Harry and Snow­man

HARRY AND SNOW­MAN, doc­u­men­tary, not rated, The Screen, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

When Dutch im­mi­grant Harry de Leyer, who made a ca­reer for him­self on the jump­ing cir­cuit, de­cided to res­cue Snow­man, a bro­ken-down Amish work­horse bound for the glue fac­tory, it was a move that al­tered both their lives. In a true un­der­dog story, he took Snow­man on to sweep the Triple Crown of show jump­ing in 1958. In Harry and Snow­man, an in­spir­ing doc­u­men­tary about their un­usual friend­ship, it’s clear that Snow­man was not only the main horse de Leyer worked with over the decades, but the one de Leyer most fondly re­mem­bered. “He was my best friend,” the el­derly de Leyer says in the film. “To­gether, we made it to the top of the world.”

De Leyer grew up on a farm in Hol­land as the old­est of 12 chil­dren. At the age of seven, he be­gan jump­ing horses in shows. At the end of World War II, he mar­ried his child­hood sweet­heart. They im­mi­grated to the United States af­ter the war thanks to the gen­eros­ity of the fam­ily of an Amer­i­can soldier who had been shot by the Ger­mans in de Leyer’s home­town — de Leyer’s sis­ter had pre­pared the soldier’s grave. The soldier’s par­ents in­vited him to their to­bacco farm in North Carolina, where he stayed for a time. But he soon found work as a rid­ing in­struc­tor at the pres­ti­gious Knox School in Long Is­land, where he worked for the next 22 years train­ing young women to com­pete in jump­ing events.

In 1956, de Leyer went to Penn­syl­va­nia to find horses at an auc­tion for the rid­ing pro­gram at Knox. The sale was nearly over when he ar­rived, and all of the un­sold horses were des­tined for the slaugh­ter­house. Snow­man, a filthy beast with overly large hooves, one good shoe, and bat­tered shoul­ders that in­di­cated he was a plow horse, made eye con­tact with de Leyer. He bought the horse for $80, quickly sell­ing Snow­man to a neigh­bor. But five days af­ter he was sold, Snow­man re­turned, hav­ing made the six-mile jour­ney back to the Knox sta­bles with­out a rider. The gate was closed, so de Leyer re­al­ized the horse must have jumped the fence to get back in­side, show­ing he had tal­ent. A big­ger fence proved in­ef­fec­tive at con­tain­ing him, and the rest, as they say, is his­tory.

Less than two years af­ter be­ing res­cued, this re­mark­able white horse went on to glory — his trade­mark act was to jump over an­other horse — win­ning recog­ni­tion as the Amer­i­can Horse Shows As­so­ci­a­tion’s Horse of the Year, as well as be­ing named cham­pion of Madi­son Square Gar­den’s Di­a­mond Ju­bilee. Snow­man sky­rock­eted to celebrity sta­tus, was fea­tured in ar­ti­cles in Life mag­a­zine, and even ap­peared on tele­vi­sion with Johnny Car­son and Dick Cavett. He has been the sub­ject of three books, in­clud­ing New York Times best­seller The Eighty-Dol­lar Cham­pion. Direc­tor Ron Davis’ doc­u­men­tary is a poignant Cin­derella tale. Snow­man re­tired from jump­ing in 1962 and lived on de Leyer’s Long Is­land farm un­til his death in 1974. The film un­der­scores the re­la­tion­ship be­tween de Leyer and his spe­cial horse. They trav­eled the world to­gether, forg­ing a deep bond in part be­cause, as de Leyer says, they both “came from noth­ing.” The horse, who was in­ducted into the Show Jump­ing Hall of Fame in 1992, was one of the great­est show jumpers of all time. Harry and Snow­man, a fit­ting trib­ute to the horse and his master, is a mov­ing story of tri­umph against the odds. — Michael Abatemarco

A win­ning com­bi­na­tion: Harry de Leyer and Snow­man

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