Preservation Breeding: The Davenports

Copyright 1991 by Charles Craver
used by permission of Charles Craver
from Arabian Horse World July 91

Craver Farms
Charles & Jeanne Craver
RT 2, Box 262
Winchester IL 62694

In 1906, Arabian breeding in the U.S. was jump-started into real activity by the importation of 27 Arabian horses directly from Arabia by an American, Homer Davenport. This importation increased by about one-third the number of Arabians in the U.S. Insuring their influence was the ingenuity, optimism and drive of their importer, Homer Davenport, backed by the steady determination and healthy financial reserves of his partner in horses, Peter B. Bradley of Hingham, Massachusetts.

Before the Davenport importation, there were already good Arabian horses in this country. They came from various sources. Several English breeders had contributed stock. There were desert-bred horses which had originally been imported by the Hamidie Society importation for the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. One horse was even present from Russia. Arabian owners had tried to get together to set up a breed organization in 1903. Nothing at the time seems to have come of this first effort to develop an Arabian Horse Club for the United States.

With the arrival of the Davenport importation in 1906, the whole context of Arabian breeding changed. The number of horses in this country had suddenly gotten big enough to amount to something. Furthermore, Davenport and his partner Bradley, while at the same time promoting their own horses, acted strongly on behalf of Arabians of other bloodlines as well. Under their leadership, the Arabian Horse Club of America was organized, furnishing registration opportunity for all Arabians in this country.

This was the first national registry exclusively for Arabian horses in the world. It was a giant step in the preservation of the Arabian horse outside of Arabia because it broke away from the idea of using precious Arabian blood mainly for cross breeding with other kinds of horses. American breeders talked about doing that, of course, but their real goal was to preserve the Arabian horse for its own merits because they knew it was the best horse in the world.

Davenport’s 1906 importation of horses from Arabia which started all this was one of the major such importations of record. It was conducted with the essential sponsorship of Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States at the time, and Abdul Hamid II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, which included Arabia. The expedition was unusual in that, contrary to usual practice, special importance was placed on getting horses which the Arab horsemen themselves considered to be desirable breeding stock.

Pictures of the imported horses were mostly the usual bad photographs of the day, but the horses they show compare very favorably with horses shown in pictures of desertbred horses of other bloodlines. The horses were widely recognized by horsemen in America as superior individuals. One of our major pioneer breeders, Spencer Borden, wrote of Davenport:

His expedition to Aleppo, and bringing back so many good horses, real Arabs, was a feat without an example. I did not believe it possible till I talked with him, and saw the animals.

Readers who are interested in knowing more of this importation, detailed with a light dusting of humor, will enjoy Homer Davenport’s own account of the subject, My Quest of the Arabian Horse. Many an Arabian library has been started with this book.

By long-term usage, horses which are registered as tracing entirely to foundation stock in Homer Davenport’s 1906 importation are spoken of as “Davenport Arabians.”

When the importation first arrived in this country, its horses were mostly bred to each other. This pattern of breeding has continued at some level ever since, constituting one of the oldest, recorded programs of Arabian breeding within the context of a closed herd. Presently, there are 700 living individuals. The actual number capable of reproduction, of course, is much smaller than that since many horses are youngsters, surplus males, pensioners, and animals which are reserved for performance purposes.

Characteristic features of these horses are fine skin, large eyes, large cranial area, moderate size, deep bodies, long hips, strong loins, cadenced and athletic movement, and sensible dispositions. People frequently comment that they “look like they came from Arabia.”

Students of Arabian breeding particularly enjoy the Davenports because these horses preserve the type characteristics of the major strains of Arabian horses known to the Bedouins of Arabia who originated the breed. One can go through a herd of Davenports with a Raswan book in hand and see horses of Saqlawi strain and Kuhaylans which illustrate his descriptions of the Kuhaylan strain. These type manifestations of Bedouin strain are backed up by generations of systematic breeding to cause the horses to be what they are.

Davenport horses are used for most of the purposes for which Arabian horses are currently used in America. This includes the usual show-ring utilization in which they have capability of success according to peculiarities of training and judging. In addition they have been used for endurance, cattle work, jumping, driving, and trail riding. They are well adapted to dressage training, and are excellent pleasure mounts and companion animals.

Dating from the importation of the foundation stock in 1906, Davenport blood has been used for crossing with other Arabian bloodlines. This has been done so extensively that at the present time, probably between 85 and 90 percent of Arabians in the United States have some Davenport ancestry, usually present in a pedigree at about 10 percent of blood represented. Many of the best historic bloodlines of American breeding occur only in conjunction with Davenport ancestry. When present on an outcross basis, the general tendency of Davenport blood is to bring out the best of the characteristics of the non-Davenport part of the pedigree. Additionally, there are often benefits of body proportion, athletic ability, and general Arabian type. Davenport blood is usually an influence towards amenability of disposition. Davenport presence is not by itself a guarantee of success in outcrossing. Good characteristics are necessary from other sources, too. The resulting animal is often superior to either parent.

Preservation goals started with Davenport horses before they even left Arabia. In a farewell dinner with his Arabian host, the latter jokingly told Davenport that he would be coming to America to see how well the bloodlines were being preserved. In America, the bloodlines were bred together very systematically both by Davenport and by Peter Bradley, his partner in the importation and for some years in Arabian breeding. As time passed, the bloodlines tended to scatter into breeding ventures where they were used extensively with other bloodlines. Some entirely Davenport horses continued to be bred right along, even though the number of such matings was not usually great. That such a pattern existed for many years is good evidence that deliberate preservation breeding was occurring.

By 1955, the number of horses entirely of Davenport breeding was down to about 25. At that point, a systematic effort was made to gather them together to be preserved as a breeding unit. Several breeders worked cooperatively on the project with the result that the number of Davenport horses began to increase. New enthusiastic owners were attracted. It began to be possible to separate the Davenport breeding stock into individual bloodlines which could be developed to their best potential as sub-breeding groups. Currently nine such groups exist in Davenport breeding with more possible. One of the strengths of Davenport breeding is that these breeding groups are compatible with each other and have the potential of long-term interactivity.

Davenport horses fit into the Al Khamsa and CMK categories of preservationist breeding. If anyone ever decides to restore the glory of old American breeding, they will be found to be present right at the ground floor, with first registrations in the 1909 Arabian Horse Club Stud Book and in Volume I, which was issued in 1913. Davenport horses represent more than the preservation of a single worthwhile breeding group in Arabian breeding. They also represent aspects of the larger heritage of Arabian breeding which all Arabian bloodlines have, but which sometimes are overlooked. Bedouin Arabian type is an example. The Davenports are still much like their desert ancestors and, in fact, allowing for some differences in condition, the similarity of present stock to pictures of foundation individuals can be amazing. Certain features originating with *Hamrah, *Muson, *Abeyah, *Reshan and *Haleb have clearly come to us. The tradition of a moderate-sized, athletic animal of amenable disposition has also been maintained. One of the goals of Davenport breeding is to preserve a kind of horse which the Bedouins of Arabia Deserta would have recognized as their own thing.

Is such a goal worthwhile in this age of improvements? Well, for the general purpose Arabian owner, no one has yet come up with a better horse than the Arabs did when they were exporting breeding stock to remodel the horse breeds of the world. From some points of view, every “improvement” that has been loaded on to the horse of the desert has made it worse.

A final object of preservation in connection with the Davenport Arabian horse has to do with people rather than horseflesh. Davenport horses call for ownership values that sometimes seem to be slipping away from Arabian horse affairs: a love of the tradition of the breed, an appreciation of the Arabian horse as an overall athlete, an awareness of the importance of the horse as a companion animal, a love of the beauty of the Arabian horse as a “natural” animal — these are values that Davenport owners are apt to share.

It would be impossible, of course, to preserve horses which fulfill these values if owners are not also preserved who seek them.