Back at Christmas time, I finished The Perfect Horse, by Elizabeth Letts.
During World War II, Europe was being decimated by both the Allies and the Axis powers. Civilians were caught in the middle. Even if you have read or watched a lot on World War II, one of the things you might not necessarily consider is the absolute upheaval that war brings.
The Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria had been breeding the prized Lipizzaner stallions for hundreds of years and training them in the highly elaborate art of classical riding. The bloodlines were exquisite, and the training was exacting and took years to achieve. During the war, the horses were prized by the Germans, not for their talent, but as breeding stock. The Germans wanted to create the perfect war horse and were willing to breed for the characteristics that they were looking for. Given how many generations it takes to breed consistent traits into a horse, it becomes clear that the Germans believe the Third Reich would be around for a while…
As the Austrian managers ran from the destruction of the war with hundreds of prized horses, it became clear that desperate times were going to require desperate measures. They reached out to the Americans, hoping to ensure the horses’ safety. They knew that without the assistance of the soon-to-be victors, these beautiful animals would either be shelled to death somewhere, starve to death somewhere or be confiscated by the Germans who were by now desperate for livestock to pull equipment, and for food…
In a hugely lucky twist of fate, the man the Austrian contacted was an American officer who was deeply devoted to horses, having served in the Army Cavalry. Hank Reed was able to secure permission for the mission from none other than George Patton himself. It became a race against time to smuggle these gorgeous animals into Allied controlled territory, across Europe, eventually to the United States, and finally safety.
The book is impeccably researched and very well written, keeping me interested from cover to cover. Admittedly, I do love horses, and the obscure topic of the book might be considered dry by many readers. I thought it was fascinating though, and well worth the read.