The Neatest Little Paper Ever Read ®

Issue 974

(Continued from front page)

• During World War II, the high command of Nazi Germany collected the best breeding stock of Lipizzaners, Arabian horses, and Thoroughbreds, bringing them from all across Europe and transferring them to a stud farm in Hostau, Czechoslovakia, with the thought of breeding a better war horse.

• Meanwhile, the Lipizzaner stallions that remained at the Spanish Riding School were evacuated to St. Martins, Austria in 1945, when bombing raids neared the city. The head of the School, Colonel Podhajsky, feared the horses were in danger.

• The U.S. Army under the command of General George S. Patton was near St. Martins in the spring of 1945 and learned that the Lipizzaner stallions were in the area. Patton was a horseman, and coincidentally had competed in the 1936 Olympic Games in equestrian events along with Podhajsky.

• Podhajsky put on an exhibition of the Spanish Riding School Lipizzaner stallions for Patton. As Patton watched, the horses and riders went through the precise, ballet-like maneuvers they were famous for: a demonstration of controlled power and elegance set to music, which was beautiful to watch and difficult to execute. When the performance ended, Podhajsky asked for Patton’s help in protecting the horses from the Germans. Patton agreed, and stationed American soldiers all around the area to protect the horses as the war came to an end and the German forces fell back.

• Patton, an expert horseman, described the exhibition in his diary, calling it “extremely interesting and magnificently performed.” He said, “It struck me as rather strange that, in the midst of a world at war, some twenty young and middle-aged men in great physical condition…had spent their entire time teaching a group of horses to wiggle their butts and raise their feet in consonance with certain signals from the heels and reins.” He went on to remark, “On the other hand, it is probably wrong to permit any highly developed art, no matter how fatuous, to perish from the earth— and which arts are fatuous depends on the point of view. To me the high-schooling of horses is certainly more interesting than either painting or music.”

• Meanwhile, the U.S. Cavalry under the command of Colonel Charles Reed captured a German intelligence officer and found papers on him that led them to discover the horses at Hostau, Czechoslovakia.


• Colonel Charles Reed also found that 400 Allied prisoners of war were being held in Hostau along with the horses. The Russian army was advancing as the German army was falling back and it was feared the Red Army would slaughter the horses for food.

• With the Russians about 60 miles away from Hostau and the American Cavalry only 35 miles away, Colonel Reed contacted General Patton to ask for his support in evacuating the horses and the POWs. Patton’s response was swift and brief: “Get them. Make it fast!”

• Patton sent Podhajsky to Hostau and “Operation Cowboy” commenced. Colonel Reed confiscated German vehicles and had them outfitted to carry horses. 1,200 horses, including 375 Lipizzaners, were driven, herded, and ridden out of Hostau, along with the POWs. Only two Lipizzaners were lost to injury, and 244 were returned to Austria.

• Colonel Reed said, “We were so tired of death and destruction that we wanted to do something beautiful.” After retiring from the army, Reed purchased the offspring of one of the horses he rescued, and rode her every day for nearly 30 years.

• Podhajsky was so thankful to have these horses rescued that he staged performances for thousands of American soldiers stationed in occupied Austria over the next few months.

• A few months after the rescue of the horses, Patton was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down. His first question to his doctor was “What chance have I to ride a horse again?” He never rode again, dying from his injury a few weeks later. He was buried in Luxembourg, France, along with other fallen soldiers, to honor his request to be laid to rest among his men.

• In 2005, the Spanish Riding School celebrated the 60th anniversary of Patton’s rescue by touring the United States.