Harry and his plough horse Snowman: two champions

A look at Harry and Snowman (G)…

HarrySnowTO reach the top in any sport massive amounts of self-discipline, training and will power are required.

In major event equestrian show jumping there’s an extra dimension to be conquered: you need to have a champion horse, too.

This doco follows the story of Dutch emigrant Harry de Leyer and how he carved a niche in the USA, finally becoming one of the finest horsemen in the States.

His feats could not have been achieved of course without the remarkable Snowman: a greyish-white Amish plough horse Harry rescued from the back of a truck bound for the glue factory.

He paid $80 for Snowman, not a huge sum even when you re-configure the 1956 $80 into today’s money.

The film tracks the journey Harry and Snowman took to reach the pinnacle of show jumping.

Starting with rural and country jumps events, on to major state rides and then to the pinnacle of their chosen sport – the triple crown of show jumping at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

It’s there where Harry and Snowman beat the nation’s blue bloods.

Snowman was also a real member of the family. When Harry took the horse and a number of his children – he and his wife had eight – down to the beach Snowman would swim out in the water with four or five children on his back.

When he got back to reasonably shallow water the boys, in particular, would use Snowman’s back as a diving platform.

Harry recalls in the documentary that the horse had an unusually long back.

The film tracks a number of other major events in the de Leyer family’s life. We watch as 85-year-old Harry narrates the story, and even observe solemnly as he visits the headstone of his beloved Snowman out in one of his paddocks.

The old champion had to be humanely put down at age 26 when some of his vital organs began to fail.

But where’s wife Harriet and some of the other children, not used by director Ron Davis to relay their sides of the equestrian farm’s story?

Well, to his credit Davis doesn’t try and gild the legacy of Harry and Snowman.

We begin to realise that Harry has an obsessive personality. His family, children included, were part of his business assets just like his horses. The children were told not to out-shine their father in jumping events.

Harry was known in his latter years of show jumping as the ‘Galloping Grandfather’, refusing to let go of the reins even when he was well into his 50s.

But his wife left the family farm and her marriage when one of their daughters was critically injured in a riding accident.

She blamed Harry for caring more about his horses than his children, especially as their daughter was in a coma for six weeks.

And we watch as after taking his riding classes and as all the clients load up their cars and trailers with teenagers and horses lonely old octogenarian Harry retreats to his home.

There’s no one there for him. All the children have grown up and left home decades earlier.

It’s almost as sad as seeing Harry visit the grave site of the famous old horse, Snowman.

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