by R.J. Cadranell
copyright 1995 from “Scholar’s Corner” in CMK Record, XI/3: page 8 & 24
(Preface: This paper [originally written to be read at the 1995 Annual Meeting of the Arabian Horse Historians Association] is confined to commentary on Western writers, since this author is not familiar enough with Eastern writers to include them.)
One problem facing writers interested in Arabian horse history — and I seldom hear it mentioned — is how to evaluate a source. Much of the time a source is simply taken at face value, but historical writers nearly all had motives of one kind or another, and not all of them were benevolent motives. There might even have been a few crackpots at the turn of the century.
Nearly all of the writers whose work we read had Arabian horses for sale, and if they didn’t, their friends did. When someone sent a letter to the editor of the Rider and Driver criticising the Arabian horse, and Spencer Borden and Homer Davenport rushed to the breed’s defense, it was partly because their feelings were hurt and the Arabian was being treated unfairly. How fortunate that their own horses — among others — could provide examples of the virtue of Arabians. To use Borden and Davenport again as examples, when Davenport produced a detailed catalogue of his stock, and Spencer Borden wrote a couple of books, it was only partly to record photographs and information for posterity. Lady Wentworth in her Authentic Arabian Horse dismisses Davenport’s book [My Quest of the Arabian Horse] as an “advertising stunt.” Undoubtedly that was one reason for the book, but My Quest was far more than just that, as you all know. And let us not forget that Authentic Arabians includes a whole chapter on the Crabbet Stud as it existed at publication time, with a long list of champions bred.
Both Borden and Davenport had a flair for publicity. Two very different flairs, to be sure, but they each had one, and I am glad they did. We would know far less about these men and their horses if they, like Peter Bradley of Hingham Stock Farm, had been the type to stay out of the public eye. We must keep in mind that the books, newspaper and magazine items, catalogues and letters were not written entirely for our benefit and enjoyment. Multiple motives were involved, and the items were aimed at multiple audiences. Entertaining a group of horse history buffs 90 years later was probably not the primary motive. This use of their material is often simply a byproduct of the intended use — a byproduct of which the writers may have been aware, but a byproduct all the same.
Other categories of writers provide their own set of problems. When a writer claims to know all about someone else’s horse, how much credibility is he or she to be given? Perhaps none. Perhaps full credibility. Or somewhere in between? Then there are the writers who left pages of invective. Dismissing it as the ravings of lunatics may be extreme, but personalities and motives must be taken into account in evaluating any of this material. If taken at face value, there is potential for it to do great harm.
Although it becomes less true as more examples of diaries, herd books and correspondence of early breeders become available, frequently what we are left to evaluate is only what was designed for public presentation. Slick catalogues, carefully written books, ads in periodicals and letters to the editor put a veneer on a historical person or program. All that material has its place — without it we might be hard put to understand how the breeders wanted their horses or themselves to be perceived. But it frequently leaves us scratching our heads and wondering what was happening on the inside.
Using published stud books is essential, but I have to credit Charles Craver for saying that to understand a breeding program fully, one must know what was attempted and failed as well as what succeeded. And knowing what happened to every foal is important. Was an animal sold as a youngster, or kicked at three months and subsequently put down? It makes a difference.
I will take a few examples from the breeding program of Alice Payne at the Asil Arabian Ranch. AFARA was an Asil Ranch foundation mare and dam of the important broodmares CELESTE, TRITY, DESTYNEE and ASIL LYRA. AFARA’s last three registered foals were all by RAFFERTY, in 1958, ’59 and ’61. Yet she was still at the Asil Ranch when Alice Payne died in 1969. Was she retired from breeding, did her foals die, or did she become a problem breeder as an older mare? If she was bred, did she go to RAFFERTY or to another stallion? Asil Ranch records show that AFARA aborted a colt in 1962 and was treated for infection off and on over the next several years, during which she was bred not to RAFFERTY but to his sons SYZYGY and ASIL ECLIPTIC.
Another question. From 1962 to 1969, were there any stallions used who have no foals registered to them, or does the stud book record accurately reflect the full extent of the Asil stallion battery? The answer is yes, it does, with the exception that ASIL HARB did cover one mare before he left for Connecticut.
Another crucial perspective is the context of when something was written and what was happening at the time. If Lady Wentworth or Musgrave Clark writes a letter to the editor regarding the height of Arabian horses, particularly in the show ring, perhaps a divine muse suddenly inspired them to expound on the subject, and we have an opportunity to learn from their selflessly expressed knowledge and opinions. Or maybe the letter dates from the period when a violent debate on the subject was taking place within the Arab Horse Society. Clark may have felt that his drive to limit the height of Arabian horses in the show ring served some lofty purpose — but might it also bar from the ring many successful show horses owned by his competition, even some owned by Lady Wentworth? Undoubtedly.
Aiding in the evaluation of a writer is intimate knowledge of the biography and personality. I will go out on a limb and say that to understand the motives behind, and properly evaluate, any written material, one cannot know too much about the writer. This knowledge is gained by reading — and re-reading — everything he or she ever wrote, reading everything written about them by people who knew them, by a study of what they did, and by reading scholarly biographies if available. Newspaper and magazine accounts also help. If the person in question was also a breeder of Arabian horses, much can be learned from published stud books.
Take nothing at face value, and evaluate it only in the context of everything else known about the person.