World War II Close Up: They Saved the Stallions

World War II Close Up: They Saved the Stallions
Age Range
Release Date
October 15, 2024
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Award-winning author Deborah Hopkinson deftly brings to life the thrilling true story of the desperate fight to save the world-famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna and its beloved Lipizzaner horses during World War II, perfect for fans of I Survived!
Scholastic Focus is the premier home of thoroughly researched, beautifully written, and thoughtfully designed works of narrative nonfiction aimed at middle grade and young adult readers. These books help readers learn about the world in which they live and develop their critical thinking skills so that they may become dynamic citizens who are able to analyze and understand our past, participate in essential discussions about our present, and work to grow and build our future.

In the closing months of World War II, American bombs rained down on Nazi Germany and its territories, including Austria.

As glass shattered around them in Vienna, an ordinary-looking horse named Nero and his stable mates, the dancing white Lipizzaner stallions of the famed Spanish Riding School, quiver and shake in fear. But they do not panic. Somehow, they sense the school's director, dedicated horseman Alois Podhajsky, will do everything he can to keep them safe.

Yet Alois can't do it alone. And in the chaotic last days of the war, as their fate becomes more uncertain than ever, Nero will play a key role in helping Alois appeal for aid from an unlikely ally -- America.

But time is running out. It will take a daring band of American soldiers -- along with horse lovers from opposing sides -- to pull off a secret mission to save the Lipizzaners from certain destruction. United by their love of horses, these unsung heroes risked their lives to preserve the majesty of this rare breed for generations to come.

Join the ride as critically acclaimed author Deborah Hopkinson brings to life the exhilarating true story of Operation Cowboy and the miraculous survival of the Spanish Riding School. Featuring rare family photos and told for the first time for young readers, They Saved the Stallions is bound to please every history fan and horse lover.

Editor review

1 review
Excellent Book About Horses in World War II
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I am convinced that there is so much interesting information about World War II that books will still be published on the topic in 2095! It's still a popular topic with young readers, especially when undiscovered facets, such as the plight of the famous Lippizaner stallions in Austria, come to light.

The action starts at a high point, with Alois Podhajsky's need to leave the Spanish Riding School in Vienna with the Lipizzaner stallions. He'd been keeping them safe for four years, but could see that the current rounds of bombing were making it impossible to stay. How does one evacuate so many horses? But first, we flashback and find out how he came to be involved with this fabled institution, and how one of the horses, Nero, was responsible for all of the others being safe at the end of the war.

Born in 1898 in what is now Bosnia and Herzegovina, Podhajsky moved frequently with his father, who was in the army. Because of the changing boundaries during the early part of the twentieth century, he learned many languages. He was very interested in equestrian pursuits, and joined the army in 1916, and his life was saved by one of the horses. In 1932, he started working for the Spanish Riding School, which allowed him to use his many skills at dressage. In 1938, Austria was annexed by the Germans, which meant that Podhajsky had to answer to them. He took it as his personal mission to keep the horses and the school safe.

This was not an easy task. The stud farm, and the mares, had been moved to the relative safety of Czechoslovakia. As the war progressed, Podhajsky used the horses to haul the furnishing and memorabilia of the school to a safer area. He also found a castle in St. Martin, and got permission in 1944 to evacuate the horses to the stables there. This was no small task. It involved getting the horses onto trains, which were frequently attacked. Once the horses were in St. Martin, there were problems with their accomodations (the horses ate some of the new wooden enclosures!) as well as with the local residents, who thought that horse meat would be a good way to supplement their meager meat rations! Still, he was able to keep the horses safe.

When the US troops arrived, he was able to get an audience with Patton, thanks to a horse named Nero who had been in the 1936 Olympics. Podhajsky asked Patton for special protection, as well as help in evacuating the mares to a safer place, since they were in an area upon which the Soviets were advancing. Patton was glad to provide both, and the groundwork was done by various soldiers who were fond of the horses. Operation Cowboy is one of those WWII initiatives that was unknown to me, but was utterly fascinating.

Good Points
Hopkinson always does excellent research, and there's a small example of how thorough she is. There's a brief description of deciding the date of one particular photo of Podhajsky and Patton that will gladden the heart of any historical researcher. I also loved the fact that fellow historican Candace Fleming makes an appearance, showing up the Spanish Riding School, to which she traveled.

Neither WWII or horses is a hard sell in middle school, and this was a tremendously engaging book that will find a wide readership. It's right at home with other nonfiction books like Weintraub's No Better Friend but is a great companion for fiction books like Kerr's tremendous The Winter Horses, which covers the plight of Przewalski's horses in Ukraine during WWII, or Earle's When the Sky Falls, about animals in the London Zoo during the Blitz, as well.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to hunt down a way to watch Robert Taylor in The Miracle of the White Stallions (Disney, 1963)!
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