16.12.13

Frank Westerman - Brother Mendel's Perfect Horse

Rating 7.3

Frank Westerman is a Dutch agronomist who became a journalist and a foreign correspondent writing a bunch of non-fiction books on a wide range of subjects.

From the Soviet novelists' deeds to the massacres of the ex Yugoslavian conflict; from the chronicle of his ascent to the biblical Mount Ararat to an investigation on a natural disaster in Cameroon.
Passing through a children book he wrote with his daughter.

Brother Mendel's Perfect Horse is the - quite convoluted - English title of Dier, Bovendier, which literally translates into 'Animal Above Animal'. Pardon my Dutch.

So what is this animal above animal(s)?
Man, you'd say.
Aye, but not only: please add horse.

But not each and every horse you'd find around deserves to stand at the top of the animal hyerarchy. In fact, it's men themselves who took the right to make their own perfect horse, the king among horses, the  proud and elegant steed you don't only ride on but that you actually dance with.
This Superhorse is the Lipizzaner, a thoroughbred created over centuries of careful and painstaking crossbreeding financed and wanted by the Hapsburg Empire.



And flicking through the carefully preserved genealogical trees of these full-blooded steeds as well as visiting the riding stables among modern Austria, Slovenia, and Bosnia that Westerman wrote his book.
Now, this accomplishiment might sound rather boring to all those who don't really care about horses or have always been too scared to ride one. Well, fear not.

Mr Westerman found the key to make even horse crossbreeding an interesting process and is well documented and knowledgeable enough to put the saga of the Lipizzaners into a historical and a scientific frame. These steeds were one of the dearest treasures of the mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire and - as such - became a valuable war chest more than once in the last century.


The author here finds out where did these horses come from and where did they end up embarking on a very interesting - if slightly long winded - journey. It's mixing up the fortunes and misfortunes of the Lipizzaners with the ones of their creators, stableboys, looters and saviors that makes this story worth to be told even though Frank Westerman does take some detours which could have been left out.

The beautiful white and silver horses you can now see performing their peculiar steps, jumps and pirouettes in the Spanische Hofreiteschule in Vienna are the heirs of broodmares who survived many twists and turns in history and this book will let you appreciate all that.


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