How General Patton and Some Unlikely Allies Saved the Prized Lipizzaner Stallions | HistoryNet

How General Patton and Some Unlikely Allies Saved the Prized Lipizzaner Stallions

By Karen Jensen
9/18/2009 • World War II Magazine

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General Patton, a host of American officers, and troops of the 328th Regiment, 26th Infantry Division, watch a performance of the Lipizzaner stallions on August 21, 1945. (Photo from National Archives)
General Patton, a host of American officers, and troops of the 328th Regiment, 26th Infantry Division, watch a performance of the Lipizzaner stallions on August 21, 1945. (Photo from National Archives)

May 7, 1945, was an important day by any measure.

For Gen. George S. Patton, it started early, with a call just after 4 a.m. from Gen. Omar Bradley, who said, “Ike just called me, George. The Germans have surrendered.” This was mixed news to Patton, who was convinced the war was ending too soon, leaving the Russians as a future threat and, in any case, leaving Patton, a man who lived to fight, without a war. “Peace is going to be hell on me,” he had complained to his wife, Beatrice, four days earlier.

The commander of Patton’s 2nd Cavalry Group, Col. Charles Hancock Reed, was with his unit in western Czechoslovakia, where they were forming a defensive line southwest of the large city of Pilsen. The 2nd Cavalry had been spearheading the Third Army’s advance, the deepest American penetration of the war. But as of 8 that morning, they and the rest of Patton’s Third Army had been ordered to “cease fire and stand fast.”

None of this was on the mind of Col. Alois Podhajsky as he prepared for what he regarded as the most important day of his life. Podhajsky, a tall, aristocratic Austrian of extraordinary single-mindedness, was looking for a way to guarantee the safety of the riding school and horses he supervised as the Third Reich collapsed around him. And on that sunny Monday morning, as a preoccupied General Patton strode into his exhibition arena, he thought he’d found it.

Lt. Gen. Walton H. Walker’s XX Corps had captured the renowned Spanish Riding School of Vienna several days earlier at its temporary quarters in St. Martin im Innkreis, a small town in Upper Austria, and Walker, a protégé of Patton’s, requested a performance of its white Lipizzaner stallions especially for him. As Patton watched, the horses and riders went through the precise, balletlike maneuvers they were famous for: a demonstration of controlled power and ritualized elegance, set to music, that was beautiful to watch and incredibly difficult to execute.

When it was over, Podhajsky halted his horse before Patton and removed his hat in a traditional salute. “In a little Austrian village in a decisive hour two men faced each other,” he wrote in his memoir, My Dancing White Horses, the basis for the 1963 Disney film Miracle of the White Stallions, “the one as triumphant conqueror in a war waged with such bitterness, the other as a member of a defeated nation.” He asked Patton for protection for the centuries-old school during the uncertain postwar period and for help in retrieving its breeding herd from Czechoslovakia, where the Germans had sent the horses to a Wehrmacht-controlled stud farm.

Patton, an expert horseman himself, described the exhibition in his diary that day, calling it “extremely interesting and magnificently performed.” Ever the soldier, he added, “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.” More telling for Podhajsky, though, was what Patton noted next: “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.”

Standing to address the man on horseback before him, Patton replied that he was putting the Spanish Riding School under the special protection of the U.S. Army; he later told Podhajsky he would do what he could about the horses in Czechoslovakia.

“This official declaration was far more than I had dreamed,” Podhajsky exulted. What he didn’t know, however, was that something far more dangerous and extravagant was already well under way: a top-secret mission involving not only Podhajsky’s horses, but hundreds more, as well as hundreds of Allied POWs, which would twine together Patton, Reed, and Podhajsky and leave Patton forever associated with the dancing white horses. It began 11 days earlier—with some captured secret documents.

The contents of any intelligence officer’s papers are an obvious source of intrigue, especially when that officer is a general. But those that belonged to the commander of the German intelligence unit that surrendered to the 2nd Cavalry Group at a hunting lodge near the Czech border on April 26, 1945, were unexpectedly interesting. They included photos of horses—beautiful horses: Arabs, Thoroughbreds, and Lipizzaners.

The general, a celebrated spy known only as Walter H., invited Colonel Reed to join him for breakfast while they waited for trucks to arrive to haul off the captured documents. They looked at the photos together, and the general told Reed that the horses were among hundreds the Germans had collected from among the finest breeding stock in Europe and sent to a large stud farm in the nearby Czech town of Hostau, where they were under the care of Czech and Polish POWs who had surrendered to the Germans.

The problem was that the ruthless and ravenous Red Army was approaching; both men were concerned the animals might become army rations. But, as spelled out at the Yalta conference that divided up postwar Europe, Czechoslovakia fell within the Soviet zone of occupation. “We mutually agreed that these fine animals should not fall into Communist hands and the prisoners should be rescued,” Reed recalled. He sent a message to Patton at Third Army headquarters requesting permission for the operation. Patton’s swift response: “Get them. Make it fast!”

By then Red Army troops were about 60 miles east of Hostau; the Americans were about 35 miles away. And although the Germans in Czechoslovakia were being rapidly overpowered, there were still die-hard Nazi snipers everywhere. Working in conjunction with the German, Reed formulated a daring plan.

He dispatched the general’s courier with a message asking the Germans at the stud farm to send an officer through the lines that night to arrange terms. At about 8 p.m., his request was answered when a lean man in a Wehrmacht officer’s uniform strode out of the woods near a 2nd Cavalry outpost. The officer was Capt. Rudolf Lessing, a staff veterinarian at Hostau. Over dinner he presented Reed with a counterproposal: send an officer back with him to Hostau to confer with the local Wehrmacht commander and they could arrange a surrender.

An intelligence officer with the 2nd Cavalry’s 42nd Reconnaissance Squadron, Capt. Thomas M. Stewart, was out in the field when his commanding officer relayed a message: “Colonel Reed wants to borrow you for a special assignment.” The 30-year-old captain—son of a U.S. senator from Tennessee—reported to Reed’s headquarters, where he found an assortment of American officers gathered in conversation around Lessing. Reed had just concluded a telephone conversation with General Patton, and told Stewart he was to accompany the German captain through the lines and attempt to arrange the release of the horses and prisoners. Reed sent him off bearing a letter written in German and English designating him as an emissary under Lessing’s protection and granting him the authority to negotiate.

The two men left on foot and walked together in the darkness for about a half-mile before coming upon the motorcycle that Lessing had secreted in some bushes. They drove it several miles to the barn of a friendly Czech forester, where they exchanged the motorcycle for a pair of horses the veterinarian had hidden there to take them on the rest of the journey.

Their destination lay about 18 miles ahead, through a forbiddingly dense forest. It had been around midnight when the pair set off, and the moon finally emerged from behind some clouds. Still, “the forest was so thick through there you felt like you were riding through two walls of darkness,” Stewart recalled in a recent interview.

Although riding through the dark countryside in the sole company of an enemy officer seems an intimidating experience, Stewart reveled in it. An experienced rider, he delighted in his horse, a Lipizzaner stallion said to have been the favorite mount of Peter II, King of Yugoslavia. When he encountered a roadblock about three feet wide and three feet high built of logs and branches, a steep cliff on one side, a ravine on the other, the American did the only thing he thought he could do: he gathered his horse and took off for the obstacle. Too late, he heard Lessing—who knew a route around the roadblock—call out, “He doesn’t jump!” No matter; the horse took off, light as a feather. “The perfect jump,” Stewart said. “It was the highlight of the trip for me.”

A more significant obstacle emerged at the stud farm. As the men made their way in darkness to Lessing’s living quarters, they found Lessing’s friend and fellow veterinarian, Capt. Wolfgang Kroll, cradling what looked like a submachine gun. “We’re in trouble,” he told Lessing. The manager of the farm, Lt. Col. Hubert Rudofsky, had initially given his blessing to the plan, but had had a change of heart after Lessing left. Rudofsky was a Czech national and decided he could cut a better deal with the Russians than with the Americans. He told Kroll that if he and Lessing brought in an American, Rudofsky would have the three of them shot as spies.

Stewart spent the rest of the night crouched in a chair, while Lessing reconnoitered. A few hours later, on the morning of April 27, he summoned Stewart and Kroll; Rudofsky had left the farm, possibly to visit the local army commander, a General Schulze. Lessing’s plan was to find one of Schulze’s officers and have the three of them taken to see him as well—something they managed under tense circumstances later that morning.

Stewart was able to understand a little German, so he could make out a smattering of what was going on. And at first it didn’t look good. The general, a small man, sat behind a bare table, surrounded by officers—including, Stewart later learned, a silent Lieutenant Colonel Rudofsky. A staff colonel, a big blond man, said something in anger to Lessing and Lessing replied, “Sir, I am no spy! I am a German officer. I am no spy.”

General Schulze gestured, and Captain Stewart presented his credentials. Lessing explained their presence. As the German veterinarian recounted to the Austrian magazine Zyklus in 1982, he told the general that their primary responsibility was to the horses. “It is our duty to do everything to save them,” he argued. “It is unimportant for us to win the war here at Hostau on April 27 or 28, 1945. This we should have done four years ago. To do it now is too late.”

Stewart heard someone in the background say, “Adolf ist kaputt.” The general finally turned to the American captain and asked, in English, “How many panzers can you bring?” Stewart understood that the general didn’t want to surrender to a lone American captain and assured him the 2nd Cavalry would return with a sizeable number of tanks and other vehicles. “He looked at me for what seemed like a long time,” Stewart recalled, “and then he took out this pad and scribbled something.” It was a note of safe passage for Stewart. “There will be no difficulties when your people come in,” the general told him.

When Stewart finally set off toward his squadron later that evening, he wasn’t alone. Wolfgang Kroll, whom Lessing called “a man with an inclination to adventure and bravado,” wanted to be a part of the American advance on the farm and stayed in the jeep after Lessing departed. A German driver took Stewart and the veterinarian to the edge of the forest, but would go no further, so the two walked the last half-mile or so to Stewart’s squadron themselves. As soon as they arrived, Stewart briefed Reed via radio on the day’s events, and Reed immediately put his plans into action.

By daybreak the next day, April 28, a rapidly formed task force of approximately 70 men from the 42nd Reconnaissance Squadron’s A Troop—along with two light tanks and two assault guns—was on its way. As General Schulze had promised, the task force encountered no resistance on the way to the stud farm, and the surrender was peaceful.

As soon as the facility was secured, the American troops hurried off to look at the source of all the commotion: the captured horses. It was truly a treasure trove of horseflesh. Among them were about 100 of the best Arabs in Europe, top Thoroughbred racehorses and trotters, hundreds of Russian Cossack horses, and some 250 Lipizzaners from breeding farms across Europe—primarily the Yugoslavian royal stud and the Piber stud in Austria, which supplied the horses for the Spanish Riding School.

There were also the prisoners: not only the several hundred grooms they had expected to find at the farm, but about 300 Americans and as many British troops, who had been encountered with their German guards in the vicinity. Steps were quickly taken to free and safeguard them.

While the rest of the 2nd Cavalry Group prepared for an advance toward Pilsen, the task force organized its own small army to defend the farm in the event of a counterattack. In addition to the Americans and their tanks and assault guns were Lessing, Kroll, and the other Germans; some Cossack cavalrymen; and an assortment of now-former POWs who chose to stay. That proved a wise move. For five hours on April 30, the small international force held off an attack from German troops: mostly older men and boys who knew nothing of what had transpired at the farm. The defenders took hundreds of German prisoners; the rest retreated back into the woods. “The Germans did a lot of shooting, but not a lot of damage,” Stewart remembered. Two men of A Troop ultimately lost their lives during the mission in isolated incidents elsewhere, however.

As the war wound down in the next few days, dramatic events continued to come hard and fast. Colonel Reed arrived at the farm on May 1 to inspect the horses. Before leaving, he cautioned Stewart that the massive German 11th Panzer Division would soon be headed in their direction. “Don’t engage them,” he warned. On May 4 the reason became evident, as the division and its more than 9,000 men surrendered, an event Reed had been instrumental in negotiating. Two days later, the Third Army liberated Pilsen. Germany surrendered the next day, and Reed, who shared Patton’s antipathy toward the Russians, established new headquarters at an estate near Pilsen. He was determined to hold his ground in Czechoslovakia until the U.S. Army—not the Russians or Czechs—told him to leave.

He was there on May 9 when he received word from Third Army headquarters that General Patton had been in touch with Col. Alois Podhajsky, the director of the Spanish Riding School, and that Podhajsky would be flown to Reed’s headquarters as soon as possible to inspect the captured Lipizzaners.

Although the horses were now in American hands, they were still in Czechoslovakia and Reed knew something had to be done to get them out of the path of the Red Army—and soon. “A day or so after the German surrender it became evident to me that the Czech and Russian Communists were showing a great interest in the captured horses,” he recalled. Word was that they’d made several stealthy trips to the stud farm; he transmitted this information to Patton’s headquarters, along with the recommendation that the Arabs and Lipizzaners be transferred as soon as possible to a large facility in Mannsbach in central Germany. The Third Army swiftly gave its assent, along with a guarantee to give the movement of the horses priority along the required roads.

At dawn on May 12, the remarkable procession began. About 350 horses were herded in small groups, with American vehicles positioned before and after them and with a band of Polish, Czech, and Cossack horsemen as outriders, along with a smattering of Americans—making the name of the mission, Operation Cowboy, especially apt. Despite the prevailing chaos of the time, the evacuation was an organizational masterpiece; the Americans had closed off all major intersections and the group covered the roughly 130 miles to Mannsbach safely. The fastest groups made the journey in two days; the slower groups, those that included mares and foals, arrived a day later. (Lieutenant Colonel Rudofsky had materialized at the border as the horses passed, marking off the departing animals on a checklist. Czech and Russian officials later filed a protest, but nothing ever came of it.)

At about the same time—on the afternoon of May 14—the U.S. Army flew Podhajsky to Colonel Reed’s headquarters. He was introduced to Reed over dinner. “Our conversation soon showed how full life is of interesting coincidences,” Podhajsky recalled. Reed, as it turned out, knew Podhajsky’s name well. When the captain of the U.S. Army riding team, of which Reed was a member, saw Podhajsky ride in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, he had been so impressed he named one of the cavalry school horses after him.

The next morning Reed drove his Austrian counterpart to Mannsbach in a jeep. Podhajsky easily identified the Lipizzaners belonging to the Austrian herd and Reed assured him they would be sent to St. Martin. “Before I flew off I tried to thank Colonel Reed for his help and great understanding,” the Austrian horseman said. “I have only acted as a fellow rider should,” Reed replied. “And I am convinced that you would have done the same if the positions were reversed.”

A little over a week later, Reed proved good to his word. Just before midnight on or about May 25, the sound of engines broke the quiet at an abandoned airfield outside St. Martin as the first of some 60 trucks pulled into view. The journey this time had been too great a distance to make on foot, so Reed had amassed as many captured German vehicles as possible and had them outfitted to carry the horses. Although two mares were injured in the chaos of unloading at the airfield and had to be put down, a total of 244 Lipizzaners were successfully returned to Austria.

Podhajsky was so grateful to have this segment of culture and tradition preserved for his country and the world that he staged performances for American soldiers stationed in occupied Austria over the next few months: a second for Patton on August 21, 1945, and several more for “ordinary mortals”—one or two thousand American GIs at a time. “The success of the Lipizzaner with the American Army General was repeated also with the ordinary soldiers,” Podhajsky noted with his characteristic pride. “They were all captivated.”

But why—when there was so much destruction, so much loss and pain, so much left to be done—devote limited resources to this particular mission? A simple explanation lies with the diverse individuals central to the rescue, who had all one trait in common: they loved horses.

Alois Podhajsky, the son of a cavalry officer, was one of the youngest lieutenants in the Austro-Hungarian cavalry in World War I, and won a bronze in dressage in the 1936 Olympics. Podhajsky devoted his life to horses, and they were rarely far from his thoughts. “I am bound to admit that I have always been what is commonly called ‘horse-mad,’” he said.

Charles Hancock Reed, also a former officer in the mounted cavalry, was a superb horseman: an instructor at the Cavalry School and a member of the 1930–1931 U.S. Army horse show team. 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.

George S. Patton spent a lifetime with horses. While stationed at Fort Myer, Virginia, after his graduation from West Point, he played polo, fox-hunted, and competed in mounted steeplechases. He was a participant in the first modern pentathlon at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, placing sixth out of 23 in the equestrian phase. As a major in the cavalry in 1921, he wrote that a cavalry leader “must have a passion—not simply a liking—for horses.” And when he sought to assess his condition after the automobile accident that ultimately took his life in December 1945, Patton chose one question to ask his doctor: “What chance have I to ride a horse again?”

But the rescue came at a cost—and a simple fondness for horses can’t explain the many instances of risk, bravery, and personal sacrifice that arose during its execution. For that, it was Colonel Reed, fittingly, who provided the answer: “We were so tired of death and destruction,” he said, “we wanted to do something beautiful.”

This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of World War II magazine.

70 Responses to How General Patton and Some Unlikely Allies Saved the Prized Lipizzaner Stallions

  1. John Rodriguez says:

    As much as I’ve read about “operations” during WWII, I had never heard of “Operation Cowboy”. Indeed, an extremely interesting article. Goes to show what good deeds the human race is capable of if you put aside the insanity of war. Thank you for posting.

  2. Tim says:

    I saw the Disney movie ” Miracle of the White Stallions” on TV and later was able to find it on VHS. Robert Taylor played the part of Colonel Podhajsky in the movie. I really enjoyed reading the article. I have not thought of that movie in a long time. Thanks again for printing the story

  3. Clyde Meyers says:

    My wife had to almost drag me to see the descendants of these magnificent horses when we visited Austria in the early 70’s. I just was’nt interested in horses. However,I was captivated by their performances snd have seen them several times since in Austria and America. Many thanks to Gen. Patton and the others who saved them.

  4. Phyllis Galbreath Ratliff says:

    My uncle, Guy French, served as General Reed’s driver during this time and lived in one of the buildings shown in this article. Needless to say, he was thrilled beyond belief to receive his Nov. issue of World War II magazine and see an article about a time in his life that was so special to him. Now in a nursing home in Oneonta, Alabama, Uncle Guy entertains all who will listen with WWII stories and still tears up at the mention of General Patton, his hero. Thanks for this GREAT article about “the greatest generation”.

  5. Shayne Stewart says:

    It was wonderful to read this article. Captain Tom Stewart is my uncle. His brother Fricks also served in the Army. My father Paul Turner served in the Navy. It is an honor to read and know that Uncle Tommy had such an important part in that daring and adventurous rescue. I have always known of the rescue, but not to this detail. Thanks for publishing this account of history.

    • Lauree says:

      I was so sorry to hear of the passing of your Uncle, Captain Tom Stewart late last night. What a gentle and kind soul. What depth to know the valor and daring he exhibited at such a time in history. What an amazing legacy for the world and for his family.

      • Shayne Stewart says:


        Thanks for the kind words, I agree that he was a very special man. I remember many wonderful times with him and Aunt Anne. I will miss him.

    • Stephan Talty says:

      Hi Shayne –

      I’m an author working on a book about Operation Cowboy. I’d really like to learn more about your uncle and his service in the war. Please drop me a line at when you get a chance.


      Stephan Talty

      • Peggy says:

        My father was a first scout in the war and talked about being with the Lipzzans. However, I am not sure of his recollections as he remembered a train ride with the Lipzzans. No where do I see there were any horses transported this way. According to comments made by my dad was that he was awarded metals but gave them away when he returned from the war.

  6. MAJ (RET) Mark Ballard says:

    There is a painting of this rescue action – does anyone know where I could find a copy?

    Mark Ballard

  7. Jacqueline Grobarek says:

    I have read several accounts of this operation but none with such detail. Wolfgang Kroll, the German veterinarian mentioned was a good friend of mine for over 25 years. He often spoke of the horses and even accompanied some of them when they were shipped to the U. S. Later he emigrated here and at one time was veterinarian of the San Diego Zoo. We travelled together to Vienna and to the breeding farm in Piber in 1966 and he actually remembered some of the horses and grooms.
    I would like to know if anyone has any personal recollections, pictures, or accounts of him. I would like to share them with his children who still live in Germany. I can be contacted at:

  8. roger king says:


    ‘Rescuing the Lipizzaners’ by Don Stivers appears to be sold out at most websites, but you might try ebay or craigslist.

  9. Dave Gettman says:

    Glad to see this story is finally getting the attention it deserves. I know I’ve done my part to get the ball rolling. Hoping to build interest in a remake of the Disney movie, this time telling the REAL story.

    Wanted to note that the two from Troop A that were killed during the operation, Pfc Raymond Manz and T/5 Owen Sutton, were honored in 2006 with permanent monuments in the Czech Republic and that annual joint ceremonies are now held at the sites of the monuments with the Czechs and the 2nd Cavalry.

  10. Chris Golden says:

    For more details on “Operation Cowboy, Colonel Reed and the 2d Cavalry Group [and Regiment] go to: then click on history.

    For any veterans of the 2d Cavalry Group in WWII the 2d Cavalry Association is very interested in contacting you and helping you connect with other veterans.

    Please contact me at:

    • Karen Wilqet says:

      My father, Sargent Roy Wentzel, of the 20th corp troop task force along with Staff Sargent Jasper Roberts were given orders by Major Kerry to escord the convoy. My father is 91 years old but still remembers many details on the actual moving of the lipizzaner horses.
      Did you know that the horses pulled the “colonel’s” tetra v8 vehicle as there was no gas to run the car?

      • Stephan Talty says:

        Hi Karen –

        I’m an author working on a book about Operation Cowboy. I’d really like to learn more about your father and his role in the rescue. If you can drop me a line at, I’d appreciate it.


        Stephan Talty

  11. Tyrone Lambert says:

    What an incredible story.

    I was deeply moved by this tale of co-operation between former enemies who all cared for such magnificent and gentle animals that horses are.

    Thank you for this.

  12. Barbara McGonagle says:

    I attended a Lipizzaner event in Boston, MA on 11/08/ It was fantastic! The master of ceremonies commented that a few of the stallions had been rescued from a farm, and that they had been rehabilitated, trained and were now part of the show. Can someone tell me where the farm was located?

  13. Philip Martin says:

    You might be interested to see some backstage photos from this performance, from the personal collection of PFC Frank Wayne Martin, who was a forward scout for General Patton. Martin (no relation to me) was involved in this Lipizzaner operation and was assigned to guard the trainers backstage during this show. He has just published a book of his memoirs, called Patton’s Lucky Scout (Crickhollow Books, October 2009). I’m the editor, and we’re in the process of posting photos (not included in the book) on a blog for that book at:
    Thanks, Karen and HistoryNet, for this great article on the operation!

  14. paul manz says:

    This is a story that will alway resonate in my family’s history.
    Pfc. Raymond Manz was killed in this action and like the thousands of U.S. soldiers that gave their lives in WWII his life is but one of the stories
    of selflessness that has shaped our world. My father Lawrence Manz is Ray’s first cousin and best of buds. Larry was 16 when the family learned of Raymond’s death and was finally able to visit the the site in Rosendorf and pay his respects.

    Please see the posts by David Gettman of Chris Golden for more information on 2nd Cavs sacrifices.

    Thank you Karen for publishing this incredible story.

    • Stephan Talty says:

      Hi Paul –

      I’m an author working on a book about Operation Cowboy. I’m hoping to learn more about Pfc. Manz and his service in the war. Please drop me a line at when you get the chance.


      Stephan Talty

  15. James Haahr says:

    11 Panzer did not surrender to 2nd Cavalry on May 4. CG of 11 Panzer, General von Wietersheim, surrendered the entire division to the CG of the US 90th Inantry Division on May 4 on the Czech/German border southwest of Pilsen. Go to 90th Division web site for details if you wish.

    • David Gettman says:

      No, they did not surrender to the 2d Cavalry Group, but the 2d Cavalry negotiated and arranged the surrender, protecting the 11th Panzer Division from the Russians until they could surrender to the 90th Division. The 2d Cavalry Group was later tasked with guarding the 11th Panzer Division, and secretly used some of the prisoners to fill its ranks during a parade for Eisenhower in Munich, 1946.

  16. Denise Campbell says:

    I recently found out that my grandfather, Les Shepard was one of the “cowboys” that helped to rescue the horses. I have a number of photos from the Germay Rodeo and now because of this article understand why there was a Rodeo going on at the end of WWII !!

    • David Gettman says:

      The rodeo was held July 4-5, 1945, in Neukirchen, Germany. I recently purchased a program from the show which is going to the 2d Cavalry museum in Vilseck, Germany.

      • Denise Campbell says:

        Thank you so much for the information on the date. Do you happen to know if there is any organization that is cataloging the photos from the operation? I have several of those, and one that I believe to be the couple who were caring for the horses.

  17. Ronnie Larson says:

    Dr. Rudolf Lessing was my stepfather and one of the greatest lovers of horses ever! He was made an honorary member of the US 2nd Cavalry after this horse rescue. He had many fond memories of Col. Reed and Stewart and several others whom I was also able to meet at a 2nd Cavalry Reunion in Norfolk, VA. What a wonderful group of men, what a wonderful group of soldiers – working together despite their national differences. This rescue of the LIppizanners was a story often told proudly and emotionally. I still have many of Rudolf’s photos of the war and working with horses though unfortunately I do not know who the many other men in the photos are but there are some amazing photos. I thank you for publishing this article.

    • nancy says:

      please contact me at

    • Hannes Eichsteininger says:

      Dear Mr. Larson!

      If among your photos are those which show the horses in St, Martin, Upper Austria (where Patton rode on the one horse that Hitler planned to send to the Emperor of Japan) I would be happy to see them.

      Best Regards, Hannes Eichsteininger, St. Martin, Upper Austria

  18. Ronnie Larson says:

    To Shayne Stewart, I met your uncle Captain Tom Stewart at a 2nd Cavalry Reunion and was inspired by his warmth and wit. He was truly a good friend to Dr. Lessing throughout the years and we still think of Capt. Stewart fondly, though we lost touch after Rudolf’s death in 2002.

    • Shayne Stewart says:


      It is amazing the many lives that Uncle Tommy touched with his warm heart and sharp wit. I will miss him very much. I wish I had more time with him because he was so full of history of my family, and that family history is so important to carry forward.

  19. Kathryn Cogswell says:

    To The Contributors of this Article: WWII holds treasured stories to be told of bravery and sacrifice, gaining precious rewards, among these the rescue of the Lipizzaner horses. Currently, I am straining to understand and discover a humane solution for the American horses ensnared in an overseas market economy that fashions horsemeat desirable. The routes they are forced down, from auctions where ‘killer buyers’ procure them for transport in brutal conditions to Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses, the cruel practices of which are their last experiences with humans, break the heart. To see the end of these markets and their machinations, there must be a concerted effort among persons of persuasions beyond our borders; something which saved the white stallions of Austria must still reside in the hearts of people today. My hope is that an inevitable mind-set will rescue not only our horses, but any species endangered, humans included. Sincerely, Kathryn Cogswell.

    • CAROLANN says:






    • Dr. Brian Sullivan says:

      I’m preparing a petition to to congress and the white house urging them to pass the American Horse slaughter prevention act,which would outlaw horse slaughter for human consumption as well as transport across borders for slaughter.SB1176(senate) and HR 2966(house) I would like to forward it to you to sign and forward to your friends.Something like 70% of the US public are opposed to this horror.However congress will only act if they think that their own constituents care about it.My Email is

  20. Juliette Ritzman says:

    If you’re interested in seeing the Cavalry history continued live, come to Ft. Concho, TX, the 29th of September- Oct. 2nd, to watch the US Cavalry’s National Competition. The saber events stem from the procedures Gen. Patton wrote when he was a cavalry officer.

  21. Patrice Barnes says:

    As an owner of 5 lipizzan decedents from Hostau, I just want to thank the WWII vets. This was a great account of what actually happened. I always welcome visitors to our farm and especially like to honor the WWII vets with our horses. My family along with Bresciana, Deia, Celosia, Maia and Favory II Candita salute you!
    Patrice Barnes
    Equidance Meadows
    North Idaho

  22. nancy says:

    I have been to the History archives to research this topic. Saddly the daily reports covering the 3 days of the initial rescue are “missing”. Anyone have copies of these “dailies”? I am also looking for any wwII pictures with Lipazzaners, any vets or family of vets have some?

    • Denise Campbell says:

      I have a picture of one of a Lipazzaner that were taken during the rescue and one of whom I believe to be the couple that were caring for the horses.

  23. Winnie Jakob) says:

    I was riding a Lipizzaner stallion named “Conversano Alba” in many international competitions for many years. He was sold from the Spanish Riding School to Salzburg, Austria, riding school, because another stallion bit off a part of his ear. I loved him very much and I deeply suffered when he was taken away from me (I didn`t own him) and sold to a rich person. As an illustrator and caricaturist I illustrated a booklet “Die Herren Lipizzaner” (The Lipizzaner Gentlemen), written by Barbara Coudenhove-Kalergi, Forum_Edition, Vienna, The book isn`t on the market anymore for many years. But I kept my original illustrations! Now ladies are allowed to ride the stallions in the Spanish Riding school which in former times was not allowed. Though Ì`m not riding anymore – I live in Vienna – I visit “my” Lipizzaners as often as possible!

    • Lee Botsford says:

      Where can I find the booklet Lipizzarer Gentleman? As I watched them in Vienna last week during morning workouts, I began referring to them as the Boys. I spent a great deal of time and treasure to enjoy these splendid animals and learn of their history; I was not disappointed.
      I live near San Francisco, California, but no distance is too far to appreciate the efforts of dedicated professionals and magnificent horses.

  24. […] in saving the Lipizzaner’s from possible extinction during World War II! For the story, click here. Dressage is a beautiful choreography performed between horse and rider – very elegant […]

  25. Mark Evans says:

    My great uncle was Owen Sutton, one of the two men who were killed in the operation. My family never knew the actual circumstances surrounding his death, only that he was killed shortly before the end of the war. The story that had been passed down by my family, and perhaps the only story they ever knew, was that he was shot by an SS sniper in Germany and died shortly thereafter. I don’t think anyone in the family had ever known about Operation Cowboy or the effort to save the stallions. To much surprise, 61 years later in 2006, my mother was contacted by the Czech government letting them know of the ceremony and monument dedicated to the operation and specifically PFC Manz and my great uncle. The family legend of Uncle Owen, and my mother’s memory of him, was that he was a man with no hesitation to action, and true to form, that he had died in action. She was so very proud to know that he had died for so noble a cause and upon learning the details surrounding his death told the Czech officer, “That sounds just like Uncle Owen.”

    • Stephan Talty says:

      Hi Mark –

      I’m an author working on a book about Operation Cowboy. I’m hoping to learn more about your great uncle and his service in the war. Please drop me a line at when you get the chance.


      Stephan Talty

  26. gloriann says:

    My Dad told me the story of the saving of the horses when I was a young child, as he volunteered for this mission and was a big part of it. His name was Sam Bellino. Any additional info on this mission and the men that volunteered would make me happy. thanks.
    gloriann bellino

  27. Lewis says:

    I would be grateful to hear from anyone with any connection to ”Operation Cowboy” who has any information connecting it to the fact that both Col. Reed and Gen. Patton were not merely great horsemen but, like Gen. Washington, fox hunters. Before the war, Reed was Master of Fox Hounds of the Ft. Leavenworth Hunt (last U.S. Military Hunt still in operation today,) and Patton was Joint MFH, with his wife, of his own private Cobbler Hunt in Virginia.

    I can be reached at

    and will be pleased to call anyone who gives me a phone number to discuss this.

    Lewis Sterler

  28. Kay-La says:

    I simply love this article. This story has been passed down generations in my family, I was told my grandfather Larry E Glennon was picked by General Patton to help assist him with this operation. My grandfather being a cowboy all his life was certainly suited for the job, but I wish I could find some proof that he actually was, does anyone know if that’s possible to find out?

  29. Scott says:

    Great article! Great to see that after all of the death and destruction that occured in WWII something like this could take place. The soldiers who carried out this mission showed great courage by risking their lives over something like a bunch of horses. A beautiful way to wrap up such an ugly war!

  30. Thom McCan says:

    A black, sad day for America.

    They couldn’t divert one plane to destory the crematoria or bomb the railroad leading to Auschwitz where 20,000 Jews were being murdered daily but they found the means of rescuing horses because it was five minutes out of the way.

    Like the Vatican that could not help many Jews but could help Nazis escape to South America.

    A black, sad day for the church too.

    A sa

    • Steve Burstein says:

      The Lipizzaner “Rescue” happened AFTER D-Day, AFTER the Allies reached Paris, AFTER Auschwitz was liberated by the Nazis, AFTER GERMANY SURRENDERED, FOR THE LOVE OF MIKE!This is the stupidest criticism of the Allies I’ve ever read!

  31. […] the Germans.The problem was that the ruthless and ravenous Red Army was approaching; both men…Source and read more this:DiggStumbleUponRedditPinterestTumblrTags: Alois Podhajsky, […]

  32. Elizabeth Letts says:

    A new full-length book about this extraordinary mission will be coming out from Random House in 2014 or 2015. If you or a family member has memories, letters, scrapbooks, photos, or any other information pertaining to this story, please email me:

  33. […] and there’s a distinct mystique about it–Dancing White Horses! Airs Above the Ground! Patton’s rescue! History! Hapsburgs! Gold-plated bridles! Ultra-fancy state treasures of Austria! But when the […]

  34. Steve Burstein says:

    The gassings at Auschwitz had already stopped by this time!JEWS who lived/hid in liberated territory, like the Stallions, were theoretically safe fron the Nazis.Attempting to bomb Auschwitz would not have been the same thing at all!!!!!!!

  35. […]     This is a well-written article with many details that explain how the rescue was able to be successful, as well as the aftermath of the rescue. […]

  36. Richard Hofacker says:

    I first heard of the Lipizzaner rescue in 1967 while writing in-flight promotional booklets for Austrian Airlines. I found the story in a book by Podhajsky. My title at that time was \The General and the Leaping Lipizzaners.\ I’m interested in the background of Karen Jensen, who wrote this excellent piece. Does she specialize in military subjects, or is her work broader? I’m interested in reading more of her writing.

  37. […] relax and frolic during this period. General George Patton saved them after World War 2.  You can find out how here. The school is the oldest equestrian school in the world.  It was built in 1735.We got a look in […]

  38. Jan Fisk says:

    what happened to the Thoroughbreds and other horses–were they saved or did they end up feeding the Russians?

  39. David Gettman says:


    I’m sure the 2d Cavalry Regiment’s Reed Museum and Regimental Heritage Center would be very interested in your photos.

  40. Hannes Eichsteininger says:

    Dear Karen!

    If your father is still alive or has written down his memories, please let me know. I am working on the history of St. Martin, where the horses were held during 1945.

    Best Regards,
    Hannes Eichsteininger, St. Martin

    • Patricia Wagner says:

      My name is Patricia Wagner , I am working on a book about the rescue. Can you tell me what happened to all the other horses, the Arabians , thorough breds. Etc. that. Apparently not part of the rescue.
      I am from sterling , mass USA
      Many thanks

  41. M Miller says:

    Is there any information about other Austrian officers who left Vienna with the stallions and later assisted with the rescue?

  42. Patricia Wagner says:

    I am writing a book on this rescue. My writing experience was 25 years as a writer reporter for large daily newspaper, and 20 plus years as a lawyer. I would appreciate hearing from anyone who could contribute, or could connect me with anyone involved who is still alive. Any photos that you coul e mail me for future publication would be greatly appreciated.
    Patricia Wagner.

  43. disqus_JNTzup5QKD says:


  44. DLMatthys says:

    Off course this is the Walt Disney version of the cover story when the main objective was to take Pilson for the Nazi Wunderwaffe tech run by SS-Gruppenfuher Hans Kamler

  45. PerchLady says:

    Some of the history is missing. I’ve been to Lipica, Yugoslavia (now Slovenia) and visited the Lippanzer farm.

    The Lipica stud farm, extending over 311 hectares in
    the Kras countryside, is the world’s oldest continuously operating stud
    farm. It was established in May 1580. Since then the farm has gone
    through some tough times. In 1796, 1805 and 1809, when it was threatened
    by the Napoleon army, it was moved, along with all the horses, to
    Hungary. During WWI, the Lipizzaners stayed in Laxenburg near Vienna and
    in the Czech Republic. After WWI, Lipica came under Italian rule,
    however, the studs were state-owned by both Italy and Austria.

    Lipica was renovated by the Italians,
    while the Austrians moved their herd to Piber near Graz, where they
    established their own stud farm. In September 1943, Lipica was taken
    over by the Germans, who took the horses to Germany, from where some
    were also taken to the US.

    After WWII, Yugoslavia demanded the
    return of all horses, however, after lengthy negotiations, the allies
    returned only 11 Lipizzaners, while the rest were turned over to Italy
    and the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. The renovation of the farm
    began with only a few horses. In 1953, a riding and training school was
    established, and in 1960, the legendary breeding place of Lipizzaners
    was opened to tourists.

  46. Beth Ely says:

    I love this story and that was a success . General Patton was correct all art should be saved and we shouldn’t have trusted the Russians, then and or now. So many wonderful people making a miracle happen. Thank you. And God Bless to all. General Patton was an amazing human and tremendous leader among many.

  47. Foxfier says:

    He chose to take a risk to save the horse version of ballet.

    God bless you, sir.

  48. Logan MacDonald says:

    Kind of ignores the part where Patton and Podhajsky knew each other from before the war and were friends, that this was not entirely some random act of kindness for a stranger. At least it does not perpetuate the propaganda that the Russians were only interested in eating the horses, but even that probably deserves at least a mention as it was a concern of Patton’s, even if it was unlikely. Commissars would have had some pretty choice words and bullets for people that tried to eat those horses.

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