By W. Michael Briggs Jr.
One of the most difficult things to do successfully is to accurately describe a breeding group of Arabian horses. The English language seems ill-equipped to convey the many subtle nuances which define the most distinctive of all Arabian bloodlines, a line which has developed in semi-isolation for 80 years on this continent.
These small differences, which add up to such proportions as to seem almost another breed, are both physical and mental. The physical characteristics have been well expressed in many articles and books.
I have tried many times to explain to others how the mentality of the Davenports is different, only to have people say to me, “That’s just like my horse.” We have owned many kinds of Arabians and there is a real difference.
Usually I end up saying, “If you lived with a Davenport for 60 days and have any sensitivity to horses, you would quickly see the differences.”
Unfortunately, that is not a very practical solution so I am going to do the next best thing in the following paragraphs; I am going to let people familiar with Davenport Arabians tell their stories about them, and you can decide for yourself if they intrigue you enough to find out more for yourself.
As you read these accounts, remember that there have never been very many of these horses, and that the extent of the existing testimony about such a small group is curious in itself.
Homer Davenport, My Quest of the Arabian Horse, 1906
Just as the big red sun was setting we came to the desert. Wadduda stopped as if she were paying some tribute to the closing day.
The faint roadway now seemed to disappear and before us was a vast barren plain. The sky was of a soft, blue, tinted to gold by the sun, which had just set.
I turned in my Oregon-made saddle, as easily as I could, that I might see where the rest of the caravan was. The mare did not notice my turning.
With a quick and graceful toss of the head, she began to play. I sat deep down in my saddle and let her frolic uninterrupted. She finally stopped short and snorted twice.
Turning slightly to the left she started galloping with a delightful spring. It was the return home, the call of the wild life with its thrills of war and races; with its beautiful open air, as compared with the musty stuffed corral she had been picketed in.
She was getting away from civilization and back to the open. Once in a while she stopped short, apparently to scent the rapidly cooling atmosphere. Now and then she pranced, picking her way between camel thistles.
Her ears were alert; her eyes were blazing with an expression of intense satisfaction. All this time, I found by my wet cheeks, that I had been crying without knowing it.
I was wrought up to a state of much excitement. I was again a boy and felt the presence of my parents and recalled the stories of the Arab horses they used to tell me when I was a child. I remembered the drawings I had made of them as a boy.
It was hard to realize that I was I, and that I was astride the most distinguished mare of the desert. I seemed then to realize what she was and what she meant to me. My face was dripping again and I felt glad I was alone.
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? Perhaps of her wars; or of combats on the desert, or of the keen edge of the Bedouin lance given when she had seen both horse and rider fall from the thrust of the spear of the great Bedouin sheikh who had ridden her.
So for a 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.
W.T. Smith (1930) as told by M.J. Parkinson, The Kellogg Arabian Ranch, the First Sixty Years, pages 162-163
The script called for a battle scene. About 400 players took part and the battle scene was most realistic, for this was after the advent of sound pictures.
In one place in the scene it was required that Jadaan’s rider, a prominent character, should fall from his horse apparently wounded. Some little fear was felt as to the outcome, for Jadaan had never been ridden by this actor until three days prior to the staging of the act and had never taken part in a rehearsal.
The outcome, however, was a surprise to everyone. Imagine the scene: Four hundred players endeavoring to create the greatest confusion possible, running, riding, and shouting to the accomplishment of the firing of hundreds of rifles and Jadaan bearing a new rider in a strange location.
At the proper moment his rider slumped as though struck by a bullet; he fell from his back. Away went Jadaan but only for a moment.
He remembered his responsibility to his new master, made a small circle, returned to his prostrate form and held his ground until the battle was over. By this exhibition of courage and of faithfulness in the line of duty, he won the unstinted praise of some natives of Arabia who were participating in the play.
At the first opportunity they rushed to his side, petted him, and said, “Ah, he is a real Arabian horse, wouldn’t leave his master.”
Nancy Mallon, as told in Our Quest, the Craver Farm newsletter #8, 1984
I was appointed chairman of what was to be a defunct hunter/jumper committee of the Colorado Arabian Horse club … It was quite a crusade to save the program.
When spring came along, I not only was extremely busy with the show planning but the weather was terrible and I couldn’t get my horses out to ride. So, “Poor Pet Pompey” went to another barn for training and conditioning.
Before the classes, I helped the rider and Pompey tack up but when I walked off Pompey tried to follow me. I went back, loved him a bit then went into the show ring to help the judge. I was running the classes and there was not time for me to ride the horse myself.
Pompey started jumping the course beautifully. He has such style! He came straight toward the jump where I was standing, never breaking his rhythm.
Then, he made eye contact with me and stopped dead in his tracks. The trainer, on the sidelines, nearly doubled over. It was so obvious to the crowd what he was doing.
The rider approached the second time but Pompey would not take his eyes off me. So I hid behind another unused jump while he was turning away. The last approach and jump was beautiful.
Even the judge laughed about it as she knows me and the horse. It was the highlight of the show. Needless to say, I stayed out of the ring for his remaining classes.
Jerry Dirks as told to Julie Briggs by Deborah Dirks, 1986
Jerry was out for a weekend ride on Sarsaparilla with his friend Terry mounted on his Quarter Horse stallion. Early in the ride they came upon a deep gully which the stallion refused. “Sassy” headed down the ravine without any real hesitation. When Terry’s horse wouldn’t budge Jerry tied his rope to his saddle horn, ran the other end around the Quarter Horse’s neck, and pulled the stallion down the slope.
About 15 miles later the two of them started to climb a steep slope. As it got steeper and steeper the horses began to struggle a bit.
All of a sudden Sassy leveled out her back. Jerry called to his companion, “What is she doing?” Terry replied, “I don’t believe it, she’s crawling up the hill on her front knees!”
Sarsaparilla worked all the way to the top of the ridge that way before rising to her feet. You know, Jerry has never really trained that mare to any real extent. She just seems to take special care of whichever member of our family is on her back.
Ed Skinner as told in Our Quest, the Craver Farm newsletter #7, 1984
I have always been a hunting enthusiast but in the last few years it has been done on foot as my old “horse” hunting partner had moved away. This year I determined to hunt again and use my Davenport stallion Said Abdallah, even if I had to hunt alone.
The only special preparation with Said was to fire a .22 caliber pistol close to him before saddling up. The first round caused Said to jump rather sharply but by the sixth round he just looked at me.
On reaching the first major summit, a place called Burkhardt Saddle, I came upon three other “horse” hunters who had come up from the other side of the range. They seemed quite surprised that I was riding a “silly” Arabian and a stallion to boot.
My path took me up toward the high ridges on a very dim and unused trail on which my new companions did not wish to trust their “steady” mounts. Without any hesitation Said went up this almost nonexistent mountain trail.
We had worked our way up for not more than a quarter of a mile when Said pricked his ears and there he was — a fine four-point buck slowly going up a steep rock-slide about 50 or 60 yards above. I dismounted, tied the lead rope to a mahogany bush, took careful aim and dropped the buck nice and clean. By the time I had field dressed and dragged the buck to where Said was tethered, the three other hunters came running up the trail to see what the shooting was about.
They helped me load the deer over the saddle and lash it down. Said tolerated all this activity without any fuss and we started down the mountain.
When we returned to the place where the other horses were tied we found that the lashings on the deer had loosened a bit and while I was relashing the deer, they asked me how much experience Said had. I told them that this was the first deer that Said had ever seen.
As I started down the trail for home, I overheard a remark that made me swell a tiny bit with pride, “There is a real horse.” He was more right than he will ever know.
Now I am not certain that every Arabian horse would do all this as quietly and smoothly, but I do know that Said Abdallah can.
I hope the above accounts convey to you the deep attachments generated by associating with the Davenport Arabians. Since Davenport people pride themselves that their horses are little changed since the desert importation 80 years ago, I would like to close as I started, with Homer Davenport’s own words.
The original Said Abdallah was a slave, sent with Wadduda to look after her in her new home. After Said had been here a year he became stricken with a deep feeling of homesickness. Davenport offered to send him home, spent a sleepless night, and then tells us:
“I got up before daylight, still restless, and went out, and there in the north pasture saw an impressive spectacle — the trying out of Said’s religious faith. Wadduda, the war mare, dresssed and draped in all her beautiful, wild regalia, was in the pasture.
“From her neck hung the beads of a wild tribe, and from the desert saddle long flowing tassels swayed in the morning breeze. It must have taken Said half an hour to have draped her.
“Sticking in the dirt at her side, towering over her head 10 feet or more, was the war spear from the Anezeh. Kneeling on his prayer rug in front of her forefeet was Said, facing, as I first thought, the strip of timber across the road.
“But as I watched the picture I saw that he was praying toward the light spot on the horizon — toward Mecca. I watched for fully five minutes. The boy touched his lips and forehead with an upward stroke of the hand, and dropping both hands beside him, looked intently for a moment at the approaching dawn.
“Rising up slowly, he picked up his little prayer rug, lifted his spear from the damp earth, while the beautiful prancing mare came to his side. Her tail was swinging proudly from side to side.
“As they approached me I saw that Said’s eyes were, if anything, more swollen than they had been the evening before. To cheer him up, I spoke to him first.
“ ‘Said, I thought when I saw you in the pasture that you were some member of the Anezeh that had come to see me.’
“ ‘La (no), Mr. Davenport, Said no see Anazeh.’
“ ‘You are going back to the desert.’
“ ‘No go desert. All night Said no sleep — sit down, no lay down. Go Wadduda stall, pray; come back no answer — no sleep — pray, no sleep.’
“Turning he pointed out into the pasture to the little knoll, and said that there a few moments ago Allah had answered his prayer. When he found where Mecca was, he had prayed to Allah and Allah had told him that he was not to go back to the desert; that he had been given with Wadduda by Akmet Haffez to me; and that he was going to stay as long as Wadduda lived — would stay even when she was gone, with her colt and her colt’s colt, and was never going back to the desert. He has never been homesick since.”
Said Abdallah’s devotion may have come from his faith, but the devotion of all of us for our Davenport Arabians comes from our association with the horses themselves, from their willingness to share themselves with us. In so doing, they reveal as much to us about us as them and touch their spirit into our lives forever.