Book Review: The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts

“Green tracers, called Christmas trees, lit up the sky over the old city. A few moments later, a crushing roar rumbled above. The stallions squealed in panic, but soon the high-pitched sounds were drowned out by the unceasing roar of planes overhead……Unwittingly the men had ridden the horses directly into one of the biggest air attacks of the war: the Allied bombing of Dresden…..The entire bowl of the sky turned violent crimson orange. As flames engulfed the city, the horizon turned fiery orange-white and a thick cloud of black smoke obscured the sky. The stallions panicked, rearing and lashing out, crazily trying to escape the cacophony and intense heat. People lost their bearings, and the horses, too, wheeling as they pawed and reared, the whites of their eyes flashing and picking up the orange and crimson colors of the bone-shattering explosions. Men and animals fled in all directions, but the hellfire rained down everywhere—there was nowhere to run. “

The next day.

” Kristalovich, traveling with the mares and foals, was half a day behind. When his group arrived along the road just at the city’s outskirts he came upon the charred corpses of seventeen of his beloved stallions and began to weep.”

This is just one segment of the remarkable story of how the Lipizzaner horse was rescued during World War II.  Elizabeth Letts book, The Perfect Horse, is a page turner. I would be reading at night and knowing I had to get up in the morning but I just had to read to the end  of a chapter and then another.

Today the Lipizzaner is known as the white horses who can be seen at the Vienna Riding School performing in the beautiful arena.  We would not be able to see these horses had it not been for a daring rescue mission carried out by the US forces near the end of the war.  Elizabeth Letts book introduces us  to the Lipizzaner horse and the places where they were kept in Europe before and during the war. As Germany began to fail it became clear that the horses were in peril. The Russian troops advancing from the east were starving and horses were seen only as food. Would the Americans be able to get the horses out in time?

Letts book puts the reader right into the thick of the action and gives us insight into the main characters involved, the Europeans: the  Austrian leader of the Vienna Riding School Alois Podhajsky, Andrzej Kristalovich, the director of Poland’s stud farm, Gustav Rau, the chief equerry in charge of all horse breeding in the Third Reich, and the Americans, Colonel “Hank” Reed the commanding  officer of the 2nd Cavalry, Captain Tom Stewart the intelligence officer of the 2nd Cavalry. And, of course, another leading actor in the drama was General George S.Patton.

When I first saw the title “the Perfect Horse”  I thought it referred to how the Lipizzaner was a “perfect” horse for the advanced dressage movement of the Vienna school. But that was not it. The “perfect” horse was referring to the Third Reich idea of creating a “perfect” horse by breeding. Eugenics! If the Allies had not defeated Germany and Hitler’s Third Reich, the Lipizzaner would have been bred into a very different animal.

As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoyed this very well written and well researched book. Letts research included interviews with the families of veterans who shared their stories and their family albums as well as more traditional research of the war and the history.

You do not need to be a horse lover to enjoy this book. It reveals a side of the war, from behind the lines of battle, that draws a clear picture of the chaos and confusion that existed off the battlefields during the collapse of the Third Reich.

I give this book Five Stars and recommend it highly.

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25 Comments Add yours

  1. I put this on my “To Read” list. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That does look interesting, I’ve added it to my Goodreads list.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Lizzy says:

    I’ve read “The Perfect Horse” and it is an amazing book!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      It is! Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Alli Farkas says:

    Oh boy, I guess I’ll have to order this book now! I read the last one you recommended about the lady’s life in the Rocky Mountains and truly enjoyed it. So I’ve decided I can trust you as a book reviewer LOL!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you Alli i take that as a big compliment. I think you will find this one very interesting on many levels.

      Like

  5. shiarrael says:

    Thank you for the recommendation, Anne! I’m definitely going to get this book!

    I saw the Lippizaner horses once in Vienna when I was a teen and they were amazing. Like you said, not only youngsters but majestic horses in their prime. 💖

    There is another, similarly heartbreaking story about the Trakehner and the long Trek from East Prussia in 1944. Fewer than 700 horses made it. It’s why the breed is a bit of a legend in Germany, and considered something of a national treasure (they also are amazing at dressage, or at least the one I’ve had the pleasure of meeting is).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Yes i was aware of the Trakhener history. I had a Trakhener mare years ago. She turned out to prefer jumping so she went to young man who had a grand time with her as a jumper. The dressage icon, Reiner Klimke rode a Trakhener whose name I have forgotten but they were legendary! Thanks so much for this comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. shiarrael says:

        Ooohhh you had a Trakehner! How awesome! I was only vaguely aware of the breed until the little mare moved in at the barn where she now shares a pasture with my eldest’s Viking (a 34 year old Icelandic gelding who fusses over her as if she were his own foal, never mind she stands almost two hands taller than him) 🤣
        The owner told me about their history, and how they’re prized by eventing and dressage riders. “C’est La Vie” (affectionately known as Vivi) sure has a beautiful “can do!” attitude and her gaits … yowzer! Almost as fancy as Biasini!

        I only know of Ingrid Klimke and Königssee .. and Windfall? Must Google Reiner … or ask my German horse tribe! 😁

        How is your handsome boy? I hope he has recovered from that terrible scare?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. anne leueen says:

        Ingrid is Reiner’s daughter. My Biasini is doing well and is now back in work and has put back the weight he lost. Thank you for asking about him.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. txjessy says:

    Love your review!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. txjessy says:

        You’re welcome!!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Jeff Rab says:

    Fascinating! Yet another part of history I’ve never heard of!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      I had never read anything that gave a glimpse into the decline and fall of the Third Reich before. German and Austrian citizens , not involved in the military machine, living in fear not knowing what would come next: punishment from the Nazis or rescue from the Allies. There were hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing in all directions. In the movies we usually see the battle scenes but this was, no doubt, a huge part of the war as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jeff Rab says:

        Yes. It’s the hidden casualties of war often affected the most. So much can change so quickly!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes, I believe anyone can read the book 🙂 enjoyed the review and I’ve googled the Lipizzan horse, they were known for some kind of movements called the “airs above the ground.”
    It’s sick the nazis wanted to create ‘the perfect’ horse.. but what to expect from ppl who believed their blood was pure = perfect…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      The ” airs above the ground” are the advanced movements that involve leaps in the air. It is pretty amazing to see. And the horses are not all youngsters. It is a tribute to the breed and especially to the training that they remain sound into their late teens and beyond.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Wow thx 🙂 I guess it is possible to see on YouTube – “the airs”..

        Liked by 1 person

      2. anne leueen says:

        I think. It should be. Vienna Riding school or Lipizzaner “airs above the ground” .

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I’ll check ✌️ am not a huge YouTube-lover, but some thing best to see than read or hear..

        Liked by 1 person

      4. anne leueen says:

        I’m the same but these movements are hard to describe so a visual would be good.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m on it… going to read now 🙂 with a coffee …

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Katrin says:

    I enjoyed that book too! It was interesting on so many levels.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      It is very interesting. I’m glad you enjoyed it and thanks for commenting,

      Liked by 1 person

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