The Power of a Horse

Aliens. Great White Sharks. A whip-happy, gun-slinging professor of archaeology. Dinosaurs. A horse?

war horse

(Rolling Stone)

Steven Spielberg, one of the greatest movie directors of all-time, has introduced the public to a wide-range of characters, most of which grab our attention from the title’s alone. “Jaws,” “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Jurassic Park” are just a few examples. But what about, “War Horse”? First reactions do not stir up emotions of great excitement. It’s a story about a horse that was involved in World War I.


And yet, it is still Steven Spielberg after all. It is his impressive filmography that we can instinctively conclude that a great story is waiting to be told and that he is the perfect person for this job. Somehow, someway, we the audience will come to relate to a horse from a war. In some fashion, we will sympathize with a horse and be intrigued by its journey in a way similar to that of E.T.

Still though, this undertaking seems about as difficult as plowing a field scattered with rocks.

“War Horse,” to my surprise, is a beautifully tragic, yet inspirational story of unfaltering friendship. Throughout Joey’s life (the horse), he is connected to life all around him. As peculiar as it may read, Joey’s many relationships throughout his joyful and perilous journey resembled something remarkably close to kinship. Surprisingly, the love and admiration the various characters felt for Joey in their various situations was felt through the screen. We start to understand that a horse, in this instance, represents much more than a mere animal. Joey, to those who took the time, was profoundly more than power and dashing speed.

Watching this movie in the evening of Memorial Day was special. The themes of military service and, well, horses, sparked a flashback dating back generations. My Great-Grandfather, Albert C. Ziemann, served in World War I in the U.S. Cavalry at the independent age of 26. He registered for the draft out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and was stationed in France.

The following are family recollections:

He was once in a weather observation balloon when it crashed into a French apple orchard. Like in the battle scene near the end of, “War Horse,” he too was gassed. Fascinatingly, General “Black Jack” Pershing (formally John J. Pershing) had, at one point, wanted a rare hawk of his to be stuffed. While asking up and down the ranks for an individual to assist him with this unique task, Ziemann, who enjoyed taxidermy as a hobby, volunteered his services to the General. For Ziemann, this was likely seen as a genuine win-win scenario because he would be doing taxidermy for the prestigious General and this job got him off the front lines.

Stuffing the hawk was expected to be a two-day assignment, but it stretched out to two weeks. One of the most incredible stories of Ziemann was that he helped General Pershing take care of his horses! It’s assumed this coincided with the two-week hawk-stuffing project. Regardless, what a tremendous honor and experience.

Members of my family have recalled that Ziemann enjoyed riding horses. One day in 1963, he had been riding horses. Devastatingly, later that day, he died of a heart attack. Despite the sadness of this memory, it is important because it portrays how his love of horses was not a two-week and/or temporary crush, but likely a lifelong love affair. The connection between a person and a horse is special and can endure in times of war and peace.

During this Memorial Day, in 2013, I found myself reflecting back to almost one hundred years into the past to my Great-Grandfather, Albert C. Ziemann, all the while relating his experiences to those told in the magnificent story of, “War Horse.”

From all of this, two things are certain:

I am very proud and amazed of my Great-Grandfather’s service during World War I.

And that Steven Spielberg is one hell of a storyteller.


Posted on May 29, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Nice post. Have to print it out for Partner.

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