By Edouard Aldahdah
Posted on November 18th, 2010 in General
I am a relatively recent addition to the group of North American-based breeders of the Arabian horses known as “Davenport Arabians”, since I bought Wisteria CF in from Charles and Jeanne Craver in 2006.
“Davenports” are a very special group of horses descending from the horses imported by Homer Davenport from the Northern Arabian desert in 1906 (some of them also trace to the horses which the Ottoman Empire sent to the 1893 Chicago World Fair).
I am very fond of this group horses (and even more so of their ‘inventors’, the Cravers), although I don’t identify as a ‘Davenport breeder’, nor do I think of my horses as ‘Davenport horses’. I’d rather think of Wisteria CF, her daughter Wadha and the other mare I have an interest in, Javera Chelsea, as asil Kuhaylat mares tracing to the war horses of the Bedouin tribes of the Northern Arabian desert. As such, they are the same kind of “Syrian” horses as those my father and I used to own, before I came to the USA in 2000.
That said, I think there are some lessons to be learnt from the group of “Davenport breeders” in recent years, i.e., since I have become acquainted with some of them as an “intimate stranger”. I feel these lessons — or at least my understanding of them — can be of some use to other Arabian horse breeding groups in the USA, and perhaps elsewhere, too.
The first lesson is about connectedness. Until the mid-2000s, Craver Farms was still the single biggest breeder of “Davenport” Arabian horses with a hundred or so horses in their pastures, half a century after Charles Craver secured the last few individuals entirely descending from the original 1906 importation. Today, the Cravers are no longer actively breeding, and some of the larger Davenport breeding ventures such as Carol Lyons’ and the Hannesschlagers’ have either been reduced or are no longer in existence. Yet the Davenports as a group have not suffered. On the contrary, they seem to be thriving, as much as horses can thrive in the current economic context prevailing in the USA.
That’s because a new generation of Davenport breeders have taken over. Few of these own more than 10 horses, and most of them own less than 5. And they are very connected to each other, through an active email discussion list and a good website that is a resource to their community as well as the outside world. A broad range of topics is on the menu of their discussion list: from the most practical (someone offering to haul horses across the USA), to the most sophisticated (mtDNA inheritance).
Their tightly-knit network has a central node in the Cravers and their Illinois friends, and there are other secondary nodes across the country: in Oregon, Northern Calfornia, and Maryland/Virginia. Constant flow of information means that any matter of significance to Davenport Arabians is at these breeders’ fingertips. They know where all their horses relatives are located and what’s their status. Go ask a random Egyptian breeder who owns his mares’ siblings and what the latter produced last year and try getting a positive answer. Also, ask any Davenport breeder to give you a list of five or six stallions in his/her immediate area, and you’ll see how fast they can come up with one.
The general lifestyle of Americans in 2010 is not the same as it was in 1960. People who love horses cannot afford to keep and sustain large herds over long periods of time. They also have to balance the constrainst of a day job that brings bread on the table (and hay in the barn), with their desire to breed more horses or to spend more time with the existing ones. Finally, they have to cope with changed social mores, where a tough divorce can bring down a breeding project to its knees. All this means a shift towards smaller, more manageable, more flexible breeding ventures.
If the overall number of horses is to stay the same over time so that the viability of the Davenport Arabians as a group is ensured for the benefit of future generations, then a larger number of breeders needs to own a smaller number of horses per breeder. This means a need to “grow breeders” who will in turn grown horses as somebody put it. How to grow more breeders will be the subject of another discussion.
Smaller, more fragmented, more dispersed breeding ventures used to mean less choice for breeding, since no one is able to maintain the batterry of 20+ stallions that Craver Farms used to align until recently. Still, the connectdness of Davenport breeders has turned the constraint of scale into an opportunity. The cooperation that has resulted from this connectedness has meant that Davenport breeders are able to exchange stallions from one coast to another (with rest stops along the way at other Davenport breeders), and transport live semen from one place to another, to keep a large range of breeding options available.
I witnessed this first hand, when I was looking for a stallion for an aged mare in Missouri in which I have an interest in. I wanted to breed her to a Davenport stallion, and I asked which stallions were in the vicity of Kansas City, Missouri. Jeanne Craver put a query on the online discussion list, and there were more than eleven answers, of which at least five were viable breeding options for that mare.
Similarly, that connectedness between Davenport breeders has meant that there are no Davenport horses being ‘rescued’ from breeders who can no longer afford to feed them. In today’s economic situation, you can hear of horses being turned loose, of horses attached to telephone poles on the side of the road, and horses starving in death barns. The Davenport group of horses seem exempt from this sad fate, because their owners can rely on the tightness of their community and the constant flow of information between them to place horses with friends and fellow breeders, and devise creative leasing arrangements that make it possible to keep the horses in production at minimal costs for their owner.
That connectedness is truly an impressive feature of the Davenport breeding community, and while not everything is rosy in Davenportland (connectedness can border on instusiveness, and can channel constructive cooperation as well as personal jealousies), this small community is a ray of hope in the rather glim future of the Arabian horse.
I will discuss another lesson from recent Davenport Arabian horse breeding in an upcoming entry.