From the number-one New York Times best-selling author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion, the remarkable story of the heroic rescue of priceless horses in the closing days of World War II.
In the chaotic last days of the war, a small troop of battle-weary American soldiers captures a German spy and makes an astonishing find - his briefcase is empty but for photos of beautiful white horses that have been stolen and kept on a secret farm behind enemy lines. Hitler has stockpiled the world's finest purebreds in order to breed the perfect military machine - an equine master race. But with the starving Russian army closing in, the animals are in imminent danger of being slaughtered for food.
With only hours to spare, one of the army's last great cavalrymen, American colonel Hank Reed, makes a bold decision - with General George Patton's blessing - to mount a covert rescue operation. Racing against time, Reed's small but determined force of soldiers, aided by several turncoat Germans, steals across enemy lines in a last-ditch effort to save the horses.
Pulling together this multistranded story, Elizabeth Letts introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters: Alois Podhajsky, director of the famed Spanish Riding School of Vienna, a former Olympic medalist who is forced to flee the bomb-ravaged Austrian capital with his entire stable in tow; Gustav Rau, Hitler's imperious chief of horse breeding, a proponent of eugenics who dreams of genetically engineering the perfect warhorse for Germany; and Tom Stewart, a senator's son who makes a daring moonlight ride on a white stallion to secure the farm's surrender.
A compelling account for animal lovers and World War II buffs alike, The Perfect Horse tells for the first time the full story of these events. Elizabeth Letts' exhilarating tale of behind-enemy-lines adventure, courage, and sacrifice brings to life one of the most inspiring chapters in the annals of human valor.
©2016 Elizabeth Letts (P)2016 Random House Audio
"[Elizabeth] Letts, a lifelong equestrienne, eloquently brings together the many facets of this unlikely, poignant story underscoring the love and respect of man for horses.... The author's elegant narrative conveys how the love for these amazing creatures transcends national animosities." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Straight out of the cauldron of Nazi brutality and war, Elizabeth Letts weaves not just a page-turner but an achingly glorious story of grace and redemption. She embeds us with an international ensemble cast of battle-toughened soldiers. It is through their eyes, and through Letts's nearly supernatural horse sense, that we fall in love with sensitive Lipizzaner and fine-boned Arabians - the rescued animals who inspired men to reclaim their humanity." ( Vicki Constantine Croke, author of Elephant Company)
"In the early years of World War II, the finest purebred horses in Nazi-occupied Europe were stolen by the Germans for experiments to develop the perfect horse. In this spellbinding, heart-stopping book, Elizabeth Letts does full justice to the extraordinary drama of the horses' rescue in the war's chaotic final days." (Lynne Olson, author of Citizens of London)
I put off listening to The Perfect Horse for a few months as I wasn't sure I could cope with it. (Other horse owners will understand!) This is one of the most engaging books I've ever read/listened to and I've seldom come across such a powerful narrative of the extreme feats of endurance demanded of the Arab breeding stock.
This was emotionally heavy going but well balanced between the horrors of war and the beauty of human compassion towards the horses. Thoroughly well researched, it is an eye opening perspective of life and politics during and after the war from both sides.
"An Absorbing history"
Letts covers two stories in this book. One is the commonly known story of the rescue of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and their famous Lipizzaner stallions led by Alois Podhajsky. Podhajsky won the bronze medal in Dressage at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Near the end of the war the American Army heard from a German spy about the location of the horses. The Russian Army was closing on the location; the Russian soldiers were starving and the fear was they would slaughter the animals for food. General George Patton, a great horseman, ordered Major Hank Reed of the 2nd Calvary to rescue the horses.
The second section is less known about Hitler and Gustav Rau and the eugenics program to genetically engineer the perfect German War Horse. Germany had stockpiled the world’s largest collection of purebred horses from famous Polish, Russian, German, English, Irish, and Dutch horses to the rare Arabian horses from the Ottoman Turk Empire whose blood lines go back to the 17th Century. Unfortunately, in 1917 the Bolsheviks had purposefully slaughtered many of these rare Arabians as symbols of the pampered rich. Gastov Rau first had the breeding farm at the Janow Stud Farm in Poland then had to move it to Hastau, Czechoslovakia in 1942. In 1944, it was moved to St. Martin, Austria. After being rescued many of the horses came to the United States but unfortunately these famous and rare purebreds were sold off by the Army. Also included were many of the European greatest Thoroughbred racehorses; unfortunately, the American racehorse registry refused to accept their registry papers and these champion horses were sold as pets.
The book is about thirteen hours long. Paul Boehmer does a great job narrating the book. Boehmer is a classical trained actor and award-winning audiobook narrator.
"Innocents Caught in the Slaughter of War"
I was really worried when I saw that Paul Boehmer was narrating this as his tone and delivery in past books had me thinking the man was just plain odd. But I was surprised, relieved, delighted when I listened to "The Perfect Horse." He did just fine, obviously enjoyed the story, was familiar with the text, and delivered the characters, humans and horses alike, with love and sincerity.
This is not only the story of the rescue and escape of the horses. This isn't, "The Monuments Men... with Horses." It starts earlier, follows the players far into the aftermath of the war.
And it ain't all wine and roses once the shooting's over.
The story is one of heroism, tragedy, sacrifice. There are air raids, bombed out cattle cars of horses and refugees, starvation, brutality. There is neglect, lack of oversight, more suffering during peace time. But mostly, there is friendship and honest devotion.
Sometimes the writing is so elegant that you're not quite immersed in the action, and sometimes Letts chooses to say simply, "There was a faux firefight," rather than write the action, which could have been riveting, or funny. Still, that's a minor, minor flaw in the writing. Other than that, it's quite good. There is one horse in particular, that you'll fall in love with.
While there is a bit of drag leading to the closing act, imagine this. While I walked in the middle of a wretched heat-drenched Central Texas summer, listening to what happened to all the people, places, horses?
I got chills. It was mesmerizing. It was delicious.
"Excellent historic information on the war."
My mother (age 85) was enthralled, listening for days, about these precious horses during the war. Recommend for history lovers!
"A wonderful history lesson that wasn't boring"
Wasn't boring because it was all about horses. I loved this true story. What a fantastic history lesson through the eyes & experiences of horse people. I recommend it to everyone.
"Good history/horse story"
Gee, I've listened to so many over the years! This book is definitely in my top 20% and since I rarely listen to history books, I'd rate it as in the top 10% among nonfiction books.
The race in the middle of the night, with Lessing and Stewart one on a black and one white horse was described perfectly.
As a horse person, I really enjoyed several of the descriptions of being around horses. There was one description about Hank Reed's familiarity of those things any horse person knows - the rhythm of a horse's gait, the scent of fresh straw and "what the end of a day on horseback felt like, salty with sweat, dirt under his nails, and a mind white-washed on worry".
I am always drawn to people who understand that the animals of this world are worth saving.
This is an excellent book for horse lovers who are not regular history readers. Instead of just dates and battles, Letts educates her readers about the people and places in this book. Not as good as In the Company of Elephants, but still quite good.
"excellent history of the war horse"
A well written, emotional and informative history of the role of the war horse, the men who loved them, the breeds and training differences around war torn western Europe in WW II and their rescue from decimation.
"WWII Rescue of the Lippizaners"
History buffs and horse lovers alike will love this wonderful book, alive with detail of this beautiful and heroic side of WWII.
I found this to be a very interesting audiobook which fleshes out the little known story of the displaced horses of Europe during and in the aftermath of World War 2.
"Saving Austria's Dancing Horses"
well researched historical novel that appears to focus on saving the horses of the Spanish Riding School. Unfortunately, the author becomes side tracked on the Polish Arabian especially the story of Witez.
In doing so the book becomes labored and slow. The story of the Polish Arabian"s survival if WW2 would be better as an entirely different undertaking.
The long, somewhat unfocused text combined with the slow overly melodramatic narration makes this audible book a bit ponderous.
However, it is still an excellent informative narrative that sets the record straight as opposed to the Disney version. Though, in honesty, Patton was such a beloved war hero that the Disney version was readily accepted by the American public, giving many their first knowledge of this renowned equestrian legend.
So much to learn about the other aspects of war in such an interesting way! Loved it.. Thank you for bringing this story to light!!
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