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Publisher's Summary

From the number-one New York Times best-selling 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 army's last great cavalrymen, American 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' 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.

©2016 Elizabeth Letts (P)2016 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"[Elizabeth] Letts, a lifelong equestrienne, eloquently brings together the many facets of this unlikely, poignant story underscoring the love and respect of man for horses.... The author's elegant narrative conveys how the love for these amazing creatures transcends national animosities." ( Kirkus Reviews)
"Straight out of the cauldron of Nazi brutality and war, Elizabeth Letts weaves not just a page-turner but an achingly glorious story of grace and redemption. She embeds us with an international ensemble cast of battle-toughened soldiers. It is through their eyes, and through Letts's nearly supernatural horse sense, that we fall in love with sensitive Lipizzaner and fine-boned Arabians - the rescued animals who inspired men to reclaim their humanity." ( Vicki Constantine Croke, author of Elephant Company)
"In the early years of World War II, the finest purebred horses in Nazi-occupied Europe were stolen by the Germans for experiments to develop the perfect horse. In this spellbinding, heart-stopping book, Elizabeth Letts does full justice to the extraordinary drama of the horses' rescue in the war's chaotic final days." (Lynne Olson, author of Citizens of London)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 04-17-17

An Absorbing history

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.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

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Good history/horse story

Where does The Perfect Horse rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Gee, I've listened to so many over the years! This book is definitely in my top 20% and since I rarely listen to history books, I'd rate it as in the top 10% among nonfiction books.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Perfect Horse?

The race in the middle of the night, with Lessing and Stewart one on a black and one white horse was described perfectly.

Which scene was your favorite?

As a horse person, I really enjoyed several of the descriptions of being around horses. There was one description about Hank Reed's familiarity of those things any horse person knows - the rhythm of a horse's gait, the scent of fresh straw and "what the end of a day on horseback felt like, salty with sweat, dirt under his nails, and a mind white-washed on worry".

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I am always drawn to people who understand that the animals of this world are worth saving.

Any additional comments?

This is an excellent book for horse lovers who are not regular history readers. Instead of just dates and battles, Letts educates her readers about the people and places in this book. Not as good as In the Company of Elephants, but still quite good.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Gillian
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 09-04-16

Innocents Caught in the Slaughter of War

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.

17 of 20 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

Great story, bad narrator

I enjoyed this story, but I should have read it. The slow, monotonous reader almost ruined it. I strongly suggest the author have another reader replace the audible version.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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A little over the top... Even for a horse-person

I work with horses and I love and understand their personal intelligence and beauty. I learned a great deal from this book but felt that the author tended to anthropamorphise and attribute non equine motives and feelings. The deaths, injuries, and grit that all animals, along with their counterpart humans, face in war was probably only half described in this book...which made it more readable.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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The Perfect Horse

The Perfect Horse is a true story. During WWII the Lipizzaner stallions of Austria were rescued by George S. Patton and placed under the protection of the American Army. This is their story through the retirement of some war horses and their riders and handlers through the mid 2000s. You’ll read about the animals subjected to allied bombing, slaughter, the heroism of Alois Podhajsky, director of the famed Spanish Riding School of Vienna, a former Olympic equestrian Bronze medalist. He was cheated out of Gold by a judge scratching out and lowering his score at the Berlin games of 1936. Two Germans won Gold and Silver, no surprise there.

Go to YouTube for viewing of the Lipizzaner moves, i.e., airs above the ground, dancing in place, and some fancy words that remind you of ballet moves. There are some good videos that will give much more depth to your understanding of this beautiful horse and the book itself.

The fundamentals are on the dry side, but factual. The Perfect Horse is a history book with a few hair-raising instances during the heat of WWII. Very educational. For example, the horses are not mistreated, and never have been. Their amazing moves are accomplished with loving hands and horse whispering. Learned that George S. Patton was an Olympian (he did not medal) – had no idea. The German obsession with creating the “perfect” Arian race was mirrored by one German individual who wanted to create the “perfect” German war horse, using the same horrible methods. Alois Podhajsky protected his animals from this fate with the help of others who resisted.

No issues with narration. In that I do not speak German, I can’t comment on pronunciation of some German names/words. All sounded fine to me.

The Perfect Horse is narrated Paul Boehmer, about 13 hours of listening in unabridged audiobook format. Release in August of 2016 by Random House Audio.

If you have any interest in the true history of the Lipizzaner stallion, highly recommended.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Excellent historic information on the war.

My mother (age 85) was enthralled, listening for days, about these precious horses during the war. Recommend for history lovers!

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Way too much detail

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

I would only recommend it if the person was very interested in horses. There is a lot of detail in the book that is only meaningful to a "horse person."

What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

The most interesting is the main theme: the danger into which the Lippizaners were put during WWII. The least interesting is the overwhelming detail of every single character in the book. Do we really need to know which high school a minor character went to?

How did the narrator detract from the book?

I found the narrator's "German" pronunciation of names irritating. I'm sure he felt it added authenticity but to hear "Rrrrrodolfo Lessing" and similar names over and over grated.

Do you think The Perfect Horse needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

No, the story was complete up to present day.

Any additional comments?

This book REALLY slowed down in the middle. I wouldn't have kept going except I had bought a copy as a gift for a "horsey" friend & I wanted to be able to discuss it with her. It picked up again as WWII was winding down.
If there is an abridged version available, buy that. There was WAY too much minutiae in this book.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Excellent story, irritating narration

I loved the story. I am an avid equestrian and for years I have wanted to know the details of how Patton's men saved the Lipizzaners during WWII. The story is fascinating and the writing has moments of true beauty. The author weaves disparate strands of seemingly unrelated topics into a tapestry that contains rich elements of setting and characterization. The reader begins to understand the art of classical riding, social Darwinism as applied by the Third Reich, and even the complexities of horse breeding.

The narrator, on the other hand, so faithfully reproduces German pronunciation of words that at times it sounded like the SNL spoof of news anchorpersons saying Spanish place names like a native.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Wonderful, breathtaking, and educational!

My favorite audible book so far....I want to purchase the actual book for my large equine book library. I am reminded how lucky I am to have housing and food. My dad is buried at Fort Riley and brought back memories of the military base. I had a hard time pausing the book to go to sleep and then to work. Highly recommend to lovers of animals and history.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Robert
  • 02-22-18

Rose tinted glasses

The story seems to be romanticized to the extent that it takes from the facts. It left me trying to guess what was true and what was the authors imagination. Also it doesn’t deviate from what’s horse related and what’s going on in the wider context of ww2. I would have expected to hear a little more about what the individuals were doing outside of their interactions with the horses - the line at the end saying that Mr Xs character has been brought into question by historians shows that there was a lot more in the story than we are being told. Disappointing.

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  • Lu
  • 12-04-16

Fascinating but an emotional storm.

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.