The protests and counter-protests in Charlottesville and their aftermath came as I was reading about the end of the Second World War and the fall of Nazi Germany. Elizabeth Letts’s book The Perfect Horse tells the story of the seizure by the Nazis of some of the finest purebred equines in Europe at that time and the subsequent rescue of those equines at the end of the war. The U.S. Army worked with dedicated horsemen from Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Austria who some still considered enemies. Together they devised a strategy for the survival of Lipizzaner and Polish Arabian breeding stock. The equines were faced with any number of bleak possible futures, including destruction by the advancing Russian army, slaughter to feed starving soldiers or civilians, or being distributed to desperate farmers and shop keepers in need of horsepower.
The U.S. Army didn’t have to give the horses an escape route, nor did the soldiers involved have to risk their lives to provide it. And the horses’ keepers didn’t have to risk treason to find a future for their charges. When asked why, Colonel Hank Reed, a former mounted cavalryman but then a motorized army officer, responded, ‘We were so tired of death and destruction. We wanted to do something beautiful.” (1)
Violence and hate are not inevitable. Violence and hatred and vitriol are choices. Other choices are always available to us. In her book, Letts concluded, “…as Hank Reed’s men instinctively knew, it was only through individual acts of compassion that the world was able to climb out of the trough it had dug for itself and attempt to find its way into a more peaceful future.” (2)
Today, as we have fewer and fewer people around us who directly experienced the horrors of World War II, books like Letts’s are even more important to remind us of choices people before us have had the courage to make in very difficult and highly charged circumstances. In some places today, we may have less far to go to get a bit closer to that peaceful future that motivated Colonel Reed and his men. We just need to have the courage to make one choice at a time like they did.
- Letts, Elizabeth. The Perfect Horse: The Daring US Mission to Rescue the Priceless Stallions Kidnapped by the Nazis. New York: Ballantine Books, 2016, p. 294.
- Same as #1.
© Jenifer Morrissey, 2017
More stories about how equines motivate us can be found in the book The Partnered Pony: What’s Possible, Practical, and Powerful with Small Equines, available internationally by clicking here or on the book image.