The News From Here

Our Quest #43 April 15, 2003

page 6 - Skulls

(What Tales Old Bones Can Tell)

The late Alice Payne was primarily a Skowronek breeder, but she was also a key element in the restarting of Davenport breeding following World War II.

She was a client and admirer of Dr. Stephen Lange, a veterinarian whose approach to Arabian horse breeding was effective and impossible for any one else to duplicate. One of the things for which Alice Payne admired him was his interest in preserving the skulls of important Arabian horses. In the 1950s, when Dr. Lange was active, a number of the great foundation horses of American Arabian breeding were at the end of their lives. As they died, Dr. Lange saved their skulls. His collection was said to include the skulls of *Raffles #952, *Raseyn #597, Hanad #489 and Antez #448. These four horses were fundamental to Arabian breeding in America. The *Raffles and *Raseyn skulls may have held the key to why these two sons of Skowronek were so different in type and the kind of foals they produced. The Hanad and Antez skulls were also from closely related horses which were different in their own types and in the families of Arabians which developed from them. A five-minute comparison of the skulls of Hanad and Antez might provide new insight into the pedigrees of many Arabian horses, including all of the Davenports.

Other skulls collected by Dr. Lange may have been equally important. Unfortunately, we are unlikely to ever know all that was in that collection which somehow seems to have been lost. Dr. Lange was asked about it repeatedly by different people, some of them his close friends. Apparently no one ever got the answer. Somewhere in California in some barn loft there may be boxes of old skulls which are treasures of Arabian history. Be careful of what bones you throw away.


Regardless of what happened to Dr. Lange's skull collection, he had fostered the idea of collecting Arabian skulls This was in the context of several other such collections. The Smithsonian Institution has the skull of one of Davenport's imported horses, *Haleb #25. The Natural History Museum of New York City has the skulls of *Astraled #238, *Abu Zeyd #82, *Gouniead #21, and others. Bazy Tankersley has saved the skulls of Indraff #1575, Gulastra #521 and Rose Marie #4168. The British Museum has skulls, including that of Skowronek. A number of skulls are in museums in Europe. A surprising number of individual breeders in America have saved a skull or two of special horses.

As Arabian breeding developed at Craver Farms we encountered the problem that all horses eventually die. We knew very early from our own study and from a comment by Carl Raswan that the revival of Davenport breeding was of historic importance. Nothing like Davenport breeding was being done elsewhere, and time was running out on the few that were left. Furthermore, these horses were unique in western Arabian bloodlines in their closeness to Arabian desert sources of the late 19th century.

At Craver Farms with the death of Dharanah on Christmas eve of 1966, we decided to follow the example of Dr. Lange. Her skull was saved, and, as more horses died, their skulls were saved as well. Other people have generously contributed skulls from their own horses. Some of these have been skulls which were not Davenport, and these have been of great interest, too. At present, the entire Craver Farms collection consists of 83 Davenport skulls and 30 skulls of other bloodlines, not counting skulls of immature or unidentified horses. [1/10: The collection is now over 150 specimens, with a major announcement to come!]

There is a beauty to horse skulls, and it seems a desecration to send them to a rendering plant or to leave them entirely to earth processes. No skull, of course, has the beauty that was the living animal, but the shape and proportions remain after flesh is gone. For people who knew the horse, a residue of personality may even seem to remain. Some skulls are beautiful. If the breeding of Arabian horses is an art, surely preservation of a part of their beauty is an aesthetic consideration.

We all think we know our horses well, but a skull often tells us things that we did not fully realize when the horse was alive. Some of these are simple biological facts: a jaw seems enlarged because it has been broken, a head would not turn to one side because of an old fracture. Problems in tooth wear have distorted a face and caused loss of condition. The structure of its occiputal region may tell us the cause of a horse's natural head carriage.

Studying its skull often shows us that our opinions of a horse when living were based partly on ephemeral, soft-tissue characteristics. The skull gets us away from evaluations based on color, markings, musculature, fineness of skin, and expressions of vitality. Such things are important features, but they do not diminish the importance of the underlying bones upon which they depend. As we study a horse's skull, we have better understanding of what the horse really was. Sometimes that horse which seemed a little plain has a beautiful skull. Sometimes beautiful horses have skulls that are not really exceptional.

One of the reasons for having a skull collection is that it furnishes opportunity to make comparative measurements. This is a process that calls for scientific expertise. Some day maybe an expert will do a definitive study of Arabian skulls, and, when that happens, the skulls in the Craver collection may contribute to a better understanding of the Arabian horse.

Unfortunately, scientists are not presently available for such a project. Until such a scientist turns up, our function at Craver Farms is to collect and preserve skulls for future investigation. Meanwhile, we cannot resist the temptation to measure them in a layman's simple way in order to better understand how to breed Arabian horses.

Often when describing horses horsemen talk about basic measurements that are related to the underlying skull. How wide is the head? How long is the head? How wide is the space between the jaws? How big is the cranium? Such questions are basic to describing a horse. For effective judging and breeding, we need to answer them as accurately as possible.

It seems simple enough to take measurements from a living horse. In practice, this turns out to be hard to do. Many differences in horse measurements are very small. The wiggly character of soft tissue— skin, muscle, and fat mostly—causes difficulty in measuring dimensions which differ by only a few millimeters. Some measurements cannot be made on a living horse in any simple way. This is especially true of cranial capacity which varies considerably from one skull to another.

Measuring skulls, however, is easier than taking live measurements because skulls don't move around on their own. Their surface is hard. and not covered with elastic soft tissue. For some measurements, there are specific points between which to measure that are not practically available on a living horse.

The problem in measuring a horse skull is to find dimensions which are meaningful to the Arabian horseman and which are definite enough so that they enough number to be comprehensive for non-Davenport Arabian bloodlines. At least this group contains representatives of several major breeding groups of Arabian horses, among which are specimens from *Raffles, New Egyptian, Babson Egyptian, Blue Star, Babson-Turfa and CMK bloodlines—even one skull of bloodlines of rather recent importation from Lebanon.


Originally we started measuring from the top of the occiput—the end of the skull at the top of the head, between the ears —to the edge of the front teeth. That is the customary way of measuring the length of a horse's skull. The difficulty with this measurement is that the dimensions around a horse's teeth change with age. Where skulls are not standardized as to age at time of death, measurement to the edge of the front teeth varies according to how the donor aged.

The procedure was changed to measure from the top of the occiput to the foramen (a hole in the bone though which nerves go) on the upper gum at the midline of the skull and just above the front teeth. Placement of this seems not to change much with age in adult horses. Most skulls have a little dent on the midline of the occiput. Unless this area is smooth with the rest of the upper edge of the occiput, measurement is made slightly to its side where the indentation does not occur.

The average length of head of Davenport horses was 50.26 cm. Non-Davenport skulls averaged 50.42 cm in length. These measutements are so close to identical that they probably do not indicate a real difference in the length of heads in the two groups.


This is measured between the outermost edges of the flare of bone around the eyes. It defines the dimension which is usually talked about when the width of a horse's head is discussed. The skin is thin in this area, and the measurement can almost be duplicated on a living horse. The average facial width for Davenport horses was 21.34 cm. The average facial width for non-Davenport horses was 20.89 cm.


As a matter of comparing skull measurements between the two sets of skulls regarding facial width and length of head, ratios for each group have been calculated by dividing average facial width by average length of head (FW/L) The resulting index of width to length was 42.55 for the Davenports and 41.43 for the non-Davenports. The two figures are so much alike that they provide another illustration of the similarity of the skulls of different Arabian breeding groups.

photo courtesy of Lorriee Golanty


The cranium of a horse is the box that contains the brain. It is mostly above the eyes in the area thought of as the forehead extending to the top of the interior part of the skull. Measuring the width of this box is difficult to do in a repeatable way because it has so few definite points between which measurements can be made. Nevertheless, the measurment has been made to see to what extent cranial width reflects the more significant measurement of cranial volume. For some skulls which are especially wide or narrow in the cranial area, cranial width does relate to cranial volume, but with many skulls this relationship is not strong.

Cranial width for the Davenports averaged 10.61 cm. Cranial width for non-Davenports averaged averaged 9.8 cm.


Being wide between the branches of the jaws is a point of desireable type for many breeds of horses. In the Arabian horse, it is considered important in almost all written standards. Travelers who have visited Arabian countries frequently comment that native Bedouin horsemen also consider it an important point of conformation. In our culture, old-time breeders frequently put a hand beneath the branches of a horse's jaws to see how widely they are separated. This is a practical way of observing a horse in the flesh, but it can be misleading if the hand is not placed at the same location on each horse. It is most reliable for horses that are very wide or very narrow, and for horses which have moderate head and neck carriage.


photo courtesy of Lorriee Golanty

Measuring width between the jaws is not an entirely simple matter. The lower jaw of a horse's skull is a wishbone kind of affair. It is widest at the hinge location near the horse's ears. The jaw tapers to a point just to the rear of the lower gum and front teeth. The taper follows a curved line along the lower edge of the jowls and then makes a rather straight V shape to the point at the rear of the teeth. Horses are relatively wide at the hinge area of the jaw and are narrow at the point of the V. In order for comparisons between horses to mean anything, measurement has to be made between the same locations on the jaws measured.

We have approached this problem by placing the lower jaw on a horizontal surface like a table and dropping a vertical line from the deepest part of the hinge area of the jaw to the bottom of the jowl. Measurement is then made from a point on the inner surface of the jowl and at the bottom of that line across from the bottom of one jowl to the inner surface of the other. The distance measured is between the jowls from the inside surface of one jowl to the inside surface on the opposite side.

The average width between the jaws for Davenport skulls was 9.69cm. Width between the jaws for non-Davenport skulls averaged 8.45cm.

Looking at the lower jaws of skulls it is easy to see why some are markedly narrower between the jowls than others. Most skulls are about the same width in the hinge area where the lower jaw meets the upper part of the skull. In skulls which are wide between the jowls, the back edge of the jowls is about as wide at the bottom of the curve of the jowl as it is at the top. In skulls which are markedly narrow between the jaws, the same dimension is of normal width at the hinge joint at the top of the jaw, but the jowls taper together where width is measured at the bottom. Looking at the jaw from the rear, the horse which is wide is about as wide at the hinge areas as it is at the bottom of the curves of the jowls. The horse which is narrow tapers from the hinge areas at the top of the jaw to the bottom of the curves of the jowls.

photo courtesy of Lorriee Golanty


The cranium is located mostly above the eyes and its facial surface is mostly in the area called the forehead. Cranial volume is variable with horses. Whether the variation is related to intelligence or performance of the horse is not known to this writer. The cranium is an integral part of a horse's head, like facial width or facial length. Volume was measured by filling craniums with shot and then measuring the amount of such shot used. For some reason, there can be considerable variation in repeat measurements of cranial volume even on the same skull. Measurements are repeated until they eventually arrive at a figure that can be duplicated by further measurement.

For Davenport horses, the average cranial volume was 747.56cc, and this often varied from one skull to another. Of special interest are thirteen Davenport skulls having individual volumes of >800cc. Cranial volume for non-Davenport horses averaged 654.15cc.

If only a way could be found to measure cranial volume in the living horse!


Most skulls of Arabian horses in the Craver collection are similar as to dimensions of facial width and length of head. A few are smaller than others, but even this difference is usually slight and is surprisingly independent of the size at the withers of contributing horses. Allowing for a few exceptions, the skulls of the taller horses and the smaller horses tend to be about the same, with differences of only fractions of centimeters. The difference in apparent sizes of the heads of living Arabian horses often has more to do with differences in soft tissue than in the underlying bone of the skulls. Other breeds of horses may by comparison be larger or smaller. Obviously, a pony can have a smaller head than a draft horse. But Arabians skulls in the Craver collection are a lot alike. Many of the differences between heads are difficult to measure in a living horse and are probably too inconsequential to be determined by eye.

Along with their similarities, there are differences in the skulls of individual horses and between breeding groups of horses. Since this is a newsletter primarily for people having an interest in Davenport horses, attention is invited to the accompanying chart of skull measurements.

Measuring the skull of a horse gives us the chance to know the horse better. Unfortunately, the lesson comes after the horse is dead, but the knowledge is still useful because it adds information to a pedigree. Different people will no doubt form different conclusions from skull measurements. One thing is probably certain for almost everybody, and that is that the beauty of the living horse is apart from any measurement. The miraculous covering of skin and other soft tissue that animates the skull beneath is something that we have for a moment and is gone by the time we unpack our calipers.


Craver Farms Collection 1/26/03

Davenport Skulls
Non-Davenport Skulls
Avg. Cranial Volume
747.56cc (n=78)
654.15cc (n=27)
Range, CV
Avg. Cranial Width
10.61cm (n=81)
9.80cm (n=29)
Range, CW
Avg. Facial Width
21.34cm (n=79)
20.89cm (n=26)
Range, FW
Avg. Total Length
50.26cm (n=77)
50.42cm (n=28)
Range, TL
Avg. Width Between Jaws
9.69cm (n=79)
8.45cm (n=24)
Ratio:Facial Width/Total Length

Linear measurements in centimeters
Volume measurement in cubic centimeters

Counting studies of location, pedigree charts, computerized pedigrees, and the skull dimensions, this issue of Our Quest describes three research programs concerning Davenport horses. Counting all registered Arabian horses there are only a few Davenport horses and many fewer owners than horses. It must say something about the character of the horses and of the kind of people who have them that the ratio of researchers to owners is so high.The research, after all, is hard work and are performed without financial compensation. As long as Davenport horses can attract such friends their future is in good shape.

Back to Our Quest #43 Introduction

back to page 2 - Bertha Craver, Poetry Corner


back to page 3 - West Nile Virus, Davenports in Endurance

back to page 4 - 2002 Al Khamsa Convention, Conservancy Meeting

back to page 5 - Important Davenport Projects

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