During World War II, one of Austria’s greatest national treasures, the Lipizzaner Horses of the Spanish Riding School, were threatened both by the bombs from without and from the Nazi horse eugenics from within. A new book tells their story.
Warning: If you are considering this book for a horse-loving young person you may want to reconsider it if they are especially sensitive or very young. There is an historical event told in unnecessarily horrific detail that involves the killing of horses in an early chapter. In chapter 7 or 8 there is another, equally gruesome incident. As horrific as they are it is important to remember what was happening at this time at Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen and other concentration camps of the Third Reich. While the plight of these beautiful horses is awful, millions of people were killed purely for their religion. Millions more died fighting in the war. But I’m posting this warning to avoid traumatizing a child who has not yet learned of the Holocaust in an appropriate way.
Now the book. It takes at least the first five chapters to get thru long and very dull discussions of the evils of social class and of eugenics, as well as of the horrific incident mentioned above, to actually get to the story. This is a shame for it will lose a lot of impatient readers–it nearly lost me. Don’t give up! It’s going to be well worth the wait!
Once we finally get to the story of the horses during the war it the book gets its head and runs! But then, just as we are getting into the rhythm of the horse story, we are jerked across the ocean to a replay of several Life Magazine stories on the U.S. Army and its recruits at the start of the war or of the famous Louisiana War Games from the 1930s. I was easily able to figure out that we now needed to learn about the Americans who stepped in to save the day. Happily, the book returns to a full gallop–and what a ride it becomes! This is as compelling a war or horse story as I’ve ever read!
Personally I was fascinated by the Kellog Arabians. Given the time they were being publicized in magazines, it may explain my Dad’s life-long love affair with Arabians. You can read more about my family and horses here.
Another Book on the Lippizzaners, with no horror stories, very suitable for children.
Marguerite Henry, one of the all-time most beloved horse book authors, wrote The White Stallion of Lipizza about these magnificent animals. If you are looking for a book for a child or sensitive soul I urge your to consider this one instead.
For a true Horse Lover the complete boxed set of all the Marguerite Henry horse books, plus Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalikin, are available at a very reasonable price. I can’t think of a better Christmas gift for a young rider or horse lover!
There are two fine films on these beautiful horses–both are family friendly, but one is a Disney Classic that I’ve loved watching several times. Disney’s Miracle of The White Stallions and Nature: The Legendary White Stallions. Both are well worth watching with your family. Remember when I say something is Family Friendly–I mean my own family. Parents may want to preview any movie to be shown or book to be read in their family before planning a family movie night or introducing a new bed-time read. At least parts of both films are currently available on youtube–just search by title.
In the early 1990s I saw the Lipizzaner Stallions in Indianapolis. I took a friend’s sons, then both about 8 or 9, and they loved every minute! Both then enjoyed the Disney movie and the book by Marguerite Henry. It was a wonderful performance. On my Bucket List is a stop at the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria.
I’ll leave you today with a short film of a performance: