Snowman doesn't seem like a very good name for a horse, even if that horse is pure white. It especially doesn't seem like a good name for a show jumping horse. Jumpers should have names that make you think of speed and grace, not a crudely shaped lump of frozen water. But then, even if Snowman had been given a different name, he still wouldn't have been anyone's pick to be a show horse.
When Harry de Leyer first saw the horse he would name Snowman, it was on the back of a truck headed for the slaughterhouse. Harry, a Dutchman who was new to America, thought he saw something special in the eyes of the broken down horse, and bought him from the truck driver for eighty dollars. Harry took Snowman home to his Long Island farm, where he set about turning his eighty-dollar rescue horse into The Eighty-Dollar Champion.
One show at a time, Harry and Snowman took over the show jumping world, and as they beat the odds, they stole the heart of a nation. Their story was a story of rising from nothing, of laughing in the face of the odds and the experts, and of triumphing when it was thought they could only fail. Harry and Snowman may be long gone, but their incredibly story guaranteed that their legend would live on forever.
Elizabeth Letts was born in 1961 in Houston, Texas. A competitive horsewoman in her youth. Letts went on to graduate from Yale with a degree in History, and to serve in the Peace Corps in Morocco. She has written four books including the Eighty-Dollar Champion, her first best-seller. The winner of several prestigious literary awards, including the Peace Corps Writers Award and a Junior Library Guild selection, Letts currently resides in Baltimore, Maryland, with her husband and four children.
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November 1958, New York. Into the rarefied atmosphere of wealth and tradition at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden 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.
Reminiscent of the inspiring, against-the-odds success story that made Seabiscuit a bestseller, The Eighty-Dollar Champion tells of 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’ message is simple: Never give up, even when the obstacles seem sky-high. There is something extraordinary in all of us.