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The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the…

The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation (2011)

by Elizabeth Letts

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4407335,901 (3.99)27

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Harry de Leyer was a young Dutch immigrant to the US who came over just after World War II, escaping the devastation of the Netherlands. Before the war, he was a rising young show jumper with a real shot at representing the Netherlands in the Olympics. After the war, he emigrated to the US to start over, hoping to build a career as a horseman despite the losses of the war. Together with his wife Johanna, he carefully, step by step, works his way up from the bottom, working any job with horses that he can get, and saving every penny that can be squeezed out to buy their own land. Within a few years, they own their own small farm, and he’s teaching riding at a girls’ school on Long Island, NY.

In 1956, he went to a horse auction and saw a thin, beaten-up old plow horse being loaded on the truck to go to the slaughterhouse. Though he had clearly had a hard life, the gelding was still basically sound, and something about this horse was too compelling for Harry to walk away. He bought the horse for $80, and named him Snowman.

Snowman turned out to be a horse of wonder.

As he regains a healthy weight and his full strength, Snowman proves to be a gentle, reliable horse who could be trusted with young riders. Harry sells him to a local doctor looking for a safe, reliable mount for his young son—but Snowman doesn’t accept the sale. Snowman keeps turning up in Harry’s yard, morning after morning, despite increasingly determined efforts to keep him contained. He’s doing what most horses won’t do: jumping paddock fences to get out of a paddock well-supplied with food and water, and comfortable shelter.

Harry buys him back, and starts teaching him to jump while carrying a rider. It’s the beginning of an amazing story, as the old plow horse is transformed into a champion show jumper, and the working professional horseman becomes one of the show circuit’s most respected riders and trainers. He did at a time when not just the horse world but the sports world in general was still highly stratified, and professionals were regarded as distinctly inferior and not welcome in the rarified upper levels of competition.

This is a fascinating, compelling, and moving story. Harry, Snowman, and Harry’s family are well worth getting to know.

Highly recommended.

I borrowed this book from a friend. ( )
  LisCarey | Sep 19, 2018 |
We have two copies - one hardback, one paperback.
  Sheila_A | Apr 2, 2018 |
There is a great story here, but you won't find it in this book. This author is not a good writer; what else can I say? What a disappointment after all the rave reviews! Chapters were repetitive, even using the same sentimental phrases, flashbacks, and allusions time and time again. The author really could have benefitted from a strong editor. As if the story didn't tell itself, we are told ad nauseum how we ought to feel. In effusive language, we read what a remarkable story we are being told!

Harry de Leyer worked hard at menial tasks that are described in detail, but how does he actually train horses? You don't learn anything about the methods or techniques Harry used. There is no excuse for the lack of detail since Harry is still alive and apparently granted the author unlimited access. As for Snowman, it is as if the horse trained himself. What you will learn, repeatedly, is that Harry just talked to the horse, and the horse flicked his ears and did what he was asked. Maybe in the hands of a skilled screenwriter, the book could be turned into a decent movie, but is there really enough material even for that?

On the human side, Harry was portrayed as a simple, hard-working, devoted family man, with a like-minded wife Johanna who bore them eight children. Yet suddenly in summarizing the period from Snowman's death in 1974 until the present day, we find that they got divorced.

I listened to the book, but it wasn't the narrator's fault. He did about as well as one could, given the material. ( )
  MidwestGeek | Dec 29, 2017 |
Be right back, I'm running off to buy me a horse! Loved reading about Snowman's rescue from the glue factory to national champion. Who doesn't love a rags to riches story, especially when it involves animals?

This book is as much about Harry de Leyer as it is about Snowman. It's about a friendship and love between man and beast, and I'm not going to lie, I teared up at the end.

I listened to it on audio, and the narration was well done, but I'm sure it's just as good in book form. 3 stars. ( )
  GovMarley | Aug 6, 2017 |
Excellent feel good story involving a horse and a man. I listened to the audio version, and the narrator did an excellent job as well. I highly recommend. I wouldn't listen to the last hour while driving however, the tears filling your eyes will make it very hard to navigate the road. It's a real tear-jerker in the best possible way. I loved this story. ( )
  rosemaryknits | Jul 25, 2017 |
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So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbably, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.

–Christopher Reeve
This book is dedicated to Harry and his family and to the memory of the gallant horse Snowman
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The horse vans parked along Seventh Avenue came loaded up with dreams.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345521080, Hardcover)

A Letter from Author Elizabeth Letts
A writer is always on the lookout for a good story, but the first time I saw a striking old photograph, I didn’t realize that I had stumbled across a tale so extraordinary that it had the power to change lives.

The old black and white photo showed a horse and rider team in the midst of a crazy feat--jumping right over the back of another horse. What stopped me in my tracks was the expression on the jumping horse’s face. Even in the vintage picture I could see that the horse had absolute trust in the man who was asking him to make such a tricky leap. I wondered why.

Unable to forget the photograph, armed only with the rider’s name, I tracked down an address, not sure if I would find him there, or even if he was still alive. Just a few days after I mailed him a letter, my telephone rang and a voice on the other end said, “Hallo, this is Harry de Leyer.” The man in the photograph, now in his eighties, was on the phone. The first time we spoke, Harry told me a story that gave me butterflies in my stomach and made my palms sweat--that’s how badly I wanted to write about what he’d said to me and share it with the world.

Walter Farley, author of The Black Stallion, was once asked why horse stories were so popular. His answer was this: “When the books have been read and reread, it boils down to the horse, his human companion, and what goes on between them.” The story of Harry and Snowman, is at its essence, a love story. A man, a horse, and a lucky encounter on a bleak winter day that led to a second chance for both of them. Together, they shared a dream so big that only their combined courage and heart could get them to their destination.

That moment, when the pair of them stood under the spotlights of Madison Square Garden and listened to the thunder of the crowd, was simply unforgettable--the kind of triumph that ripples forward through time. I heard it coming across a crackling phone line, the first time Harry de Leyer told me about Snowman.

Read the book, and I’m sure you will hear it too.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:20 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Traces the story of a champion equine jumper and the Dutch farmer who rescued him from the slaughterhouse, recounting how the farmer discovered Snowman's jumping talents and trained him to compete against the world's most expensive thoroughbreds.

» see all 4 descriptions

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