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

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  5,418 ratings  ·  956 reviews
From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion, the remarkable true story of the valiant rescue of priceless pedigree horses in the last days of World War II.

As the Russians closed in on Hitler from the east and the Allies attacked from the west, American soldiers discovered a secret Nazi effort to engineer a master race of the finest purebred
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published August 23rd 2016 by Ballantine Books
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Margaret Sankey
May 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
To explain the five star rating: my American grandfather played polo for the Army in the 1930s (and always held that horsemanship helped curtail the career rise of assholes, since 1,200 pound animals don't take too kindly to assholes), I've seen the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and the national tours of the horses in the 1980s as a preteen girl who had read Marguerite Henry books, and even though it was historically inaccurate and badly dated by the time I saw it, watched the Robert Taylor mo ...more
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. G ...more
The little girl in me saw the cover of this book and knew instantly that she had to have it.

The old woman in me started reading this book and knew instantly it was going to be a slow and tedious journey.

I enjoyed learning all that I did from this book but I did not enjoy how much of a job it was to complete it. The author mingled known history with as remembered by information that told a very detailed story. I can’t decide which issue bothered me more, the amount of not very interesting
Heidi The Reader
Mar 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Author Elizabeth Letts' non-fiction book is about Operation Cowboy, the American protection of the Spanish Riding School and the plight of the Lipizzaner horses during World War II.

As priceless as any of the masterpieces that hung in Vienna's museum, from their snow-white coats to their large aristocratic heads and deep brown eyes, the horses were unlike any others in the world." prologue xvii

There was a precedent for saving irreplaceable works of art during the war, but Colonel Hank Reed's effo
In the waning days of World War II, an American Second Cavalry unit was camped out awaiting orders on the German side of the border with Czechoslovakia in southern Germany. Suddenly, a motorcar with a white flag appeared at the checkpoint. Inside was an officer of the German Luftwaffe. Claiming he had urgent information, he demanded to speak with the commanding officer. The unit’s German speaking translator attempted, unsuccessfully, to find out the meaning behind the German’s request. Seizing t ...more
Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley
When most people hear the words Nazi and Eugenics, they only think about the Nazi view on humanity – the slaughter of innocent people and the desire to breed the perfect people. What many people don’t know is that the Nazis did try to do the same to animals. The Nazis didn’t just steal art and material possessions; they also took horses and various other animals to use in breeding programs.

Elizabeth Lett’s latest book, The Perfect Horse, is a chronicle of the rescu
May 13, 2016 rated it liked it
What should have been a heartwarming story about the rescue of the world-famous Austrian Lipizzaner horses of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna at the end of World War II, is disappointing because it is marred by errors that could have eliminated by fact checking the text and proofreading it, and by long digressions about subjects and people who are unrelated to the substance of the story. A conclusion that discusses what happened to people who were bit players in the drama, while failing to d ...more
Joy D
Fascinating true story of how a group of horses, appropriated by the Third Reich from various European nations, survived WWII, including the famous Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. This book is logically laid out in four parts. The first establishes the background of the Lipizzaner breed and major players from Germany, Poland, and Austria. It tells how the horses came under the control of the Germans and their plans to breed a “perfect horse” (based on their flawed th ...more
Blaine DeSantis
Oct 18, 2016 rated it liked it
Looks like I am among the minority of reviewers here, but to me this book got long, overly detailed and moved as the speed of a brief cool down stroll (a bit of horse racing parlance). The title hooked me and I was impressed by all the research done by the author, but the story is really one that I think I heard before as a child when I watched the Wonderful World of Disney and they did a story on the Lippizaner stallions. Have been fortunate to have seen them perform twice and they are remarkab ...more
Beth Cato
Jul 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
I received this early copy through the publisher via NetGalley.

I was horse-obsessed as a kid. I was able to see Lipizzaners on tour once when I was 11, and it was incredible. Of course, I had read a great deal about the horses and their airs above the ground. Years and years ago, I saw the old Disney movie "Miracle of the White Stallions" about how the Lipizzaners were saved from Austria during World War II. Well, this is the real story behind that, and it's an engaging, fascinating read.

It begi
Laura Harrison
Jun 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
An absolutely fascinating, well-written and researched title. Just when you think you know pretty much every horror and bizarre idea the Nazi's came up with-you find out there is more. Even the animals weren't spared from their ideology. I am not a big fan of spoilers so I will just say this is one amazing non fiction book. A definite must read for the animal lover as well as history buffs. ...more
Aug 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I saw the movie---but I was still in great suspense reading this book, wondering if all the horses were going to make it...The movie was a Disney movie, "Miracle of the White Stallions," from 1963. The basic story is about the American Army rescuing the beautiful white Lipizzaner stallions from a war zone where they could have been killed. In the film, General Patton is the hero who saved the horses, but as Elizabeth Letts' book points out, there were other heroes, such as Colonel Charles Reed o ...more
Rena Sherwood
I won a review copy of this book during a Goodreads giveaway promotion. It's funny to look at a review copy since there are so many typos, no index (except "18 pages Index here" on a blank page) and what I assume was supposed to be a map but only lists place names in various size fonts. However, I assume that by the time The Perfect Horse is released properly, these problems will all be cleared up.

Too bad they won't be able to make the content better. This is more of a 2.5 stars than a 3 since t
Aug 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in horses or World War II history
Today it seems inconceivable that there was a time when the Lipizzaner horses were not familiar to U.S. audiences. In 1962 their performance at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna was included in Telstar's maiden intercontinental transmission. Some may recall the Disneyfied version of their World War II rescue in the 1963 film “Miracle of the White Stallions”. As recently as 1995 the Lipizzaners figured in a tense and revealing conversation between its principal characters played by Gene Hackman ...more
This review has not taken a ridiculously long time to put together. I have no excuse; the closest I can come to a reason is that the emotions and the quality of the writing and my own back story with the subject matter all made it hard to write.

So, the story goes that when I was five or six my parents took me to a party their friends were throwing. Someone must have mentioned what a little horse freak I was, and one slightly drunken man decided to play Stump the Smartypants. I can just about rem
Fredrick Danysh
Aug 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Following World War I, the Spanish Riding School of Vienna was rebuilding its herd of Lipizzaners and its traditions. In Poland the government was rebuilding its purebred Arabian herds. With World War II, the Nazis took over both herds with the idea of creating the perfect military horse. Toward the end of the war the Americans with the help of some locals attempt to rescue both from the Germans and to keep the Russians from acquiring those horse. An ideal read for the horse lover.
Clare O'Beara
This history is quite chilling as we follow the horse breeding schemes of the evil Third Reich. Germany is today one of Europe's biggest producers of horses. In 1936, when the tale starts, the Great War had killed millions of horses; exports of horses were demanded under reparations; the Olympic team did everything it had to do to win all the gold medals for Germany. The Second World War despite employing tanks, trains and trucks, used 2,750,000 horses from Germany alone, sixty percent of which ...more
Aug 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars

Elizabeth Letts has deftly woven together a true story of the famous Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, introducing us to the men who worked tirelessly and with incredible dedication to protect and save these incredible animals, highlighting a previously-unknown facet of WW II. It's compiled from first-person accounts, archival material, books and monographs, and supplemented with detailed end notes for those who wish to learn more, or to trace the source.

May 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biographies
If you can picture a book which covers "two continents and more than eight decades", as author Elizabeth Letts puts it in her acknowledgements, you will begin to get an idea of how remarkable a story The Perfect Horse is.
Letts weaves an intricate tapestry which eloquently tells the story of how the American military manages to rescue priceless horses from imminent death at the end of World War II. These horses include the extraordinary, balletic Lipizzaner, the breathtakingly beautiful Arabians,
Jan 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
An interesting story of WWII I didn't know much about including: The Nazi's stealing valuable thoroughbreds in their drive to develop the perfect horse. The difficult compromises and nerve wracking decisions the horse caretakers made to ensure these beautiful animals stayed safe. The fate of some of those horses transported to this country as they ceased to have value in a machine driven army. However the multi- focus, the shift of settings (Europe?USA), detailed characterizations of so many peo ...more
Mar 13, 2017 rated it liked it
I always love a good story about horses and enjoyed reading about how this special breed was saved from the devastating repercussions of the war but it was too long and too many unnecessary details that failed to make the plot or characters more interesting. It could have been almost half as long and still been a strong testament to the heroes involved.
C.P. Cabaniss
Jun 06, 2016 rated it liked it
*I received a copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.*

I've always been interested in the history surrounding WWII and being a horse owner and lover increased my interest in this book. This was a piece of history that I hadn't ever heard much about and I wanted to know more.

While I enjoyed this, it wasn't quite as powerful as I had hoped. The focus was more on the people involved in the rescue than the horses, which was a bit of a surprise. I did like reading about t
Apr 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In addition to wanting to create a master race, Adolph Hitler wanted to amass the best from the countries he conquered. That included the art from France and the famous Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School in Austria.
This is the story of how U.S. Army Col. Hank Reed and General George Patton along with Alois Podhajsky, director of the school, and the groomsmen did all they could to save the horses from the Germans and from the Russian army which wanted the animals for their starvi
Jul 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a story of epic proportions. Kudos to Letts for lassoing this saga into an appealing narrative. As with the 80-DOLLAR CHAMPION, I was captivated by the horses in the story and the humans who valued and cared for them. It was also refreshing to read a WW II story that includes cooperation across enemy lines. The scope of this book is nicely served by the epilogue giving the reader a chance to revisit the key players and locations in real time. Makes me want to revisit my days of reading T ...more
May 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was well researched and written. While it reads more like a history book then a novel, I found my self thoroughly drawn into the story from the beginning. Unlike some nonfiction books I have read in the past that are full of unimportant and useless facts, every story and fact in this book had a purpose a reason for being told. I was entirely fascinated by these horses and the men on both sides of the war the worked and sacrificed to protect them.
Jan 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
An excellent story about saving an amazing breed of horse. It was a fascinating and dangerous journey these horses endured during WWII. There were many brave individuals from both the Allies and Axis armies, who made the determined effort to save these horses. Having seen the Lipizzaners perform made the reading of this book all that more enjoyable.
Oct 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
History and horses during WWII.
Mar 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you love horses read the last paragraph of the acknowledgments. If it doesn't make you want to read the book. Nothing Will! (also could you consider yourself a horse book lover?) ...more
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Historical work of the Second World War does never conclude with any true happiness. Conclusions merely provided brief bioluminescence of hope to what was a fading existence to humankind. We have heard the stories from our older relatives (most of these people have passed on); we have read the tragedy in the air, on the ground, on the sea, and under the scopes of submariners. Many other tragedies existed to the innocent masses of people, of places, and in this case of animals.

It is certainly dif
Jul 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
This review originally appeared on my blog,


THE PERFECT HORSE is the amazing story of a daring U.S. Army mission to rescue priceless horses taken from all over Europe by the Nazis. For all the reading I’ve done on World War II, I can’t believe I had never heard of the German horse breeding program, the difficulties the captured horses endured when Germany faced defeat, or even the plight of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

The first half of the book sets everything up: introducin
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Play Book Tag: [Poll Ballot] The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts - 4 stars 3 11 Apr 22, 2020 01:41PM  
recommendations 1 19 Aug 03, 2016 12:23AM  

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ELIZABETH LETTS is an award winning and bestselling author of both fiction and non-fiction. The Perfect Horse was the winner of the 2017 PEN USA Award for Research Non-fiction and a #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller. The Eighty-Dollar Champion was a #1 New York Times bestseller and winner of the 2012 Daniel P Lenehan Award for Media Excellence from the United States Equestrian Foundation. She is a ...more

Articles featuring this book

Incredible stories of wartime survival, endurance, and escape make up these picks from the author of The Perfect Horse.
8 likes · 10 comments
“An old adage says that a good rider can hear his horse speak and a great rider can hear his horse whisper.” 4 likes
“Just as ballroom dancing and pair skating command partners to work together seamlessly, in the sport of dressage, the rider performers an intricate pas de deux with his partner—a twelve-hundred-pound four-footed beast.” 1 likes
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