Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of seeing a horse bound for slaughter will attest that the animals seem to sense when they are hitting the end of the road. Sometimes, horses react with fear, feet scrambling for purchase on bare wooden floors… other times, they just look haunted, as if they know where they are headed.
In 1956, Dutch immigrant and WWII survivor Harry de Leyer, now a riding instructor at a private girls school in New York, was looking for a “lesson horse” when he arrived late at a horse auction. The only horses left were the “kills”: horses not purchased now on their way to become dog food and glue. He took a chance on a big, friendly, homely grey gelding, whom his children christened Snowman. Harry’s superior horsemanship skills, kind heart and recognition of the flea-bitten grey’s jumping talents resulted in the biggest Cinderella story in horse show jumping. Snowman won the Triple Crown of jumping, beating European champions and expensive American thoroughbreds. It’s a great story, and one I remember reading in an anthology of horse stories when I was a horse-crazy tween. Letts has done extensive research and interviews, and it shows. Black and white photos throughout are a definite plus. It’s not the most elegant sports writing you’ll ever read, but Letts’ love for horses and the sport shines through. Even though you know how the story will end, the showdown at Madison Square Garden is a real cliffhanger and Snowman’s death? Three hankies. Letts’ analysis of the importance of the horse in American society and the radical changes of that role due to industrialization and urban sprawl provides fascinating and relevant background that helps to explain Snowman’s appeal. Not just for horse lovers!
Check the BPL catalog for this title: The Eighty-Dollar Champion