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First Posted: Aug 28, 2010
Sep 1, 2010

Snowman Champion Show Jumper (Horse)

by Debora Johnson

Photograph from LIFE Magazine depicting Snowman Jumping over another horse.

The sharing of warm moments after the lecture

Harry deLeyer, Snowman's Owner and Elizabeth Letts, author

On August 27, 2010, my husband, Bill and I attended a presentation at the National Sporting Library and Museum in Middleburg, Virginia. The Library is featuring a series of lectures related to the collections in the library having to do with horses and field sports. It is part of The Daniels Fellowship. This presentation was a tribute to Snowman, a famous show jumper of the 1950s. The years beginning in the 1950s through the 1960s is referred to as The Golden Age of Show Jumping. Mr. Harry deLeyer, horse rider, trainer and owner of Snowman graced the audience. The lecture was informal and everyone was encouraged to ask questions and participate. Good feelings and warmth were palpable in the room. It was a most inspiring afternoon. Elizabeth Letts, who is authoring a book to be released in May 2011, published by Ballantine Books, entitled The Eighty Dollar Champion: A Horse, A Man, and the Dream That Inspired A Nation spoke. Mr. deLeyer shared his many years of experience, family movies and the many treasured moments of life with Snowman. He spoke openly and gave some insight into his own life. He immigrated from Holland and shared that his destination was actually Canada. Through twists and turns he came to the United States. Mr. deLeyer said that it was his intent to be a farmer. Mr deLeyer took all questions from the audience. What a special treat!

Snowman's story is one that is worthy of books and movies. The horse was born in 1949 and died in 1969. Snowman was a horse on his way to slaughter when found by Mr. deLeyer. Harry deLeyer, at that time, was the riding master at a girl's school in New York. The infamous auction was New Holland. The year was 1956. Harry was late for the auction and only eight horses were left when he arrived that snowy day. The eight horses that were left were a motley group. That had already been loaded onto a horse van--final destination--the slaughter house.

As Mr. deLeyer spoke, he shared and relived that day with all the emotion that would follow him throughout his intertwined life with this exceptional horse--soon to be called, Snowman. Mr. deLeyer described to everyone what he saw. A gelding caught his eye. The horse had heavy harness marks across his chest--evidence of a difficult life, was under-nourished, had cuts on his knees, was dirty with a long, knotted and unkept mane, was absent one shoe, was a flea-bitten-gray, large boned and was visually displeasing. However, the horse had a certain something in his eyes. Harry purchased the horse for $80.00 and took him back to New York. The children named the horse Snowman. Snowman left the horrors he had endured and began a new and happy odyssey of life.

Mr. deLeyer went on to describe the horse's arrival, the lovely surroundings, the clover in the fields, the individual stalls, the tender loving care that followed and the beginning of his journey with this wonderful animal. He spoke of Snowman's excellent temperament, his willingness to please, his level headed demeanor. Mr. deLeyer also said that anyone could ride Snowman--even children. The girls at the school preferred other horses that were more of a challenge. The horse was sold to a doctor who lived at a neighboring farm for $160.00. Harry went on to say that although a neighboring farm it was quite a distance away. Snowman could not be contained. No fence could keep him in the paddock. Snowman kept jumping out and coming back to Harry--home. Snowman jumped more than seven feet without a rider on his back. The doctor was not pleased because Snowman would go right through the planted fields and tear the place up. He asked Harry to take the horse back. Harry did and received a written letter transferring the ownership of Snowman. Harry deLeyer trained Snowman to be a show jumper. The story played out.

Snowman's Career

Snowman was seven when he was purchased. His career lasted five years. He once won a leadline class and an open jumper championship on the same day at the Smithtown Horse Show. As pictured in Life Magazine, Snowman willingly jumped over other horses, and allowed as many as eight youngsters to dive from his back into Long Island Sound. Everyone enjoyed Mr. deLeyer's moving pictures of his children on Snowman's back diving. It was priceless! On one occasion when this special horse appeared on a TV program, the host, Johny Carson, climbed up onto Snowman's back from a step stool; that night, Snowman won the stake at The National Horse Show. He was champion at The National Horse Show in 1958 and won the stake there in 1959. He was the American Horse Shows Association Horse of the Year in 1958 and 1959, and he won the Professional Horsemen's Association Championship both years as well. Snowman went on to Madison Square Garden for honors, toured Europe and the US. Snowman was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 1992. Snowman's retirement was honored at Madison Square Garden. Mr. deLeyer told us that Snowman wanted to jump when entering the ring so was a bit anxous and did not want to stand still. The horse's mane had been braided and Snowman was decked out to the "nines!" What a wonderful story, indeed. Snowman has been made into a Breyer horse model, as well.

For More Information:

W Snowman Champion Show Jumper (Horse)
W United States Show Jumping Hall of Fame
Show Jumping Hall of Fame Official Website
Famous Horses
Famous Racehorses and Halls of Fame from Around the World

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