Harry deLeyer, 93, Died; Rescued a Horse and Made Him a Legend

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In what can only be described as a nagging-to-riches tale, Harry deLeyer, a horse trainer and rider who transformed an old, abandoned eunuch named Snowman into one of the most acclaimed show horses of all time, died on June 25. Standardsville, Va. He was 93 years old.

His daughter, Harriet, confirmed his death in an assisted living facility.

Mr. deLeyer (pronounced deh-LAY-er) He was a Dutch immigrant who worked with the anti-German resistance during World War II and came to the United States with his wife, Johanna, in 1950. Farm in the Netherlands. She soon got a job as a riding instructor at a Long Island girls’ school.

In 1956, he went to a horse auction in Pennsylvania to see if he could buy some animals for his beginner students. But he had to stop for a flat tire and when it came to auction it was over. Unsold horses were loaded onto a truck to the slaughterhouse.

Mr. deLeyer looked inside and saw a greyish-white horse. Others were visibly frightened; it was calm. Many had obvious wounds; it was healthy and well done except for a few superficial wounds. It was a plow horse and was starting to wear out at about 8 years old.

Growing up around workhorses, Mr. deLeyer saw something other buyers didn’t. He bought the horse for $80 (about $750 in today’s money) at a time when prize horses may have been worth more than $40,000 (or about $375,000 today). When he came home with the horse, his 4-year-old daughter, Harriet, named him the Snowman.

The snowman was supposed to be a lesson horse for new riders. But as he got stronger, he showed promise as a jumper and Mr. deLeyer was always on the lookout for new show horses. He and the Snowman started training.

“I think that horse knew my dad was giving it a second chance,” Harriet deLeyer said in a phone call. “My father asked him to do crazy things, and he would do it.”

Two years later, Mr. deLeyer rode the Snowman in his first competition, a local show where he easily won the blue ribbon in the jumper class. Another, bigger show followed, where knocked down the defending champion twice. More victories followed.

“There seems to be no end to the titles the Snowman has won at the nation’s biggest shows,” journalist Marie Lafrenz wrote in The New York Herald Tribune.

Horse shows were hugely popular in the 1950s, especially around New York City, where the wealthy both attended and observed – the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden kicked off the Manhattan social season.

The press fawned over Snowman and Mr. deLeyer, as well as fans who love their combative take on an elite effort. Where many teams came with fancy equipment and large circles, Mr. deLeyer came with Johanna, her eight children and occasional student, all of whom intervened. A few hand-painted the sign outside their makeshift barn when they first appeared. At Madison Square Garden in 1958.

The Snowman received the blue ribbon that year, was named horse of the year by the American Horse Show (today the United States Equestrian Federation) and won the Professional Equestrian Association championship, making him one of the few horses to win the recognized horse at the time. triple crown of sport.

Mr. deLeyer and Snowman narrowly missed repeating their feat the following year, again winning at Madison Square Garden and claiming the title of horse of the year.

The impossible story of Harry deLeyer and his “Cinderella Horse” made them famous. They appeared on The Tonight Show, where Johnny Carson made a comeback in the saddle. They traveled to Europe. Fans from all over the world came to visit the Long Island paddocks.

Attending “The Dick Cavett Show,” Mr. deLeyer said: “The Snowman and I both came from nowhere. But together we reached the top of the world.”

The Snowman continued to compete, but won fewer titles as he encountered less frequently and younger and younger horses. He and Mr. deLeyer appeared at exhibitions more often – despite his age, he was able to easily overcome seven-meter hurdles and began jumping over other horses as part of his show.

Mr. deLeyer has always expressed surprise at the Snowman’s strength – he once called him “a nature freak” – but he insisted on the horse’s demeanor that was the key to his success: calm, friendly, willing. Outside the ring, Snowman became part of the deLeyer family, swimming in the lake with the kids in the summer and pulling them on kayaks in the winter.

The Snowman officially retired in 1969 at Madison Square Garden, where the crowd gave a standing ovation and sang “Auld Lang Syne.”

In 1974, the Snowman began to suffer from kidney failure, and deLeyers decided to euthanize him. Despite his stern farmboy demeanor, Mr. deLeyer couldn’t contain himself at first when the vet took the Snowman from his barn. But the horse refused to go until Mr. deLeyer came to take him out, eyes full of tears.

Henricus deLeyer was born on September 21, 1927, in Sint-Oedenrode, a Dutch town close to the Belgian border. His father, Josephus, managed the family’s farm and brewery, while his mother, Wilhelmina, raised 12 children.

Adopting the name Harry when he came to the United States, Mr. deLeyer learned to ride horses almost as early as he learned to walk and was racing at age 7, eventually making his way into the Netherlands junior national team.

His budding equestrian career was interrupted when the Germans invaded the Netherlands in May 1940. His father turned his farm into a way station for the resistance, hid Jews and shot down Allied pilots in a secret cellar he dug and disguised next to a barn. a pile of manure. At night, Harry would ride to look for injured pilots.

One such pilot, an American, died shortly after Harry brought him back to the farm. The family buried him and sent the tags back to his parents in North Carolina, who started a correspondence with Mr. deLeyer and Johanna. They sponsored the couple’s arrival in the United States in 1950.

The DeLeyers separated in the 1970s and Mr. deLeyer later remarried. His second wife, Joan, died in 2013. Three of his children, Joseph, William and Harry Jr. also died.

He was survived by his daughters, Harriet, as well as his children Martin, Andre, John and AnnaMarie; 14 grandchildren; and three grandchildren. Information about his siblings in the Netherlands was not immediately available.

Mr. deLeyer spent four years running a tobacco farm in North Carolina that showed horses on weekends. He and his family were born in St. James moved to Long Island when he became a riding instructor at the all-girl Knox School in NY.

The Snowman was not his only horse, and Mr. deLeyer continued to ride competitively even after the Snowman’s death. Fans have dubbed Mr. deLeyer “Grandpa Galloping” and if he doesn’t always win — although he does it often He was loved as a fierce competitor and avid entertainer.

He returned to the National Horse Show in 1979 and took the blue ribbon once again in his class, twenty years after his first victory.

He continued to teach riding and raise horses and eventually moved to rural central Virginia, where he owned a breeding farm. His family followed his path: Six of his eight children also became riders and trainers.

The Snowman and Mr. deLeyer have been the subject of several books, including the New York Times bestseller Elizabeth Betts, “The $80 Champion: The Snowman, The Horse That Inspired a Nation” (2011).

They were also featured in the 2016 documentary, “Harry and the Snowman” includes extensive interviews with Mr. deLeyer.

“I had many beautiful horses in my life, but Snowman was the most special to me,” he said in the movie. “The snowman was more than a horse to me. He was my friend.”

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