What I’m Reading: The Eighty-Dollar Champion – Snowman, The Horse That Inspired a Nation


The Eighty-Dollar Champion

I have to admit, I am a complete sucker for a good underdog story, and this is the best underdog story EVER! OK, here’s the plot in a nutshell…. It’s just after WWII, and a young Dutch immigrant comes to America with his wife to work on a tobacco farm. Fortunately for him (because the crop is terrible and he was sharecropping), he’s also expert with horses. He gets hired as a riding master at a posh girls’ school – but almost doesn’t because he’s too good-looking, and the girls can barely understand him with his thick Dutch accent and limited English. They love him, though, because the school is really boring and riding with him is really fun. He trains horses and takes his students to shows. Sometimes he looks for schooling horses at auctions.

One day he goes to an auction and is so late that only the rejects are left. These are the horses that are going to the slaughterhouse to become dog food and glue, so it’s their last chance. Harry only has $80 to buy a horse. He goes to the trailer and looks in. He sees a flea-bitten gray who looks back at him, and somehow he knows to have the man get the horse off so he can take a look. The horse isn’t much to look at, but seems sound and is quiet, essential for a horse that carries beginners. The $80 is more than the $50 the man will get for him at the slaughterhouse, so Harry de Leyer has himself a school horse. Harry’s children name the horse Snowman, and they love him very much.

This book is the wonderfully-told story by Elizabeth Letts, of how Harry discovered Snowman’s hidden talent for jumping, or more accurately of how Snowman kept coming home after being sold and making it obvious he could jump out of any paddock. Harry was no idiot, and he trained Snowman to jump. After the war, people needed inspiration. This $80 horse was so phenomenally successful that he inspired the common people to go after their dreams. Showing horses was a rich person’s sport, but Snowman was a plain horse of questionable lineage owned by a Dutch immigrant whose children helped at the horse shows. They groomed and tacked up their own horses instead of having grooms do it. They worked hard for what they had, and Snowman worked along with them. Snowman and Harry made people believe that if they could be champions, then so could the little guy. They called him the Cinderella Horse.

In addition to this book, there’s a very good movie available on Amazon Prime called Harry & Snowman. The book and movie complement each other very well, each covering some details not found in the other. The movie is also available for streaming on Netflix.

Here are some images of Snowman, one with no less than five of the eight de Leyer children riding him at the beach, and another where, in an exhibition, he jumps over a stablemate.


P.S. I like the story of Snowman so much that many years ago I wrote a story about him and a horse I once had named Rebel. Rebel was another horse who had hidden talents, and the story is meant to teach children that we can’t tell what another person is capable of, so we should respect everyone. The story is available as a FREE pdf download along with dozens of other books on one of my other websites. Many of the books are aimed at LDS (Mormon) children, but many are suitable for a general audience, as is this one. Click on the image to go to the page with this download, and try other categories for other downloads.

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Snowman & Rebel Sharing Time Kit

I heartily recommend the book, the movie, and the FREE download!

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