Lis Carey's Reviews > The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse That Inspired a Nation

The Eighty-Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts
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's review
Oct 07, 11

really liked it
bookshelves: audiobooks, horses, non-fiction
Read from October 03 to 07, 2011

Harry de Leyer was a young Dutch immigrant to the US who came over just after World War II, escaping the devastation of the Netherlands. Before the war, he was a rising young show jumper with a real shot at representing the Netherlands in the Olympics. After the war, he emigrated to the US to start over, hoping to build a career as a horseman despite the losses of the war. Together with his wife Johanna, he carefully, step by step, works his way up from the bottom, working any job with horses that he can get, and saving every penny that can be squeezed out to buy their own land. Within a few years, they own their own small farm, and he’s teaching riding at a girls’ school on Long Island, NY.

In 1956, he went to a horse auction and saw a thin, beaten-up old plow horse being loaded on the truck to go to the slaughterhouse. Though he had clearly had a hard life, the gelding was still basically sound, and something about this horse was too compelling for Harry to walk away. He bought the horse for $80, and named him Snowman.

Snowman turned out to be a horse of wonder.

As he regains a healthy weight and his full strength, Snowman proves to be a gentle, reliable horse who could be trusted with young riders. Harry sells him to a local doctor looking for a safe, reliable mount for his young son—but Snowman doesn’t accept the sale. Snowman keeps turning up in Harry’s yard, morning after morning, despite increasingly determined efforts to keep him contained. He’s doing what most horses won’t do: jumping paddock fences to get out of a paddock well-supplied with food and water, and comfortable shelter.

Harry buys him back, and starts teaching him to jump while carrying a rider. It’s the beginning of an amazing story, as the old plow horse is transformed into a champion show jumper, and the working professional horseman becomes one of the show circuit’s most respected riders and trainers. He did at a time when not just the horse world but the sports world in general was still highly stratified, and professionals were regarded as distinctly inferior and not welcome in the rarified upper levels of competition.

This is a fascinating, compelling, and moving story. Harry, Snowman, and Harry’s family are well worth getting to know.

Highly recommended.

I borrowed this book from a friend.
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Reading Progress

10/04 "Chapter 4"
10/04 "Chapter 6"
10/04 "Chapter 9"
10/05 "Chapter 12"
50.0% "Chapter 13"
75.0% "Chapter 17"
75.0% "Chapter 19"
75.0% "Chapter 20"
75.0% "Chapter 22"
03/19 marked as: read
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