Snowman, the Horse that Inspired a Nation
By Elizabeth Letts 336 pages (includes notes, bibliography and index), 2012 Ballantine Books.
Much in the fashion of Secretariat and Seabiscuit, The Eighty Dollar Champion is a well documented historical non-fiction novel, this one written by an equestrienne.
I had originally read the original children’s book many years ago, Snowman by Rutherford Montgomery published in 1962. So while I was familiar with the story, this adult version tells the comprehensive tale of the symbiotic relationship between a horse and a man with extensive detail of current events pertaining to the times.
Harry de Leyer, a Dutch immigrant to the United States after his homeland had been devastated by World War II, comes to America to embrace the hopes and dreams promised here, especially in regaining his career as a horseman. “The special bond between Harry and Snowman was the bond of survivors: a horse so beat up that nobody thought his life was worth saving, and a man who, his life destroyed by war, had had to start fresh in a country where he did not speak the language and had no capital except that of his own two hands, his love for his family, and his personal dignity”. This is a man who truly loved his horse. When Harry was offered more than ten times his annual salary for the rescued horse, more than Snowman could possibly ever earn for him in the horse’s lifetime, Harry displays absolute loyalty, choosing his beloved horse over material wealth.
Frankly, I would have bought the book just for the photographs – they are really that good.
This is truly an inspirational story for even the non horseperson, but is certainly even more stirring for those of us with unconventional or rescued horses. To quote Harry: “Horses are just like people: each one has some hidden potential. What it takes to bring out the best in a horse, or in anyone, is to believe in him one hundred percent. You don’t have to ‘make’ the horse. The good Lord made the horse. All you have to do is to go along with him and find out what he is good at, and the rest will take care of itself. Champions are not necessarily the best, or the most beautiful, or the most expensive; champions are the ones with the biggest dreams and the heart to make those dreams come true.” Could we all be so fortunate to see our world in that way.
To me, the only thing better than a good horse book to read, is a good horse to ride. May we all ride like Harry de Leyer on horses just like Snowman.