The Eighty-Dollar Champion
Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation
By Elizabeth Letts
(Ballantine Books, Hardcover, 9780345521088, 352pp.)
Publication Date: August 23, 2011
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November 1958: the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Into the rarefied atmosphere of wealth and tradition comes the most unlikely of horses—a drab white former plow horse named Snowman—and his rider, Harry de Leyer. They were the longest of all longshots—and their win was the stuff of legend.
Harry de Leyer first saw the horse he would name Snowman on a bleak winter afternoon between the slats of a rickety truck bound for the slaughterhouse. He recognized the spark in the eye of the beaten-up horse and bought him for eighty dollars. On Harry’s modest farm on Long Island, the horse thrived. But the recent Dutch immigrant and his growing family needed money, and Harry was always on the lookout for the perfect thoroughbred to train for the show-jumping circuit—so he reluctantly sold Snowman to a farm a few miles down the road.
But Snowman had other ideas about what Harry needed. When he turned up back at Harry’s barn, dragging an old tire and a broken fence board, Harry knew that he had misjudged the horse. And so he set about teaching this shaggy, easygoing horse how to fly. One show at a time, against extraordinary odds and some of the most expensive thoroughbreds alive, the pair climbed to the very top of the sport of show jumping.
Here is the dramatic and inspiring rise to stardom of an unlikely duo, based on the insight and recollections of “the Flying Dutchman” himself. Their story captured the heart of Cold War–era America—a story of unstoppable hope, inconceivable dreams, and the chance to have it all. Elizabeth Letts’s message is simple: Never give up, even when the obstacles seem sky-high. There is something extraordinary in all of us.
Elizabeth Letts is the award-winning author of two novels, Quality of Care and Family Planning, and one children’s book, The Butter Man. Quality of Care was a Literary Guild, Doubleday Book Club, and Books-A-Million Book Club selection. An equestrian from childhood, Letts represented California as a junior equestrian, and was runner-up in the California Horse and Rider of the Year competition. She currently lives with her husband and four children in Baltimore, Maryland.
Advance praise for The Eighty-Dollar Champion
“This is a wonderful book—joyous, heartfelt, and an eloquent reminder that hope can be found in the unlikeliest of places. Most of all, it’s a moving testament to the incredible things that can grow from the bond between animals and humans. If you love a great animal tale, you’ll love this book!”—Gwen Cooper, author of Homer’s Odyssey
“The moving story of an indomitable immigrant farmer, his equally spirited horse, and their against-the-odds journey all the way to the winner’s circle, The Eighty-Dollar Champion fascinates from the first page to the last. Elizabeth Letts has uncovered a forgotten slice of American history and brought it to magical life.”—Karen Abbott, author of American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee
“There is something magical about stories in which humans and animals team up to combine their courage, intelligence, determination, physical prowess, and instincts to scale the heights, touch our hearts deeply, and inspire us in the most profound ways. Those are the best stories there are, I think, and The Eighty-Dollar Champion joins their ranks. There is a lot of wonderful emotion in this book, and it left me awestruck once more at the wondrous things animals and people can do when they join together to make some great and beautiful noise in the world.”—Jon Katz, author of Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm
“A real live fairy tale about an unlikely rider and an even unlikelier horse who soared over obstacles to capture the hearts of a nation. An eloquent story about near misses and impossible odds and what can happen with a little luck and a lot of determination. I fell in love with Snowman and Harry, and so will you.”—Susan Richards, author of Chosen by a Horse
“The perfect book at the perfect time. Snowman will lift you up and over.”—Rita Mae Brown, author of the “Sister” Jane Foxhunting Mysteries series
“A fun and wonderfully detailed story about a most remarkable bond between a man and his horse. You will fall in love with the eighty-dollar champion.”—W. Bruce Cameron, author of A Dog’s Purpose
"Not only a heartwarming tale of the bond between human and horse, but also a fascinating look at the the Eisenhower years, when faulty memory tells us that America was placid and conformist." —Mary Doria Russell, author of Doc