By Emily Riden
If Harry de Leyer had arrived on time to a Pennsylvania horse auction on a snowy day in February, 1956 there would likely be no great story to tell, but as fate would have it, Harry was running late.
When Harry, a Dutch immigrant and Long Island horse trainer, did arrive to buy a cheap lesson horse, the auction had ended, and the only horses remaining were those left unwanted, already loaded on a trailer and bound for slaughter. One of them, a dirty, gray plow horse, immediately caught Harry’s eye. He paid $80 for the horse, named him Snowman, and their incredible story began.
Snowman became a dutiful lesson horse at the private girls school where Harry instructed, before being sold to a farmer down the street. Unhappy with this new home, Snowman jumped out of his paddock and returned to Harry, time and time again. Harry realized that in his escapes, Snowman was easily clearing five-foot pasture fences. He quickly reclaimed Snowman and began training him as a show jumper.
In just two short years, Snowman had cleared every hurdle he faced, out jumping the top Thoroughbred show horses in the country and jumping straight into hearts across the nation. In 1958, Harry and Snowman swept the triple crown of show jumping – Snowman was named the American Horse Show Association’s Horse of the Year, Professional Horseman’s Association champion and the champion of Madison Square Garden’s Diamond Jubilee.
The following year, Snowman returned to Madison Square Garden and went down in the history books as the first horse to win the Open Jumper Championship two years in a row.
In a world where money and pedigree reigned, Harry and the mixed-bred Snowman were quite the improbable pair. Their Cinderella story grabbed the attention of the national media, and they soon became the rags-to-riches media favorites of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Snowman, a plow horse from Pennsylvania Amish country, and Harry an immigrant from a war-ravaged home in the Netherlands had achieved the unimaginable. Their story appeared twice in Life Magazine, on the popular game show “To Tell the Truth” and on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” where Johnny grabbed a stepladder and climbed atop Snowman in New York City.
Snowman retired from the show ring in 1962, but to Harry, his wife and their eight children, Snowman remained so much more than just a show jumping horse. The de Leyer kids grew up with Snowman, and they could regularly be found in the Long Island Sound swimming with the beloved horse and jumping off his back like a diving board. In 1974, Snowman passed away at home with Harry sitting close by his side.
Harry, now 85-years-old, continued on as one of the most successful show jumping riders and trainers in America, a career catapulted by his partnership with Snowman. Known as “The Galloping Grandfather,” Harry represented the United States at the World Championships in 1983 and was recognized by the United States Equestrian Foundation for his incredible lifetime contributions to the sport.
Snowman’s lifetime accomplishments were also recognized, and he was inducted into the Show Jumpers Hall of Fame in 1992. His image has been forever immortalized as a Breyer model, and his story has been commemorated in three different books: Snowman (1960), The Story of Snow Man the Cinderella Horse (1962, children’s book), and most recently the New York Times best-seller, The Eighty-Dollar Champion (2011).
Now, thanks to Docutainment Films, director Ron Davis and executive producer Karin Reid Offield, Harry and Snowman’s remarkable saga will also be commemorated on film. In the documentary, scheduled to be completed in late 2013, Harry and Snowman’s heartfelt story will unfold through the fitting combination of present-day footage of Harry and archival footage from back in the day.
“When you tell a true story, you want the viewer to imagine themselves back in time watching the story unfold in person. With the old films, we can transport you, take you back in time to those summer days,” Karen said. “Making the old films come alive will be thrilling for everyone.”
“It is not a niche movie about the world of show jumping. It’s a movie about a wonderful human-interest story that will appeal to the masses the way that both Seabiscuit and Secretariat have in the past,” Ron Davis said.
Docutainment Films is seeking help from the equestrian world to locate old film footage, stills and newspaper or magazine articles to be included in the
film. Please visit www.harryandsnowman.com to find out more about the film and how you can help.
Just finished reading Theb Eighty-Dollar Champion, by Elizabeth Letts. A wonderful story about a wonderful horse and the man who saved him from the slaughter house. I can’t wait to see the movie when it come out. Loved the horse, Harry deLeyer, the story and I cried tears when Snowman had to go. I think it was wonderful that Harry kept Snowman and let him live out his retirement on his farm.
I grew up on an uncle’s farm in Ohio. My uncle’s mother gave him two dapple gray horses, Jerry and Joe, to raise and train. He entered pulling competitions and later used the horses on his farm until the tractor took over. Jerry and Joe put their hearts into pulling and working for him for at least 20 years. And then he sold them–and I could not understand why he didn’t retire and pasture them at home. It was not a matter of money. My uncle, a successful farmer and businessman died financially very well off.
I read The Eighty-Dollar Champion and greatly enjoyed it. Snowman’s story is fascinating! He was such a versatile horse and proved that it isn’t always the prettiest or the best-bred animals that have the most talent. Though personally, I think he was quite handsome.
I just finished “The Eighty Dollar Champion” My tears are still close to the surface. What a magnificent story. Elizabeth Letts did a wonderful and beautiful job on it, making it so poignant to all horse lovers and also to everyone else. I enjoyed the historical background she has woven in the story. It was my era. I was 9 when ww2 was over in 1945. Thank you Mr de Leyer and Ms Letts. I too think Snowy was quite handsome.
Just finished the e-book about the $80 Champion. It is a very well-written book that touches the heartstrings. Makes me want to check out the world of show jumping as it exists today.
Although I knew the story being I was a student of Harry’s when I was young I also cried at the end of the touching book. Snowman had a special heart for all of us living in St. James/Smithtown area. I progressed as far as jumping over fences without hands on the reins. Now, I am fearful of riding my little Arabian being older with so many broken bones healed over. I guess we have no fear as youths and when we are over 50 we realize our fate if not careful.
Harry has always been my mentor with rescuing animals. I have a Premarin mare rescue and 5 rescued dogs of different sizes. Naturally I have a few cats as well. A rescued pet makes the best pet because they actually rescued me.
Thank you Harry. You called me “Smiley”. I always had my tongue out of the corner of my mouth jumping over fences. You would correct me calling me smiley. I graduated high school with your son Billy. Marty was in the class with my sister Virginia.
First, I read the book and both cried and laughed. The old saying is, “Don’t cry because it’s over, laugh because it happened.” I’ve read some computer articles. There was one article on Amazon that said Harry de Leyer used cruel methods to train his horses. Then, I read a report that gave a negative review to the book. How could anyone give a negative review to such a glowing book beats me even after reading the report. I am so grateful to read Smiley’s letter here because it reconfirms what I believed in my heart that this is a “heart story” and a beautiful one at that. I don’t believe Snowy would look so very contented if Harry had been cruel to him. I guess the one thing that is a puzzle to me is how Harry and Joanne could have ever ended up in divorce. However, when your world falls apart as Harry’s must have when Snowy died, people change and often the cost is a solid relationship. I just hope everyone that is still alive has good memories of the days that “were”. Thanks Smiley for posting!
My sister and i grew in biking & running distance to Hollandia farm on L.I. any chance we got we would run up thru the woods to peek in one of the back pastures to try & pet one of the horses or ponys back there, we went to Harrys summer camp and took lessons from him in the early 70,s my sister was a favorite of his & got to ride beloved snowman in one of our lessons. we loved camp & came to the yard at the house for lunch everyday,by the horseshoe shaped pool we swam in, we were about the same age as their kids,Annmarie & John & Andre we got to have some sleepovers with Annmarie, the food & hospitality was wonderful I still dream of the farm & horses and games we played, dares we dared each other, and sneaking in the stallion barn to see the beautiful ,Fire stallion we were told to keep away from ,lucky to see him many times tho very naughty( & dangerous) to not listen ! we stood by in awe of Harry & his sons schooling over impossibly high jumps in the front field, i hope all the Deleyers are well we think of you often,and wish Harry a Happy 86th ! all the best , Gayle & Peaches
My wife Ellie went to a woman’s book event in L.A. at which the book’s author spoke. She bought me her book only to find out that I had been listening to the audio version of the book for months.I will eventually read it but for now I still enjoy the audio version too much,It is a great story in any media.
I work at the Knox School and my daughter is a teacher there. The Eighty DollarChampion is a true inspiration to all. Having worked at the school and being a Smithtown resident made it all the better. Dillan a grounds keeper at the school is the grandson of Johanna and Harry and is an awesome young man. It has been an honor to work with him. This book is going to skyrocket.
I grew up in Smithtown/saw this horse everday in the summer for a few yrs. going to the beaches there to learn how to swim. I used to ride /run those rodes in my teenage yrs. Where is the film being filmed ? Was wondering if its being filmed in Nissequogue or L.I. ? Thankyou
My Dad was a family friend of the DeLeyer’s. I rode Snowman as a young girl. I went into contract for 6 acres of Hollandia Farm on the west side of Branglebrink in 1987 with Joanna Deleyer. Partner screwed us bad..FORGED our name…Always loved the property and the horse riding lessons for my kids and myself. Rented stall space from Joanna and her children. Lived in Head of the Harbor till 1988. Never moved to Branglebrink as I had hoped.
What a story..I recognize my own life in this book. One thing we share we are both dutch. We both had to fight etc. I was ending up in a wheelchair at age 19. My dad was very determined to put me back on my horse, after spending 4 and half years in hospital. It was like a miracle happened: 2 years later I was riding into competitions. My beloved little horse baz is still with me and I will never let him go. My other horse nobility died at age 11, I had to make the decision because she had a a bladderinfection, fought like a lion to recover. I went to her every day in Belgium to the clinic but unfortunately she didn’t make it. She was suffering from laminites. Every effort had been made to safe her life, even though I knew she was never gonna be a sporthorse again. I even consulted ric redden an American authority with laminites. An Italian veterinarian keeped in touch with Mr redden en tried to safe nobies life. She was not only my sporthorse but also my soulmate. She brought me many victories…so many prices and we were followed by the media as well. It seems to be special when you are paralyzed (mistake at surgery) and you fight your way back (together with baz and especially nobility) to the top of dressage. Iam still missing her every day..even though it’s 4 years ago. Here bridle is safely kept in a special room with all the prices. So when I was in Virginia 2 months ago and I knew harry the leyer was living in this state, maybe I could had the chance to pay him a visit and talk dutch if he still does. Thank you for this wonderful story! Iam recovering from a severe illness at this moment and this book made me cry for hours. I was with my lovely mare when we had to say goodbye forever. So I know what it feels like. I didn’t had another option..she was suffering to much but was still standing up when she heard my wheelchair, even though she was in so much pain. My horses saved my life!
I grew in James and ice skated on the Delayers pond. Used to pet Snowman whilst he ran about in the paddocks! Those were the days. Hate to say that a few of our “excess” cats ended up at the Delayers barn too!!!
As a young child, my uncle bought me a book of short stories about horses for either my birthday or Christmas. In that book was the story of Harry and Snowman. I was in love with that horse and his story.
I never got to see Snowman, but I met Harry and watched him ride in 1984 in Toronto at the Royal WInter Fair. He was a true gentleman and still an outstanding rider. I am really looking forward to this movie!
Am in the process of reading The Eighty Dollar Champion at present. The writer continually referrs to the horse’s looks as being common, unattractive, plow-horse’ish, etc. However, I don’t find him to look as much like a plow horse i.e. heavy like a Percheron, etc. but rather he looks much like the warmbloods that are common to both open jumping and 3-day eventing today. I don’t find his confirmation to be unattractive – not perfect but not bad for a grade horse. Of course compared to a thoroughbred or an Arabian or something, he is not as refined. But he has a pleasing enough appearance to me. My first horse was purchased from the summer camp I attended one year. He was also flea-bitten gray so reading about Snoman’s humble background brings back memories for me. I think we bought him (Major Grey) for about $100.00 back in 1967.
In 1969 & 1970, I showed a grade horse, Stoney, a palomino no less, at the Washington International Horse Show in the Junior Hunter Division. This was back in the day when you did not have to qualify but could just enter like any other horse show. He was large and had a roman nose but he, like Snowman, could jump. My own horse at the time was a smallish Anglo-Arab who was famous for quitting at a fence at the last minute, frequently. I really had to ride him to get him over the fences. Not so with Stoney. You basically had to just sit there as any attempt to regulate his stride, etc. was not going to fly, literally. We won no ribbons until the last class, the Junior Huner Stake class. Our round was flawless. We got 7th place and the grand sum of $30.00. I remember coming through the in-gate on the way out after getting our ribbon. There was a man (probably someone’s trainer) standing by the in-gate. He looked up at me and said, “honey, if that horse was any other color than palomino, you would have won the class!”
As Ms. Letts mentions in her book, the schooling area at the Washington International was much like that described at the National in NY. It was a small area tucked behind the bleachers on the short end of the ring. Very crowded with horses all trying to do a practice jump prior to going in the ring. Reading that part in the book brought back that memory which I hadn’t thought about probably since trying to get in my own practice jump(s) 44 years ago.
This book is interesting because of the detail and adjunct information supplied – like the descriptions of the stuffy Knox School, the conditions prevailing during the war, etc. Helps you to get a better feel for the life and times of Harry deLeyer & Snowman.
Am enjoying the book very much.
Back in 1958 and 1959, I was just getting over major Ortheopedic surgeries for birth defects when my mother signed me up for riding lessons at Mr. Deleyer’s. Snowman was one of the sweetest most gentle horses that you could ever meet. I will never forget after a scare on another horse, Harry picked me up and put me on Snowman. Snowman seemed to understand that I had been scared and very calmly walked me around the arena. It’s a memory that I’ll never forget.
I loved their story. Why did Harry and Johanna divorce?
Just finished reading The Eighty Dollar Champion and loved it. I have been riding OTTB’s my whole life and last summer purchased one for my daughter who looks like a twin to Snowman. He was also rescued from the meat buyer and we are often asked if he is a Percheron cross. His funny personality is also a lot like Snowman. If they need a horse to play Snowman, we have their guy.
I am just finishing The Eighty Dollar Champion ,it was excellent.
In reading this book I had tears for joy and sadness, I love this story of
the beautiful gray horse. I would like to see a movie about Snowman and Harry,
what they did to help the nation was wonderful. This book helps me relate to my own horses
and wanting to have a relationship like they did. Thank you for this book.
I read “Snowman” after reading about him in the USA newspaper…Do have to say that I fell in LOVE with Snowman and Harry de Leyer….I will be one of the first ones in line to see this upcoming movie….will buy the DVD when available….To all those who wrote negative lies about these two subjects of this book I say “the greatest revenge is to smile, show them how happy you are and thankful that you were so richly blessed”……Marjorie Lynn
Having trained with Harry’s son Marty, Snowman was always a legend to us kids who rode in St. James. I still remember cleaning up Snowman’s head stone in the front field at Fox Run farm…it’s awesome to know that I touched a piece of history! It really is a great, true story!
Please tell us when this movie is available!