The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts

The Perfect Horse

By Elizabeth Letts

  • Release Date: 2016-08-23
  • Genre: Nature
Score: 4.5
From 39 Ratings
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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • From the author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion, the remarkable story of the heroic rescue of priceless horses in the closing days of World War II

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 U.S. Army’s last great cavalrymen, 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.

A compelling account for animal lovers and World War II buffs alike, The Perfect Horse tells for the first time the full story of these events. Elizabeth Letts’s exhilarating tale of behind-enemy-lines adventure, courage, and sacrifice brings to life one of the most inspiring chapters in the annals of human valor.

Praise for The Perfect Horse

“Winningly readable . . . Letts captures both the personalities and the stakes of this daring mission with such a sharp ear for drama that the whole second half of the book reads like a WWII thriller dreamed up by Alan Furst or Len Deighton. . . . The right director could make a Hollywood classic out of this fairy tale.”The Christian Science Monitor

“Letts, a lifelong equestrienne, eloquently brings together the many facets of this unlikely, poignant story underscoring the love and respect of man for horses.”Kirkus Reviews

The Perfect Horse raises the narrative bar. Applying her skills as a researcher, storyteller and horsewoman, Letts provides context that makes this account spellbinding.”Culturess

The Perfect Horse is an enthralling and moving story that I could not put down. This is a riveting and unique perspective on World War II.”—Molly Guptill Manning, author of When Books Went to War

“Passionately told and dazzling in scope, The Perfect Horse charges headlong into an unforgettable tale of World War II, when good men were given a final mission—to save beloved horses—at an hour when no one wanted to die. In Elizabeth Letts, the saga of World War II’s white stallions has found its perfect guardian.”—Adam Makos, author of A Higher Call

“Elizabeth Letts’s beautiful prose, woven together with meticulous research, takes you for a ride that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the end.”—Robin Hutton, author of Sgt. Reckless


  • Great book, could not put it down!

    By Cstuetz
    Wonderful book, learned so much that I did not know about these horses and what they went through. Hard to put down.
  • The Perfect Horse

    By Zsazsa12345
    I so enjoyed this book-bringing me back into history and into the culture of horse breeding. It never occurred to me to think of these prized horses when so much death and destruction prevailed. It was an Interesting read, taught me a lot of what I never knew and pulled at my heart strings. A must read book.
  • A special breed of horses

    By Baier Family
    A special book about special horses..God created horses so man could love something that brought him closer to heaven. Horses return love that is magic. When I get to heaven I know my horse Sugar is waiting for me.... I'll be there someday Sugar and we can be together forever....
  • A read that will keep you glued to the pages

    By glhince
    Nazi. Code word for everything nasty and distasteful. While the stories of their building a ‘perfect’ race of humans as defined by Hitler (the last person who would have passed his own rigorous standards) little is widely known of the breadth of the reach to manipulate and ‘improve’ animals (particularly dogs and horses) in a similar way. Focusing on the build up to and the rescue of the Lipizzaner stallions from the clutches of the Nazi regime, the rescue of these lovely creatures is told in this story by Elizabeth Letts. Wonderfully researched, and compellingly told, she debunks the mythic tale as told in the Miracle of the White Stallions, a Disney production. While the bones of that movie still hold true, and the beauty of the animals cannot be denied, the actual story was far more encompassing and intertwined. Where the lead in for this story is the Lipizzaners, there were also other breeds targeted, Polish Arabians known for their flash and beauty, mostly anything flashy and known for its performance in the equestrian arenas of the Olympics. See – early equestrian events were almost entirely comprised of military riders: soldiers dedicated to both riding and their country’s supremacy. In addition, early history suggests that Hitler wanted to create a superior war horse – with the athleticism, hardiness and constitution to allow his own mounted soldiers to rule. What emerges most strongly is the steely determination and will of Alois Podhajsky, founder of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna and the grasping and deviant Gustav Rau, master of horses for Hitler. While Podhajsky’s only desire was to have a perfect moment with a horse, becoming that ‘great rider that can hear his horse whisper”, he would overcome huge obstacles to preserve the animals he so loved. Moments describing his view on riding, horses and that communication between the two have and will insprire generations of riders, young and old. With the meteoric rise of Rau through the ranks, and his subsequent social standing, the true deviance of his plans to destroy years of careful breeding, his plans to use a rather untested and unproven science of genetics that was mostly hit or miss, and the weight of the Nazi regime and Hitler behind him keep you glued to the pages. Saddened by the Dept of Agriculture and their narrowmindedness in accepting the rescued horses and the US horse people (think AHSA) to establish the breed properly here, the contributions of Podhajsky cannot be praised strongly enough. Take a moment to see the balletic moves, understand that this breed can be dated back to Ghengis Khan, and then dream of your own airs above the ground. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
  • The Perfect Horse

    By celticmaggie
    I have loved the Lipizzaner horses from Disney's Miracle of the White Stallions! I live in Florida and have visited their stable in Myakka. I spent a fortune to go on a travel group to see the Lipizzaners in Lipica, Slovenia. I read this book and was so glad to see the photos from way back when. I needed tissues when they moved all the horses. I never knew WitezII was mixed with them. I never knew Alois fought in WWI and couldn't use his throat much from a bullet in his neck. I can't believe they were shifted so much. I am glad that I got to see the mares and stallions on their farms. I bet you don't know they are born dark and turn lighter as they age. I am so glad they were saved but cried for the ones lost forever. I hope you like horses and want to read about these Special Horses. I have this book for an honest review for NetGalley.