It’s been a number of years since Letts’ wonderful book about Snowman, the champion show jumper, The Eighty-Dollar Champion. I was excited to see she had again chosen horses as the focus of her next book.
Both horse enthusiasts and non-horse enthusiasts alike have heard of the Lipizzaner horses of Austria, famed for their “airs above the ground.” Their classical technique takes years to achieve and each stallion is paired with a rider for life. The Austrians also had a rich tradition of breeding high quality Arabian horses. The military advance of the Germans late in the war put the lives of these well-bred horses and the traditions of the Spanish Riding School in great peril, for not only did the Nazi’s have a plan to create the perfect human race through their barbaric practices, but also the perfect horse. Letts sets the stage first in Austria with the development of the bloodlines there, the key people involved in the training, health and welfare of the highly valued horses, to their fleeing the coming onslaught, the decimation of the stock, to the arrival of the Americans in Europe, the bravery and determination of a former US Cavalryman, and the role his unit played recovering the horses that were stolen by the Nazis. While not dwelled upon, it was at times difficult to read, and always difficult to comprehend, what are the oft reported atrocities committed by the Nazis. I had no idea they had this grand plan to create a perfect horse breed and to that end exterminated a lot those they considered inferior, either through conscripting them for wartime service (and a probable death) or slaughtering them for food. Like a good thriller, there is high tension as a rescue plan is set into motion and the prized horses liberated. A fascinating and thoroughly-researched story well-told.
–Sue, Paulina Springs, Sisters, OR