Book Reviews

The Perfect Horse: The Daring U.S. Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis

by Elizabeth Letts

The Perfect Horse: the Daring U.S. Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis, is impeccably researched and presented. Not only is it a true story worth reading, it would make a for an informative, inspirational movie as long as it wasn’t ‘Disney-ized’; in other words skipping or dampening the hard facts and turning it into a fairy tale. Elizabeth Letts adeptly employs her understanding of horses and horsemanship so that more emotion, more depth and more understanding can be imparted to any reader, horse person or not. Individual horses are brought to life, along with their dangerous and utterly horrific plights. Ms. Letts describes Europe during a time of war with adept skill, so that the dangers and horrors are easily imagined.

Part I sets the stage; Europe during the late 1930’s…in particular, the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Here, Nationalism – forming a kind of sticky, unkindly glue – competed with humility, love and devotion. The contrast was striking; like vivid, blues, aquas, green and violets contrasting with a noisy, dull brown. The horses were all brilliant, however it’s the behavior of men that taints real Beauty. Alois Podhajsky and his horse Nero performed flawlessly, their intensity and harmony a beacon for those who were able to appreciate the subtle Joy and evidence of their trust in each other.

Quick alterations were made in the scoresheets, placing Germans on German horses on top…still, Mr. Podhajsky received a Bronze Medal…against all odds.

As the Nazis gained power, a zealous, misinformed individual – Gustav Rau – gains possession of the World’s most well bred and stunning horses…and intends to experiment by breeding father to daughter, brother to sister, in order to develop Germany’s perfect, homogeneous breed.

Eventually, Podhajsky and Rau would face off, as Rau came to possess hundreds of exquisite Lipizzan mares from Piber, along with mares from Italy and Yugoslavia. Rau would rather extinguish greatness, while Podhajsky revered and cherished these horses – undeniably rare, and an irreplacable part of the World’s living treasure.

““If the Lipizzaner strain is to continue to be preserved in the interests of the Spanish Riding School, then at all costs, any experiments which might impair its suitability for the classic style of riding must be prevented.” He received no answer. He was unaware that Rau had seen his pleas and scribbled dismissive remarks in the margins. Rau considered Podhajsky’s arguments backward and unscientific, totally dismissing the idea that the location or the manner in which an animal was nurtured made any difference.”

pg. 52

Rau raided Poland and came to possess extraordinary purebred Arabians, including Witez. Many of these horses brutally lost their lives, and it was by a string of golden thread and golden – divine – intervention that some survived. The people that put their lives on the line were indisputable heroes, regardless of the uniforms they wore at the time.

In Part II, the Americans are introduced, the amazing untold story of the horsemen in the 2nd Cavalry, under the command of Hank Reed and Gen. George Patton unfolds…together, unlikely allies on both sides of the ‘war’, saved physical lives, and a wondrous, genetic heritage. This is a story illustrating the triumph of Spirit, Courage, and the impact of compassion, caring and integrity, against orders and against odds.

Published by Ballantine Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC Copyright 2016 Elizabeth Letts

Further reading:

  • Eighty Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts
  • Complete Training of the Horse and Rider by Col. Alois Podhajsky

About Elizabeth Letts (author website)

About Col. Alois Podhajsky (Google results including videos, books and more)

Visit the Spanish Riding School of Vienna’s website