It was on an August evening in the 1990’s that our family was leaving the grounds of the Minnesota State Fair after a full, EPIC day there. We had participated in all the events that were of interest to us, eaten Fair food until we could eat no more, and admired scores of award-winning projects, plants, animals, and performances. Our exit route from the Fair would take us past the Lea and Rose Warner Coliseum, a 5,000 seat edifice where farm animal exhibitions and competitions took place.
Dusk was falling as we turned the corner toward the Coliseum — and it was there our exit was totally blocked by a procession of eight stunningly beautiful pure white horses. Our family came to a halt, and we stared in amazement as the superb horses and their liveried riders strode before us. The impressive cavalcade was quietly and steadily moving in a perfect single file arrangement from the horse barn to the Coliseum, about five-hundred feet away. Every step of the horses, every nod of their proud heads, was perfectly synchronized without any apparent instruction from their riders. It was obvious that the riders and horses were cooperating fully with each other. We watched in wonder as the column moved gracefully into the huge, brightly lit riding arena of the Coliseum and we continued to gaze after the horses until the last one disappeared from view. “Mom! What kind of horses were those?” the kids asked. “Lipizzaner,” I said, not really believing what we had just seen. “Lipizzaner from Austria.”
Instead of continuing on our way to the Fair’s exit, we raced around to the front gate of the Coliseum to get tickets for the Royal Lipizzaner performance. Unfortunately, the tickets were sold out for that night, and for the duration of the Austrian riding troupe’s stay in Minnesota. Lesson learned. If you want to see the Royal Lipizzaner up close and personal in the performance ring rather than by happenstance on the Fair backstreets, get your tickets early.
With this memory making a racket in my brain, I picked up the book, The Perfect Horse by Elizabeth Letts.
Letts has a double mission in her book, The Perfect Horse: The Daring Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazi’s (Ballantine Books, 2016). The first is to inform the reader about the history and special qualities of the breed of horses known as the royal Lipizzaner; the second is to relate the harrowing events of the U.S. military’s involvement in efforts to rescue and protect the Lipizzaner from the Nazi’s toward the end of WWII. Letts has achieved both of these goals, producing a book that is not only well researched, winning the PEN USA Literary Award 2017 for Research Non-Fiction, but also presenting a rich story of the relationships that can develop between humans and animals and how each can offer the other trust, companionship, and love under the harshest of conditions.