Sunday, July 25, 2010

A new way to visit old friends

I learned this morning that Charles Craver has donated his impressive collection of Arabian horse skulls to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Charles bred Davenport Arabian horses for decades, including my aunt's beloved Binni. Actually, he didn't just breed them, he gathered the tribe together and created the Davenport program as it currently exists. He corresponded with "The Greats" in the Arabian breeding community, and developed a way of keeping as much genetic diversity as he could within a closed breeding group. He wrote excellent scholarly articles on important people and horses for Arabian Horse World and other magazines. He's something of a legend within certain circles.

Charles became interested in measuring horse's skeletons and skulls because there are so many myths about Arabians. (They are missing a vertebra. Yeah, lots of horses are born without one -- it's not unique to Arabians. They are missing a pair of ribs. Some horses are born without a pair of ribs. Some dogs are born without a pair of ribs. Some humans are too. It's not that big a deal. But to those who buy in to the Majikal Arabians myth, it's handy to throw these anomalies around as signs of divine speshullness.) Charles particularly wanted to know about how the head connects to the neck and whether a family of Arabians that are known to have high head carriage really do have something physically different about them, or whether they just have the tendency to put their heads up in the air.

He had horses in his barns, but he had no skulls. So Charles did a brave and wonderful thing. After every important horse of his died, he carefully prepared its skull and cataloged it. His collection is really remarkable in that he has pictures and measurements for the living animal to be used as comparison to the skull.

Now that Charles is older, he has sold off most of his herd to other breeders save for a few "pensioners". This week, his skull collection was donated to the Carnegie Museum.

I like to go visit descendants of the horses I knew at my aunt's from time to time. (Last month I hung out with one elderly lady I knew in her youth at the farm.) Now I guess I can go visit the ancestors of the Upland Farm crew. It won't be the same without Charles' commentary though. Than again, I keep reminding myself, things change.

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