How an $80 rescue horse became a show jumping champion.
People often think of horses at the top of the equestrian sport as “machines”. They think of them as expensive performers kept in a protective “bubble”, enjoying few of the comforts or kindnesses that companion equines receive. However, this is typically not the case. These horses have people, from grooms to riders to owners, who appreciate and dote on them, and develop great bonds with them. One example is the story of Harry deLeyer and Snowman.
Something from nothing
Harry came to the United States from Holland after World War II. Employed as a riding instructor by the Knox School in Long Island, New York, he visited the New Holland horse auction in 1956 to purchase some inexpensive horses. It was here that he saw Snowman, a grey Amish plow horse in poor condition. “Snowman and I clicked right away,” says Harry in the new film, Harry & Snowman. He purchased Snowman for the grand sum of $80, and their adventure began.
“I came to this country with nothing in my pockets; Snowman and I, we made it to the top of the world,” Harry says of their time together. And indeed they did. Almost two years later in 1958, Harry and Snowman won the Triple Crown of show jumping — the American Horse Shows Association Horse of the Year, Professional Horseman’s Association Champion and Champion of Madison Square Garden’s Diamond Jubilee. “Snowman would do anything my dad asked of him, and I believe that is because Snowman understood that my dad saved him,” explains Harry’s daughter, Harriet.
Their success catapulted them to fame – Snowman appeared on popular TV shows, was profiled in Life magazine, was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame, and has had three books written about him. He lived out his days at Harry’s farm until passing away in 1974. Harry himself is still training and teaching at 86 years old at his Nederland Farm in Virginia, and has been recognized for his contributions to the sport of show jumping.
Snowman on the big screen
Harry and Snowman’s story is now set to be released on the big screen, appearing in theaters across North America in September, and via DVD release around the holidays. Harry & Snowman tells their amazing story, and features footage and firsthand accounts from Harry and his children, as well as show jumping legends George Morris and Rodney Jenkins. Director and producer Ron Davis says, “Everyone loves a good horse tale and I couldn’t believe this one was never told on screen. While there are many great stories of underdog horses that become great champions, I don’t know of one about a truer friendship between a family and horse than this one. I hope people will be touched by the impact one animal can have on an entire family, and in this case, the entire country.”
Snowman was indeed part of the deLeyer family. It is rare that you see pictures of high-level horses toting multiple children around on their backs, swimming with the kids, and generally transforming from top-level show jumpers to babysitters. “Snowman got so close to me, and he got so close to my kids, that he was part of the family,” says Harry.
This is what made Snowman memorable to his fans – it wasn’t just his talent in the ring, but also his relationship with Harry and his family outside the ring. “Snowman was more than just a horse to me, he was my best friend,” says Harry.