By Emily Riden
If Harry de Leyer had arrived on time to a Pennsylvania horse auction on a snowy day in February, 1956 there would likely be no great story to tell, but as fate would have it, Harry was running late.
When Harry, a Dutch immigrant and Long Island horse trainer, did arrive to buy a cheap lesson horse, the auction had ended, and the only horses remaining were those left unwanted, already loaded on a trailer and bound for slaughter. One of them, a dirty, gray plow horse, immediately caught Harry’s eye. He paid $80 for the horse, named him Snowman, and their incredible story began.
Snowman became a dutiful lesson horse at the private girls school where Harry instructed, before being sold to a farmer down the street. Unhappy with this new home, Snowman jumped out of his paddock and returned to Harry, time and time again. Harry realized that in his escapes, Snowman was easily clearing five-foot pasture fences. He quickly reclaimed Snowman and began training him as a show jumper.
In just two short years, Snowman had cleared every hurdle he faced, out jumping the top Thoroughbred show horses in the country and jumping straight into hearts across the nation. In 1958, Harry and Snowman swept the triple crown of show jumping – Snowman was named the American Horse Show Association’s Horse of the Year, Professional Horseman’s Association champion and the champion of Madison Square Garden’s Diamond Jubilee.
The following year, Snowman returned to Madison Square Garden and went down in the history books as the first horse to win the Open Jumper Championship two years in a row.
In a world where money and pedigree reigned, Harry and the mixed-bred Snowman were quite the improbable pair. Their Cinderella story grabbed the attention of the national media, and they soon became the rags-to-riches media favorites of the late 1950s and early 1960s. Snowman, a plow horse from Pennsylvania Amish country, and Harry an immigrant from a war-ravaged home in the Netherlands had achieved the unimaginable. Their story appeared twice in Life Magazine, on the popular game show “To Tell the Truth” and on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson,” where Johnny grabbed a stepladder and climbed atop Snowman in New York City.
Snowman retired from the show ring in 1962, but to Harry, his wife and their eight children, Snowman remained so much more than just a show jumping horse. The de Leyer kids grew up with Snowman, and they could regularly be found in the Long Island Sound swimming with the beloved horse and jumping off his back like a diving board. In 1974, Snowman passed away at home with Harry sitting close by his side.
Harry, now 85-years-old, continued on as one of the most successful show jumping riders and trainers in America, a career catapulted by his partnership with Snowman. Known as “The Galloping Grandfather,” Harry represented the United States at the World Championships in 1983 and was recognized by the United States Equestrian Foundation for his incredible lifetime contributions to the sport.
Snowman’s lifetime accomplishments were also recognized, and he was inducted into the Show Jumpers Hall of Fame in 1992. His image has been forever immortalized as a Breyer model, and his story has been commemorated in three different books: Snowman (1960), The Story of Snow Man the Cinderella Horse (1962, children’s book), and most recently the New York Times best-seller, The Eighty-Dollar Champion (2011).
Now, thanks to Docutainment Films, director Ron Davis and executive producer Karin Reid Offield, Harry and Snowman’s remarkable saga will also be commemorated on film. In the documentary, scheduled to be completed in late 2013, Harry and Snowman’s heartfelt story will unfold through the fitting combination of present-day footage of Harry and archival footage from back in the day.
“When you tell a true story, you want the viewer to imagine themselves back in time watching the story unfold in person. With the old films, we can transport you, take you back in time to those summer days,” Karen said. “Making the old films come alive will be thrilling for everyone.”
“It is not a niche movie about the world of show jumping. It’s a movie about a wonderful human-interest story that will appeal to the masses the way that both Seabiscuit and Secretariat have in the past,” Ron Davis said.
Docutainment Films is seeking help from the equestrian world to locate old film footage, stills and newspaper or magazine articles to be included in the
film. Please visit www.harryandsnowman.com to find out more about the film and how you can help.