In which I recommend a horse book and give a Sensible Award

I just finished reading this:
The Eighty-Dollar Champion  by Elizabeth Letts
Ballantine Books, 2011.  978-0345521088

In 1956, a young Dutch immigrant went to the New Holland horse sale seeking an inexpensive horse to use as a schooling horse.  He arrived too late:  the sale had ended, the horses were packed up and gone except for those purchased by the kill-buyer.  Not willing to leave without at least trying to buy a horse, Henry de Leyer asked to see the animals destined for the meat truck, and offered $80 for a plain, skinny, grey gelding.

The horse was a decent but non-exceptional schoolie.  When a parent asked to buy him as a safe horse for a young rider, the gelding named "Snowman" was sold for $160...a nice profit.  Except that the horse wouldn't stay put.  He jumped out of paddock fences and came back to de Leyer, not once but several times.  Recognizing that the horse didn't want to stay put, and also recognizing that the horse had jumped several seven-foot paddock fences to escape, de Leyer bought him back...and trained him as a jumper. 

In 1958, Snowman won the big awards at Madison Square Garden.  And that, believe it or not, was just the beginning.

This is a terrific story, the stuff that Disney movies are made from--or rather, the stuff that Disney movies copy.  Real life, fortunately, is much, much more wonderful than anything Disney ever put on a silver screen.  A great horse, a great rider, a great story.  You've been waiting to read a book like this since you finished reading The Black Stallion when you were in, what, fourth grade? 

And the good news is:  the story is true.

Not much is known about Snowman's pedigree.  He had harness marks when he was purchased.  He was "working stock" in build--possible part drafthorse--a stark contrast to the finely-bred thoroughbreds that dominated the show-jumping scene in 1958.  Many of his competitors were "hot" to the point of idiocy, requiring numerous grooms and assistants just to get them pointed forward through the in-gate.  

Snowman, on the other hand, was a schooling horse, a child's pet.... other words, a Sensible Horse.

My regular readers will intuit where I'm going with this. 

Although Snowman's paperwork probably never existed, I'm going to posthumusly award him a membership on Team Standardbred Sensible.  A horse like him is unusual in the TB circles, but the Standie people are nodding their heads along with me, and saying, "yes....and?"   because this is the kind of horse that a lot of standies are.  Welcome to the club, Snowman!

Copious source citations make my librarian-heart pound for joy, and the details of living and loving a lovely, sensible horse like Snowman make me want to tell everyone about the book. 

Go read it.  You can thank me later.


  1. Gotta get it and read it - thanks for the reminder!

  2. That book sounds like a must read for me. I absolutely love stories where the underdog comes out on top!
    ...and I agree - Snowman sounds like he has some Standardbres genes in there somewhere :-D
    Thank you for sharing...

  3. A few years back I did read a book about this amazing horse. I can't remember the title (it might have just been "Snowman") but think it was printed in the 60s-70s... But no one else ever seemed to know who he was! I'm glad this new book is bringing light back to his story. I will have to check out this version, too!

    I think he has a very deserving spot on Team Standardbred Sensible. :)

  4. Going on my lunchbreak to go get it from the library. Thank you!

  5. I read this as a kid. His name triggered memories of the book, how wonderful he was. Now I have to read it again, which is great. Need a book, and Snowman is perfect. Kinda surprise Disney hasn't picked that one up...

  6. You and I think the same way :)


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