“The Perfect Horse” by Elizabeth Letts is the perfect book to review for the Concord Clayton Pioneer, which just last month had a standout article about Elena Flaharty and her dressage champion horse, Charly.
The book is about the rescue of horses stolen in WWII by the Nazis (for breeding purposes) from the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria. The Spanish Riding School is famous for its highly trained riders and white Lipizzaner stallions who take dressage to the highest level.
Letts does a great job of laying out the timing, the players and the locations of this fascinating story, which peaks near the end of the war. Some of you may remember the 1963 Disney movie “Miracle of the White Stallions,” which gives Gen. George Patton the heroic role. Thanks to Letts’ meticulous research, her book introduces the reader to a range of characters – German, Austrian and American – who were the real heroes. Patton’s part in the rescue was to OK the mission undertaken by Col. Hank Reed, commanding officer of the 4th U.S. Cavalry.
“The Perfect Horse” is laid out in four parts in near military precision: the Europeans, the Americans, the Mission and the Homecoming. Under Europeans, Letts includes the Germans and all those characters whose countries were occupied by Germany. The Americans include not only GIs and officers but also a fascinating brief history of the U.S. Cavalry at its peak and its demise.
Connected by a love of horses
Personal information surrounding each character enhances parts one and two. The thing that connects the European and American participants is a love of horses. Once the Americans discover the compelling beauty of the Lipizzaner stallions and the amazing feats of both equestrian and horse, the plan to save them from falling back into Nazi or the approaching Russian hands is a no-brainer.
Letts includes personal background on the horses, mares and stallions. By the end of the war, both Nazis and Russians troops were slaughtering horses for meat. Those Germans wanting to save the Lipizzaners knew their only hope was to have the U.S. Army claim them as captured spoils of war.
I grew a little impatient reading the first half of the book, but by page 145, with the rescue mission finally in view, I could not put it down. The fate of the horses after the rescue, when the war in Europe has ended, is both wonderful and sad. After all, it is a war story.
Nobody, Americans or Europeans, gets off easy, and that is one of the things I liked best about the author’s telling. The perfect horse is the Lipizzaner breed, but “The Perfect Horse,” the novel, is a story for the whole family to read and discuss. I would also suggest Marguerite Henry’s “White Stallion of Lipizza” for younger readers.
Sunny Solomon is a freelance writer and head of the Clayton Book Club. Visit her website at
bookinwithsunny.com for her latest recommendations or just to ‘talk books.’