Q&A with Mark Felton

Q: Why did the Germans steal famous horses?

Mark: As part of a breeding program to create an ‘Aryan super horse.’


Q: Why was the Spanish Riding School targeted?

Mark: The Lipizzaner breed are among the purest bred horses in existence – they would provide the base stock for creating the super horse, along with stolen thoroughbreds and Arabian stallions.


Q: Why were the Lipizzaners in Czechoslovakia?

Mark: The Germans took the mares to Hostau in Czechoslovakia to breed them with other Lipizzaners from other royal collections they had seized. Most of the highly trained stallions remained in Vienna to keep up civilian morale until Allied bombing caused their evacuation to a castle in Austria.


Q: Why were the Lipizzaners in danger in April 1945?

Mark: The area of Czechoslovakia where the breed mares and foals were housed was due to come under Soviet jurisdiction once German surrendered. It was feared that hungry Red Army soldiers would kill and eat the prized horses. Or they would be taken to Russia and never seen again. Either way, without the mares, the Spanish Riding School’s 500 year history would come to an end.


Q: What problems did the Americans face in rescuing the horses at Hostau?

Mark: Colonel Reed, at General Patton’s insistence, launched a dangerous mission to save the horses at Hostau. It involved inserting a small, lightly armed column 18 miles behind German lines to secure the stud. They then had to defend the place against two SS attacks, and somehow evacuate hundreds of horses to American lines before the Red Army arrived to claim ownership.


Q: What is unique about this story?

Mark: Two things:

(1) American and German soldiers worked together to save the horses from the SS and then the Red Army.

(2) The Americans risked all to save a European living treasure, the Spanish Riding School, from destruction. It was a selfless act but a dangerous one, which put US lives at risk and also damaged US-Soviet relations at the start of the Cold War. The American leaders, being cavalrymen, were moved by the plight of such beautiful and important horses, and strove to do something to help innocent animals in the depths of the collapse of the Third Reich. After so much killing, these tough veteran soldiers ‘wanted to do something beautiful.’