There’s a quote I once saw in a horse magazine. “Every rider has that one special horse which changes everything about them.” For horseman Harry deLeyer, Snowman was that horse. Their story was recently captured in the documentary Harry & Snowman.
deLeyer was born in Holland in 1927 into a hardworking farm family. During WWII, young Harry and his family aided the Resistance, saving human lives but also the lives of hundreds of starving horses, left behind by the Nazis as they fled following defeat.
Newly married, deLeyer and his young bride, Johanna, immigrated to the USA where he worked on a tobacco farm whilst dreaming of a life with horses. Opportunity came in 1954 when deLeyer was offered a job teaching riding at a prestigious private girls’ school in New York State, a position he ended up holding for 22 years.
In 1956 deLeyer went to a horse auction, searching for a solid horse, suitable for the beginners at the school. Due to car trouble, he arrived as the auction was wrapping up. He took a quick look around at the “leftover” horses which, depressingly, were destined for the slaughter horse. A flea-bitten grey, ex-plow horse caught his eye. As deLeyer looked up at the horse behind the stock trailer’s sides, the horse looked down at him with large, soft eyes. And, like in a classic romance novel, their gazes locked and a lifelong connection was made.
deLeyer offered $80 for the grey, including delivery to his farm, and a deal was quickly struck. “Snowman” had entered deLeyer’s life and would change it forever.
As someone who has been involved in the horse industry for close to 40 years, it was a given that I would borrow this movie from the library. But you really don’t need to be a horseperson to appreciate the story of deLeyer and Snowman.
Hearing Snowman’s story in deLeyer’s own words, paired with interviews with show jumping legends George Morris and Rodney Jenkins, is a treat. Snowman was retired when I was just a toddler, but I do remember seeing deLeyer competing in Canada in the early 1980s as “The Galloping Grandfather”. And deLeyer is still riding and coaching today, even as he closes in on his 90th birthday.
I actually usually avoid watching “horsey” films as the vast majority are disappointing, cheesy, inaccurate or truly cringe-worthy. This documentary of deLeyer, Snowman, and deLeyer’s eight children, offers insight into show jumping (and life) in the 1950s. It is at times humourous, definitely heart-warming and inspiring.
If you’d like to learn more about deLeyer and Snowman, borrow the bestselling book by Elizabeth Letts, The Eighty-Dollar Champion.
— Sandi H.