notes on dutch literature

“When you touch a Lipizzaner, you are touching history”

In Non-Fiction on November 21, 2012 at 10:00 AM

Brother Mendels perfect horse

“When you touch a Lipizzaner,” Frank Westerman was told as a child, “you are touching history.”

As a noble breed that has borne emperors and kings, and is imbued with “power and grace, loyalty and eagerness to learn”, it is a “horse to top all horses”, writes Frank Westerman in his history of the Lipizzaner. The lineage of these famous white beasts, which can be trained to perform a sort of equine ballet, stretches back to 1580, when the Habsburgs’ imperial stud farm outside Trieste began a breeding programme to create the perfect horse.

Westerman’s account of the Lipizzaners’ remarkable survival makes stirring reading. Brother Mendel’s Perfect Horse: Man and beast in an age of human warfare tales of research in secret archives and encounters with wartime veterans who helped with Operation Cowboy have the subterfuge and tension of a thriller.

His chronology is sometimes confusing, and his determination to link the Lipizzaners’ history with the genetic theories of Mendel and Lamarck, ideologues like the Soviet biologist Lysenko and Nazi programmes of eugenics is sometimes strained and can lead to lengthy and somewhat indigestible digressions. But Westerman never loses sight of the emotional connection that inspired his story: the deep attachment between humans and horses which is, it sometimes seems, more than we deserve.

Read here the full review in The Financial Times by Carl Wilkinson.

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