Davenports Show Athletic Ability

by Joyce B. Gregorian

Elsewhere in this issue you will read Charles Craver’s history of the Davenport horse — a history in which he has played the major developmental role.

During the ‘50s and ‘60s, when the simple existence of the Davenport horse depended entirely on Craver Farms, relatively few animals could be spared from the breeding program to be trained or shown.

Even so, a number of the horses sold during this time distinguished themselves as working animals, for the most part in amateur hands.

Aida and MysticWithin the last decade, matters have begun to change. Increasing numbers of Davenport horses may be found outside Craver Farms, spread among an ever-widening group of enthusiastic breeder-owners.

For many of these owners, involvement with Davenport horses is a chance to combine a specialist breeding program with the production and enjoyment of highly usable and trainable animals.

The assets a Davenport horse can offer its amateur owner are considerable. The Davenport horse (and this highly inbred group is extremely consistent) is an athlete of medium size whose outstanding conformational feature is balance. There is a leg at each corner and a straight one at that.

While croups tend to be level and tail-carriage is proud, there is little of that over-built type of rear end to be seen where the hind-quarters stand above the withers and the canted angle of the tail forces the back to drop.

This means that Davenport horses, as a rule, have strong, raised backs able to carry a lot of weight. Similarly, the angle of head and neck tends to be very pliable so that the horse is easily put on the bit.

Most important, the Davenport horse tends to be extraordinarily personable, easy-going and interested in cooperation with its rider. It is nice that they tend to be rhythmic, bouncy movers; it is nicer that they are happy to put this athleticism at the service of their rider.

From the very first, it was the usefulness of the Davenport horse that attracted outside interest. The original importation was drawn from animals in active daily use as Bedouin war horse; thus they were horses that excelled in soundness, agility and amenability to training.

The noble grey stallion *Muson was ridden in New York City by Buffalo Bill Cody in the 1907 Wild West Show, only a year after arriving in the United States.

*Muson’s son Letan was the movie and real-life mount of Will Rogers (Letan also attained fame as a mount for Teddy Roosevelt and sired, among other good horses, the popular trick-horse Pep).

Jadaan, another second generation Davenport stallion, achieved fame as a movie-mount for Rudolph Valentino.

Each of these horses was renowned for its combination of sensibility, beauty and presence.

Among early Davenport athletes, Antez stands out. He was admired as much for his beauty of form and color (rich flaxen chestnut) as for his racing speed and intelligence.

faith bandit springsThis is the horse that was prized by the sedentary Kellogg for his value as a safe ride, yet he set a speed record for Arabians on the track. He set another record when he was exported to Poland as a sire and then was re-imported, along with his Polish-bred son Latif (thus sparing them both the rigors of World War II).

While Antez was out traveling, another chestnut Davenport was achieving top billing at home. Hanad, a son of imported *Deyr, starred as a high school horse at the Kellogg Sunday shows. His combination of extreme type, beauty and willingness to perform has rarely been equalled.

And although it is well known that through his son Tripoli Hanad established the chief sire line of modern straight Davenport horses, his importance in general Arabian pedigrees is often overlooked.

It was Hanad’s exquisite son Ibn Hanad who sired Tsali, the sire of Tsatyr: a male line still of importance today in the production of horses both typey and athletic.

Through Hanrah and Ibn Hanrah, Chrallah and Hanraff, Dowhana and many more, Hanad lives on today in some of the finest horses of mixed-source breeding.

The chief sire at Upland Farm, my own Janan Abinoam, is a straight Davenport grandson of Hanad foaled in 1960. He is full sibling to the Craver-breds Sir, Prince Hal, Pericles, Lady Fair and Lady Grey, a family of handsome grey horses aged 18-27, all alive in good health at this writing.

Abinoam was sold to Massachusetts as a weanling and grew up in enthusiastic, inexperienced hands. Trained and shown by amateurs, he achieved firsts and championships in English pleasure, Western pleasure, costume and pleasure driving.

At the age of 10, he was the Massachusetts Horseman’s Council High-Point Pleasure Horse; not long thereafter one of his two purebred foals, Janan Mayet, was grand champion mare at the New Hampshire “A” show and was also shown successfully in top competition in English pleasure.

Abinoam came into my hands in 1978, the year I leased Hanan Mayet to breed to my 27-year-old Rafmirz son, Zumirz. Her quality impressed me and sent me searching for her sire. Janan Mayet’s filly by Zumirz was only a month old when Janan Abinoam came to my farm to stay.

At that time, I had no intention of working with Abinoam — he was 18 years old, had been out of work for several years and was crippled from a trailering accident that had nearly severed his right hind leg.

Bint Abinoam UFBut Abinoam had the gift so many Davenports possess: He was unbearably tempting. He just looked like he ought to be ridden.

Once I had Abinoam under saddle, one thing led to another. He was stiff and head-set, so his jaw and neck had to be loosened up. He dragged his injured leg, so his back had to be relaxed and his left hind restrained while his right hind was encouraged. Just good basic dressage — riding the whole horse, schooling the whole horse.

Abinoam had spent his entire performing life like most show horses, going in a frame and obeying commands. This is not the same as going on the bit. I was not strong enough to break through his initial resistance to suppling, so I used draw-reins to force compliance at first.

I needed them for nearly two weeks until Abinoam suddenly realized that it was possible for a horse to relax, draw down and still be ridden. Once he knew that, we were on our way.

Abinoam placed respectably — 11th out of 32 — at our first show, despite a late arrival that necessitated galloping to “A” in order to enter at a quiet trot within the time allowed.

He tried his utmost for me and it was only his physical stiffness that kept him from the ribbons. With time, that changed but time was running out.

He was in his early 20s when he started competing at First Level and he was soon giving demonstrations of Second and Third Level movements. His extensions, collection and lateral work were all excellent and the rapidity and eagerness with which he learned was phenomenal.

Only my reluctance to stress him kept us from competing at the levels we schooled. The degree of concentration and effort required in a dressage test is considerable and asks a lot of an old horse, even one in very good condition.

In 1982, the Massachusetts Arab Breeders were invited to put on a good will exhibition at the Worcester Center Mall during spring vacation week.

The horses to be shown would be brought into the mall — though swinging glass doors, over slippery pavement — and stabled in the center, for the delight of hundreds of shoppers and children. A small ring would be set up next to the escalators to show different aspects of the Arabian horse.

Abinoam and I were invited to lead off with a dressage demonstration. Like the old trooper that he is, Abinoam strolled into the mall and gave two good performances under the eyes of hundreds, some above on balconies looking down.

A sound truck blared out music and my lapel microphone blatted with feedback at unpredictable times, but Abinoam had a job to do and never let me down. In fact, the old ham enjoyed every minute of it.

Six months later, Abinoam’s career as a riding horse was ended by emergency colic surgery. His good nature and extraordinary toughness pulled him through but he was on stall rest for six months and the loss of condition changed him from a youthful horse to an aging one.

In Spring of 1983, the Massachusetts Arab Breeders returned to the Worcester Mall and this time my demonstration was of a young horse in dressage training, thanks to my friend Karen Randall and my new young Davenport stallion Hellas, recently arrived from Craver Farms.

Meliea at Windsong Show, 2009It is impossible to replace a horse like Abinoam, but when a 5-year-old stallion, who had a few months training at age three, can be taken out for a pleasurable trail ride just hours after arriving at your farm — and after 24 hours of travel by trailer — you know you are on the right track.

Hellas did just fine at the mall, too, although I cannot honestly say he enjoyed it.

Since then, my Davenport collection has continued to grow. As a rider and breeder whose chief interest is dressage and sport, I find Davenport horses irresistible because they prove to me over and over again that Abinoam is not a marvelous freak of nature, but simply a good representative of his family.

And as I meet more and more Davenport enthusiasts, I find that I am not at all alone in my opinions.

A quick perusal of “Our Quest” No. 10 (Craver Farms’ “Occasional Newsletter”) yields the following list of Davenport stallions currently in showing, with only the last mentioned, Catalyst, owned and shown by Craver:

Pompey (jumping and dressage), Duggan (jumping and dressage: Training and First Level), Pendragon (Class A ribbons in jumping and hunt seat, national standing in dressage through AHSA and IAHA, competed at the Arabian Nationals at Training and First Levels).

Audobon (Training Level dressage), Kenz (Training Level dressage), HB Octavian (one show, wins at Training and First Level), Major General (qualified at open dressage shows and competed at Arabian Nationals).

Monsoon (Second and Third Level dressage, competed at Arabian Nationals), Trouvere (hunt seat and costume) and Catalyst (wins at AOTR park, placings in English pleasure).

As a representation of a breeding group that numbers only a few hundred individuals, that listing is more than respectable, and certainly shows not only the natural talents of Davenport horses but also the typical interests of Davenport owners.

As more Davenport horses are bred, trained and show, there is every likelihood that this tiny group of authentic “Bedouin-type” Arabians will come to be as well known or its performance ability as it is for the purity and rarity of its blood.