December 14, 2016 — t’s a story that’s so charming it feels like someone made it up.
Harry deLeyer is a Dutch immigrant who grew up on a farm in Holland. During World War II, he and his family worked with the Resistance. After the war he emigrated to America, sponsored by a family whose son had died during the war, and who had been buried on the deLeyer property. He would get a job at a tony Long Island school teaching little girls how to ride. He and his wife raised a large family.
In 1956 he had planned to go to an auction to buy a horse. However, a flat tire caused him to miss the auction. By the time he got there, the only horses available were the ones intended for the slaughterhouse. But Harry saw something in the eyes of one of the horses that convinced him to buy the big, scruffy grey-and-white Amish plow horse. He paid $80 for him, because the horse seemed so calm and gentle.
The horse was used to teach young children to ride. And he was also played with by deLeyer’s eight children.
deLeyer sold the horse at one point, to a neighboring doctor who lived 6 miles away. But the horse, who had been renamed Snowman, wasn’t having it. He belonged with Harry and he knew it, so he showed up back at the deLeyer farm. When the farmer came to retrieve him, he explained that the horse had jumped over his enclosure to get out.
Harry told him to build higher fences. But even higher fences couldn’t keep Snowman away. He jumped those as well, and came home. Harry knew he couldn’t send him back again, and the doctor recognized that the horse had chosen to live with Harry. Harry bought the horse back and never thought about selling him again.
In the process, deLeyer had come to realize that the horse could really jump. He started working with him, riding and training him. Within two years Harry and Snowman had won many of the most prestigious contests in the horse jumping circuit. Show jumping is a sport, like polo, in which the competitors and the animals both have impeccable pedigrees and the owners almost always have extremely deep pockets. But Snowman out-jumped and outclassed the most expensive thoroughbreds in the competitions. He and Harry would win the Triple Crown of show-jumping, the ultimate feat in the field. Snowman ended up being called “The Cinderella Horse” in the papers.
One of the wealthy owners beaten by Snowman would offer Harry $100,000 for the horse. Harry refused the offer.
Snowman would become a celebrity. The Cinderella aspect of the story would charm people who had never attended a horse show in their lives. Harry and Snowman would appear on television shows, like The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson; the horse would have a fan club. They would never be parted until the death of Snowman in 1972. Because the horse had no pedigree papers, Harry never even knew exactly how old Snowman was.
Harry & Snowman is a documentary about this unlikely pair that took the world of horse jumping by surprise. It has been winning awards (10 so far) and charming audiences since it premiered at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in April, 2015.
The New York Times raves, “The Snowman of Ron Davis’s documentary “Harry & Snowman” is a horse that melts the heart. … This film skillfully challenges our expectations by unfolding Snowman’s abilities one at a time: In summer he is a swimming water taxi for a passel of deLeyer children; in winter he pulls them on skis. And once his rarest talent is shown, he soars. As Snowman takes the highest jumps, gathering his haunches, he extends himself until his body is almost vertical, as if he were climbing a mountain.
In the film, a student of Mr. deLeyer’s recalls some of his advice: “Throw your heart over the top, and your horse will follow.” “Harry & Snowman” makes you want to do the same.”
And CNN calls Snowman “The Cinderella Horse Who Rode Into A Nation’s Hearts.”
Harry & Snowman is available on DVD and Blu-ray.