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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.
13 of 14 people found this review helpful
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.
16 of 19 people found this review helpful
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.