The Bedouin-Bred Arabians Story
Many years ago, now, I met a man named Gil Johnson who'd lived in the Middle-East. Both of us being falconers, we hit it off immediately. I was mesmerized by his stories of falcons, and princes and the bedouins of the desert. Upon his return to the States, he brought with him a desert-bred saluki - a wonderous creature of high intelligence and true loyalty, sweet, yet self-sufficient, quick and nimble as the desert winds that blew across her in her native home of Saudi Arabia. Little did I know that this chance meeting with this creature would set me out on a journey which would so form my way of life.
Over the years, I sought out a dog like this desert-bred saluki, but time and time again I found Western-bred sighthounds lacking. It seemed we'd bred both the brains and the instincts out of them, while making rail-thin wraiths of the noble bedouin's canine hunting companion. Eventually, I gave up the search, as getting a saluki out of Saudi Arabia is, for most, nigh unto impossible.
Years later, I found I had the ability to acquire a horse, a luxury I'd not had since teen years. Since my old gelding, Jocko, was a mixed-breed some 17.2 hands tall, and being a substantial individual myself, I was convinced I needed a substantial mount. When René mentioned Davenports, I was supremely ignorant, but when he explained that they were Arabians, my aunt's horses came to mind - nervous, uninvolved creatures that I'd as soon not even deal with. I voiced my objection, told René I wasn't interested in such a small horse, and considered the conversation ended. "Just hold off through the weekend, don't buy anything until I can talk to you a bit more about this," René insisted. When anyone insists that confidently and firmly, I'm paying attention. But I'm also a bit impatient at times, so spent a few hours that night investigating "Davenport" on the Net.
You don't have to hit me with a brick or call me twice to dinner. Reading from Charles & Jeanne Cravers' "Our Quest" I learned the story of these horses, of how Homer Davenport had imported them from the very same desert people which had made the saluki, and how Charles had managed to bring them back from the brink of extinction, saving them in their pure form just as they'd been found in Syria in 1906. The lights came on, and I immediately understood that, just as Western breeding had ruined the saluki, what we now call an Arabian Horse is a mere shadow of its desert ancestors. Having the opportunity to acquire a timecapsule like this, well...
Carol Lyons was kind enough to answer a number of questions, assuring me that with a Davenport's heartgirth, I would not be straddling a pony with my legs dangling inches above the ground, nor would I find a 14-2 horse lacking in power or ability. Then came the call to Charles Craver, who likewise tolerated my ignorance, and graciously invited me to visit the Craver farm, where over 120 of these horses could be seen. As I've mentioned, I'm an impatient sort...
By this time, convinced of the personal gold mine I'd found in these horses, my biggest concern was that such pure and rare blood would be far beyond my means. I recalled the prices Western-bred Arabians were fetching, and reasonably assumed that this purest of all Arabians would command prices well into the tens of thousands of dollars. Knowing the difference, though, I could settle for nothing less.
A few more hours on the Net and phone brought me to Mr. Bill Oates of Diboll, Texas, who'd been breeding Davenports for 35 years. As luck and fate would have it, Bill's age and ill health required that he sell off his horses... and by the time I became aware of him, all but one of his Davenports were already gone. I told Bill what I expected in a horse, that I wanted intelligence, a calm, sensible disposition, proper conformation and substance, a buddy/companion who'd willingly carry me through thick and thin. Without hesitation, he told me he had such a horse.
Coming from anyone else, I'd have thought what you're probably thinking now: Yeah, right. ONE horse left, and he just happens to fill the order. But Mr. Oates is 73 years old, an old-time country gentlemen who uses terms like "trade" to refer to business. His word is truly his bond, and I recognized the breed, as my father raised me exactly the same way.
The photos at Bill's site are exquisite. I'm not allowed to credit the photographer, but she has an inordinate talent and knows her craft. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to me at the time, she had precious little time to spend on this stallion Bill was offering me, and put her considerable abilities towards bringing Bill's other horses to life. Starantez, the stallion Bill was offering, paled in comparison to the wonderful shots of other stallions rearing and prancing about. Next to those photos, he seemed plain, lacking the fire that so many other photos demonstrated. But Bill had made me an offer I couldn't refuse, and assured me that he was conformationally correct, a worthy herd sire, and so a bargain was struck; Starantez would be my horse, and my first Davenport.
Let's face it, buying a horse you've never met is at least a little bit uncomfortable, no matter how much you'd like to put trust in the seller's integrity. Being the kind soul that he is, Bill had some snapshots taken of Starantez and sent them up to me. Once again, I saw a calm (to the point of dozing off) horse, this time being handled by a pre-teens granddaughter of Bill's. I have to admit, these pictures didn't do much for him either, and I'd begun to worry that I'd gotten a pig in a poke. But my word is my word, and through much trepidation, I decided to abide by it. Nevertheless, I eventually made it up to Charles & Jeanne's gracious hospitality to see the largest collection of Davenports in existence.
Suffice it to say that a day at Craver Farms is an experience every horse lover should know at least once in his life. To walk out into a pasture and be surrounded by 30 or so mares, each crowding in to greet you... the only thing that compares is a wild dolphin encounter, and the dolphins aren't quite as friendly! At CF, I saw many different types and strains of Davenports, met most of the 20-some stallions... and through it all, wondered where Starantez' meek disposition and unassuming looks would fit in with bloodlines like this. Demetrius was so powerful and majestic, Regency so... well, regal, Brass Band demonstrated perfect manners as Charles checked the mares to find out which were in heat - under saddle! My own soft spot was for a particular group of bay mares - none of which were for sale - and my heart will always belong to the lovely and unique filly Chanteuse. Three days was far from enough time... and yet it was all I had. As I left, I asked Charles for his opinion of Starantez' picture. Charles assured me he was just fine, to trust Bill, and that the boy was probably just flat-out bored. Myself, I was still withholding judgement.
Trying to get a horse hauler to go north out of East Texas is about as likely as finding a kangaroo running wild in Manhattan - It MIGHT happen, but you wouldn't wanna hold your breath. Eventually, I gave up trying and elected to go down to Diboll ad pick Starantez up myself. Though only 400 miles each way, it was HOT, and by the time we arrived in Diboll (only an hour or three late,) all of the delivery party were exhausted. As we pulled the empty trailer down the road leading to Bill & Billie Oates' place, I was barely able to hold up my head. Only the anticipation of finally seeing my very own Davenport in person kept me from nodding off... right until the time that we almost drove past his driveway. "Wait, stop!" I cried out, "Right there!" The driver's look suggested that I really should stop trying to play the psychic. But I knew we'd found the place, and I'd found Nirvana. Even from the hundreds of feet away, I recognized Starantez... and was overcome with excitement. "LOOK at him!" I chortled as I jumped out of the truck.
There's not a picture that's been taken yet which does Starantez even half his due. That untamed mane, the powerful, elegant desert head, the classic full form of a Saqlawi stallion, those huge deep-brown eyes, the calm warmth he exudes when he greets a friend, the confident movement as he trots across a field, the thundering power when he gallops... and the gentle sweetness he lavishes on those he knows to be friends... the playfulness... the way he carefully takes offered treats, ever-so-gently removing them from your delicate fingers with teeth that could crush them... and the way he respects one's space even when one's between him and a mare... the metallic shimmering of his deep chestnut coat in the sunlight... Bill hadn't lied even a little bit. Starantez is the consumate herd sire. I can't imagine any way in which he's lacking. Quarterhorse breeders and owners who come to visit will stand a while with their mouths agape, then circle him in a futile search for flaws. Anymore, I know the first question: How much for stud fees? Anymore, this wide grin comes across my face as I show the boy off. Maybe they think it's some sort of conceit. Truth is, I'm admiring him too.
Having a stallion of this sort of breeding is a wonderful experience. Unlike the hotheaded reputation some Arabians have earned, the Davenport is level-headed, and genuinely seems to like people. But having a stallion does not make one a breeder. Being a breeder is a whole different story... so I'll skip it and move on to the principle that founded this farm.
What makes the Davenport horse (or the desert-bred saluki, for that matter) unique in the world is thousands of years in one of the most harsh and hostile environments on the planet, serving people who managed to stand the test of that environment. The bedouin people are, by necessity, pragmatic. If an animal couldn't pull it's weight, there was no place for it. If it was stupid or independent enough to wander off into the desert, it and its genes died out there in the desert. If it didn't have an innate interest in being with people, it most certainly would not put up with the sometimes harsh treatment. And if it failed in stamina, agility, or courage, it died in battle and its line died with it. Only the very best could survive in such a place under those circumstances, a Natural Selection all its own. If I was to breed such creatures, I vowed, I'd do it as close to the way the Bedouins did it, or I'd not do it at all. Having seen how badly we Westerners could ruin thousands of years of evolution, I promised myself I would not be part of these creatures' downfall. And so the name "Bedouin-Bred" is more a promise and a prayer than any sort of brag. Insha'Allah, I'll be able to do them justice.
So... that's how it started. One chance comment, a saluki years since passed on, and the generosity of a true Southern Gentleman. Bill, you'll always have my most profound appreciation for breeding Starantez, for making him available to a newcomer, and for helping me to afford him. And by now you can probably tell, you've placed him right. Nobody could be more appreciative - or proud - of the awesome creature he is. Thank you - both you and Billie - from the bottom of my heart.
John "Taylor" Yezeguielian
12/4/99 2:00 am