type breeding. He was assuming that the classic TYPE Arabian was sought (and that may not be true today for many breeders.) He meant that really classic looking horses have Muniqi only far back in the pedigree. He also wrote that if Muniqi was far ENOUGH back, it would not be as significant — many pedigrees today are farther from the Muniqi elements than in his time.

QUESTION: Does Muniqi type affect Arabians today, considering the pedigree distance in generations?

CC: At a show, pedigrees are generally so mixed up that Muniqi is less important than other considerations. Muniqi horses were, after all, Arabian horses. Within Al Khamsa that is a hot subject. Within Davenports – and other Al Khamsa lines – one cannot assume that the ancestors you know to be Muniqi strain were entirely of that strain (ed. note: “pure Muniqi”) OR that those of others (classic strains) were entirely free of it. You really have known Muniqi and unknown Muniqi and if you are looking for devils, you can assign any problem to them, but devils are more a matter of religion sometimes than fact.

QUESTION: Within Al Khamsa, there are horses of the Muniqi strain and in fact Jeanne Craver has a few Muniqi Hedruj mares. Do these horses automatically exhibit the rangy, angular, narrow type associated with the desert bred Muniqis to any degree? How would Raswan’s advice on breeding away from Muniqi apply to these Al Khamsa horses?

CC: I don’t think they are real Muniqis today. The recorded strain name is so far back that its associated type is not apparent. Where there has been no effort to reinforce the type, it is just gone, and no more influential than the Muniqi ancestors in horses of other recorded strains. If you want to determine the actual strain of these horses, you need to follow Raswan’s procedure. Determine the strains of all the animals in the 4th generation and see which strain, if any, predominates — and look at the actual living horse to see which, if any, strain it most closely resembles. Raswan was very clear on this.

QUESTION: In the desert, new strains and especially new substrains were constantly being created, while others died out. Do you see this still happening?

CC: Sure! Very strong substrains are being created and not just within the Davenports. Major strains can and have been lost, which is just a shame. The different breeding groups that we have are really just different substrains of the same tail female families. The problem is in recognizing new substrains and being able to develop them. It takes time and someone to continue the effort.


QUESTION: How many breeding stallions do you currently have? How many mares of breeding age and condition?

CC: I have about 20 to 25 breeding stallions and about 60 breeding mares.

QUESTION: You usually have around 20 to 25 foals annually, why don’t you breed all your mares each year?

CC: I feel that you get a better quality foal if the mares are not depleted, and the mares keep in better health and looks and it’s more economical to keep them in good shape. It really seems to offer better long-term and more economical foal production under our conditions.

QUESTION: Why do you maintain so many stallions in proportion to the number of mares? And can you tell us something about your ideas about your long term breeding programs?

CC: In order to maintain a long-term breeding venture you have to allow for future growth of the bloodlines; some stallions for now, some for soon, and some for the distant future. Also, we have divided the horses into breeding groups and each group requires this sort of stallion resource, although some stallions can be used in more than one breeding group. We will keep a stallion for years and just for a few usages.

We use so many stallions because we emphasize the importance of the mares. By using more stallions you give an individual mare a better opportunity to express herself.

In a closed breeding herd you have two options. You can put all your bloodlines in one pot and try to produce the most perfect individuals you can, or you can try to spread the genetic pool by letting each variation of the bloodlines express itself. The trap is you can end up just producing ingredients and never producing the end products, but it doesn’t shut off options for the future. I don’t think we are very doctrinaire about separating into breeding groups. There is a place for crossing between the groups and we do that too. We try to keep the groups separate but still interacting with the other groups as a larger breeding venture.

Master breeders we are not. We are stubborn and trying to figure things out but I don’t feel we have all the answers, or even most of them, just more questions!

QUESTIONS: Any comments on inbreeding? Any comments on breeding in general?

CC: As a tool, inbreeding is more powerful in a group than most people realize, and less powerful in an individual than most realize. We do quite a bit, depending on how you define it. We do it as a pattern of breeding that increases the inbreeding coefficient. It is, of course, a matter of degree in a herd such as the Davenports. We try to arrange breedings between the most complimentary individuals, then see what inbreeding is present secondarily. You don’t have to inbreed only with perfect animals. Alice Payne pointed out that if you wait until you have perfect ones, you’ll never accomplish anything. Inbreeding is more apt to increase variations in individuals produced than it is to produce similarity.

The biggest problem Arabian breeders have is identifying their most worthwhile breeding stock. It is not always what you think! You have to use all the stock available to you. How you use the less perfect animals is the telling thing.

You can’t know a bloodline unless you know all of the horses it has produced, not just the ones that have survived, or the ones in the public eye.

An immense amount of variation in horses is environmental, and in well established bloodlines maybe more variation is from environment than heredity. This is especially so when unfortunate individuals turn up and it is why some unsatisfactory animals can produce beautifully. Environment begins at conception. It is just as major a mistake to judge a foal harshly for environmentally produced problems as it is to critique it for problems that are inherited.

Breed the best to the best. Best what? That’s a breeding scheme that just might work fine if you could just figure out what “best” is.

Does type follow color? I’ve thought about this a lot, can’t prove it but I have a hunch the Monsoon type Davenports are chestnut. If there is a linkage between color and type, it may not be the same for one bloodline as it is for another.

Can you identify qualities in a foal that will stay in the mature horse? Probably only within the bloodlines and conditions with which one is very familiar — then maybe.

I think that disposition is more hereditary than leg structure, although there is no single “good” disposition. Different strokes for different folks. By someone’s definition, and I concur, a good horse has to have a good disposition. No matter whether stallions or mares, you will either watch them or they will watch you. A human and a horse cannot successfully occupy the same space. It is just a fact of life.

QUESTION: What percent of your breedings are done by AI? (Artificial Insemination) Why?

CC. Most of them are by AI. I feel it’s a more reliable method.

QUESTION: What attributes do you look for in a potential breeding stallion?

CC: I think he will get good foals! Seriously, you can’t tell by looking, or past a certain minimum, even by pedigree. You have to use them to see and the final analysis comes with his grand and great grandchildren. My initial selection is by pedigree. Individuality (overall or certain characteristics) has plenty to do with my choices. The stallion here have it hard because they are no better individually or more concentrated or powerful in pedigree than the mares, and the mare has more influence than the stallion anyway (this is a basic tenet of strain breeding — emphasis is on the female side). Almost any nice Arabian has a nice sire and the quality of the mare is usually the variable.

QUESTION: You personally train most of your stallions under saddle. Why?

CC: Actually, I think I’ve ridden every stallion I’ve used, some a lot more than others. You can’t fully appreciate or understand a horse until you ride it. If I could also ride all of the mares, I would. Riding tests them not just physically but mentally as well.

Unless you can view a horse in a riding context, there is no point in having it — you may not ride that individual horse, but you should be able to view it that way. You think of them as being from riding stock that will produce riding stock.

QUESTION: At the present time which horses are you riding?

CC: Catalyst, Brimstone, Plantagenet, Javera Thadrian, Cathay, Aspen, Lydian and Ibn Alamein during the past year, plus others that are on the back burner. I’m now doing the ground work on Brigade and Brass Band. Winter is when I can ride the most. I was also riding Regency, but he is one of a kind and totally irreplaceable. I would never hazard showing him so I primarily ride the others.

QUESTION: How do these horses compare to the great Tripoli offspring such as Aramis, Tybalt, Monsoon and Fairy Queen, which you trained and showed successfully in the past?

CC: I’ve probably changed more than the horses have. They are like very talented children in a family. Each has a different gift which needs to be encouraged. I’m not a good enough rider to do it, but I enjoy trying.

QUESTION: Your method of teasing mares is somewhat unusual. Will you describe it and tell us why you do it this way?

CC: Well, I usually ride the teasing stallion right into the herd of mares and foals. Sometimes I lead him, but if you’re going to get a horse out, you might as well ride him. I do it this way because I’d rather ride than walk. I can easily identify the breeding status of the mares. And stallions, after all, should behave, even in such a situation.

QUESTION: You’ve been breeding Davenports for over 30 years now. Do you have any plans for retiring? What about 20 years from now?

CC: I have no voluntary plans to retire from breeding horses. Twenty years from now, I may be pushing up daisies and I understand that is a full time occupation. If I’m able to, I’ll still be breeding Davenport Arabians.