George S. Patton is widely known for his success in the battlefield but what the world has forgotten are his accomplishments as a resilient adventurer, olympian, and equestrian.
While serving in the United States Army, Patton was chosen to represent the United States of America in the 1912 Olympics. He participated in the modern Pentathlon which consisted of horse riding, shooting, swimming, running, and fencing.
After the Olympics, he became the first US Army “Master of the Sword” thanks to his training in Saumur, France and redesigned the cavalry saber from a curved to a thrusting style in 1913, to attack with a straight “saber” commonly called “Patton saber”.
During World War II, the world famous Spanish Riding School of Vienna, home to the finest and rarest breeds of horses, the Lipizzan, was captured by the Germans and sent to then Czechoslovakia. But according to the Yalta Conference agreement Czechoslovakia was going to fall under the Soviet zone of occupation, forever dooming the Lipizzan!.
By the end of the war fearing that the Red Army would kill the rare horses for meat, Patton sent the 3rd Army in a rescue mission (code name “Operation Cowboy”) to save the Lipizzan horse breed, along with many prisoners of war, and bring them back from Czechoslovakia in a last minute effort before the massive advance of the Red Army. Patton rushed his troops in the knick of time and proclaimed that the Spanish Riding School of Vienna is under the special protection of the US Army!
This rare breed still exists to this day, thanks to Patton's commitment and his love of horses of which about 250 Lipizzan and around 100 of the best Arab horses that Germany had looted in Europe were saved. Disney even created a film titled “Miracle of the White Stallions” in his honor in 1963.
Patton was an avid polo player and so fond of horses he even had polo horses to test how his commanders behaved under pressure. He would organize weekend polo matches to train his officers in teamwork, helping it grow in popularity.
Patton, here astride a Lipizzaner stallion in Austria, was a lifelong horseman who had competed in the 1912 Olympics. (National Archives)
“General Patton was an avid believer that polo was a useful tool in understanding how his fellow officers performed under pressure”