The owner of a southwestern Illinois farm is breeding Arabian horses in an unlikely bid to sell the animals to buyers in Saudi Arabia.
Rodger Davis owns the 300-acre Riding Center near Freeburg, just east of St. Louis. Davis told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he's been meeting with Saudi officials in hopes of striking a long-term business deal to breed his horses with the country's dwindling stock.
"For thousands of years, Saudi Arabia was a country that moved on horses and camels," Davis said. "But once oil was discovered, it became a country of Rolls Royces and Maseratis. Some of the bloodlines of these animals got lost. And some Saudis feel they lost connection with their past."
Davis noted he was contacted by Hussain Abul Pharaj in 2017 after the farm's Desert Bred Arabian horse breed caught his eye. Pharaj had been visiting facilities around the U.S. to find Arabian horses to breed with the declining Saudi stock of about 3,500 horses.
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The breed holds a special place in Saudi culture and Islamic lore, which was the main catalyst behind the interest of Pharaj, an Islamic poetry expert.
"He said he'd visited some 40 facilities in the U.S. to find Arabians that were pure enough" to breed, Davis said. "DNA tests showed our horses were the only ones with the same (purity) levels."
Davis added that Pharaj was poetic in his love of the breed.
"He told me, 'Our wealth is our oil wells; our treasure is our horses,'" Davis said.
Davis and his head trainer plan to return to Saudi Arabia in March for a final decision.