Who Was Snowman?
Snowman was a horse who rose from obscurity to the highest pinnacles of American show jumping.
Below: Snowman and Harry De Leyer at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY. We're not sure when the photo was taken, probably in the late 1950s or early 1960s.
Note: The above photo is from the World Telegram and Sun newspaper; photo by William C. Greene. No known copyright restrictions.
Snowman (1948? - 1974) was a legendary show jumper. He became famous after he was purchased off of a truck bound for the slaughterhouse by a man named Harry de Leyer, whose own background for reaching success in the show jumping world was nearly as unlikely as Snowman's. Together, they became a team that reached and won at the highest levels of American show jumping.
Snowman's Story Begins
Snowman's story, as far as anyone knows it, began in 1956 when he was approximately 8 years old. Up until that point in his life several clues point to him as having a past as a plow horse, or at least a light draft-type horse, in farm country.
But on a cold day in 1956 Snowman found himself out of a job, a likely victim of a changing countryside that was becoming increasingly mechanized. Without a job he was also without a home, so he was sold at auction. The only buyer, though, for the stout, flea-bitten gray gelding was a killer buyer. At the end of the auction Snowman was the last horse loaded onto the back of a truck bound for the slaughterhouse.
Before the truck could begin its journey, however, a man named Harry de Leyer pulled onto the auction grounds. Harry had left Holland for America due to the devastation of World War II in his home country. After an unsuccessful attempt at sharecropping on a farm in the South, he had become a riding instructor for an all-girls school in New York state. On that day, he arrived too late for the auction because of wintry driving conditions and a flat tire.
Even though Harry arrived after the auction was over, he still needed to purchase a lesson horse for the school. He talked the truck driver into unloading Snowman, the last horse on the truck, so he could get a better look at him. Harry liked the horse and paid the truck driver a total of $80.00 for him: $60 for Snowman plus $20 for delivery.
Snowman Comes Home
After Snowman was settled into his new home, Harry broke the gentle horse to ride. "Snowy" became a favorite with Harry's children as well as the young ladies at the all-girls school where he gave riding lessons. Snowman's quiet nature at the school made him a particular favorite with the girls who were too inexperienced or timid to ride the hotter, higher-strung horses.
Harry had a deep love of show jumping, and while Snowman was at the school he kept trying to introduce the horse to it. Snowman, however, simply didn't show any interest or talent in the sport.
Over the following summer break Harry sold Snowman to a local family. Harry had become very fond of Snowman, but could only take a certain number of horses from the school to his home over the summer break. Unfortunately, Snowman didn't seem to have the jumping ability the other horses did. Reluctantly, he was sold.
Snowman Comes Home - Again
Snowman's sale was the beginning of a deep mystery for Harry. Snowman kept coming home. After finding the horse outside waiting for him the day after he sold him, Harry returned him to buyer. But Snowman came home again. And again.
Across miles of countryside dotted with fences, Snowman kept returning to his home with Harry and the de Leyer children. Harry wound up buying the horse back, but couldn't understand how a horse who had showed so little interest or ability when introduced to the basics jumping was making its way back over several miles of countryside covered with fences.
After Snowman returned to school in the fall, his hidden talent may have remained a secret forever if it hadn't been for a humorous dare. But one day one of the men who worked on the school grounds teasingly asked Harry if he was going to jump that plow-horse over one of the "big jumps" in the arena. While a book we have about Snowman doesn't specify how tall the "big jump" was, it does mention that it was taller than three-feet.
On that day, just for fun with a friendly audience, Harry aimed Snowman for a jump bigger than anything they had ever tried. Snowman flew. Apparently, if you were going to make it interesting, Snowman was all in. Harry slowly took the gray gelding over taller and taller jumps that day, ending with clearing a six-feet, six-inches jump with apparent ease.
Show Jumping Success
After that day Snowman and Harry began preparing for competition in the show jumping arena. During their competitive career together they enjoyed numerous wins at the highest levels of competition, including two Open national championships, one in 1958 and another in 1959.
Snowman's personality, though, remained laid back and easy going. Between show jumping wins he frequently continued to give lessons at the school, as well as happy rides to the de Leyer children.
The media and public fell in love with both Snowman and Harry. They appeared in newspapers, books, and on television. Harry was often called "The Flying Dutchman." Snowman, who was Harry's quiet, gentle-hearted wings, became known as the "The Cinderella Horse."
Snowman lived into a happy retirement before he passed away in 1974. Assuming he was 8 years old in 1956 when Harry purchased him, Snowman was 26 years old when he died. Harry had to make the painful decision to euthanize his dear friend due to failing health, and Snowy passed from this life with Harry at his side.
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