Thursday, July 28, 2016

Book Review / History Corner: the Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts

Disclosure / Disclaimer: I received this ebook, free of charge,from Penguin Random House, via netgalley, for review and giveaway purposes on this blog. No other compensation, monetary or in kind, has been received or implied for this post. Nor was I told how to post about it 


Since we talked about the songs of my chilkdhood yesterday,
I thought it pretty fitting to share this new book with you today,
as horses were a big part of my childhood!


From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion, the remarkable story of the heroic rescue of priceless horses in the closing days of World War II

the perfect horse cover

Synopsis:

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.


Before I get to my review, first a look at these amazing horses:


Amazing, right????


Review

Elizabeth Letts gives us a page turner of a tale that not only educates the reader about these amazing horses, but of the men who stood by them and defended the, to make sure that they lived on to keep performing! If you ever get the chance to see the show, you MUST see it! It is the perfect combination of artistry, sport and beauty! This tale reads like a behind-enemy-lines thriller combined with modern day fiction, as the race to save the horses, the school and breed culminates into a true tale of courage and inspiration! There is valor, sacrifice and a love for horses, that will enchant horse lovers, history lovers and those who just like great books!

breyer vintage model


For me, reading this book as an adult, gave me a fresh look at the history of these horses, as I still have my copy of Marguerite Henry's White Stallion of Lipizza, I had the Breyer model of the Lippizzan stallion (well until a certain cousin decided the horse could actually fly off a deck and broke all 4 legs...he had a proper burial. The horse, not my cousin...though I did consider it!) and I caught every showing of the Walt Disney movie, Miracle of the White Stallions (I had no idea it was on DVD- score!). 

If you aren't familiar with these horses, let me give you some background:

Around the 7th century Arabian horses were brought into Spain and cross bred  with the native Moor house, creating the breed we now know as Andalusian horse. In the 16th century the Habsburgs dynasty decided to start a breeding program for a horse that was not only a great military mount, but one that was dependable for use with the royal coaches. In 1562 Emperor Maximillian II and his brother Archdule Charles II (5 years later) both brought over some of the Andalusian cross breeds and began the modern Lippiza and Kladrub stud farms.Eight stallions from these studs would eventually be the founding line for all of the Lippizzans foaled in the up to the modern time. And in fact, every Lippizan is named with both their foundation sire and line (there are 35 of them) and marked with the appropriate brand for each stud

Lippizza Stud Farm Mare and doal
Keith Roper - Mare & Foal 3 Uploaded by sporti
Lippizzans are actually gray, not white. In fact born dark, usually bay or black like the one above, and become lighter each year as the graying process takes place, with the process being complete at between 6 and 10 years of age, where they look almost snow white in color, The Lipizzanbreed that matures slowly and is long-lived,.with horses performing the difficult exercises of the Spanish Riding School well into their 20s and living into their 30s!

young Lipizzan stallion is midway through the graying process
courtesy of David Monniaux
In 1572 the first Spanish Riding Hall, in Vienna, Austria, was built, and is the oldest equine performing school in the world. And in 1735, the current building that remains the home of the Spanish Riding School today was built, having survived World War II as well.

genereal patton on horseback
http://equestrianinfluence.com/
Did you know that General Patton was a horseman? And that he had competed in the Olympic Games? I had no idea! It was so interesting to read in this book about how on . On May 7, 1945, Podhajsky, put on an exhibition of the Spanish Riding School stallions for Patton and Undersecretary of War Robert P. Patterson, in an attempt to get them to agree to do what they could to protect the horses. And it worked! General Patton was awed by not only the horsemanship of the rider, but of the majesty of the horses. The Third Army's United States Second Cavalry enacted "Operation Cowboy"and rescued 1,200 horses, including 375 Lipizzans.  The Lipizzans were eventually settled in temporary quarters in Wimsbach, and the breeding stock returned to Piber in 1952,  and the Lippizan stallions returned to the Spanish Riding School in 1955. The rest of the 1200 horses were returned to the breed farms, and the remainder sent to the US to become part of the Third Calvary.  After the Horse Unit was disbanded, this courageous horses were sold to individuals, helping to bring the European warm blood line into the US bred horses!

So there you go- this is an amazing book, full of equine and US history, that makes for great reading for everyone, who loves a great thriller, so don't miss it!



About the Author

Elizabeth Letts is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion as well as two novels, Quality of Care and Family Planning. A competitive equestrian in her youth, Letts rode for California in the North American Junior Three-Day Eventing Championships. She currently lives in Southern California.


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