Snowman

(1949 – 1974)
Owned by Harry E. de Leyer
Inducted: 2015

Photos

LIFE Magazine called the story of Snowman, "The greatest "˜nags-to-riches' story since Black Beauty". But what makes Snowman's story even more extraordinary is that it is true. It is one of the rare true stories of horses that has been able to captivate the imagination of millions of people.

Only a few are able to successfully travel the road from "rags to riches". It takes exceptional capability and luck. But the one who beats the odds "“ the longest of long shots - the "unlikely" champion "“ becomes a symbol of hope.

Snowman was a plow horse in Pennsylvania's Amish country. In 1920, most of the 25 million horses and mules in America were used for farm work. By 1945, tractor power overtook horse power on American farms. By the 1950s, farm equipment manufacturers stopped building horse-drawn equipment, leaving horse farmers no choice but to eventually replace their equipment.

It was a cold snowy day in February 1956 when Snowman headed for the slaughterhouse at only eight years of age. On that same day, luck came into play when the 28-year old Harry de Leyer headed off from his riding stable in Long Island, New York, to the same horse auction in New Holland, Pennsylvania, looking for inexpensive lesson horses.

Arriving late, the auction had ended, and the only horses left were the ones that nobody wanted. Already loaded on a trailer en route to the "meat dealer", De Leyer spotted the dirty, gray horse that he would later name Snowman and called out to bring the horse back down. On instinct alone, he bought him for $80.

Snowman was a lesson horse for a short time when Harry sold him to a neighbor for double the money. But, an unhappy Snowman kept coming home to Harry "“ jumping the neighbor's five-foot fences time and time again. As luck would have it again for Snowman, the neighbor was only too happy to let Harry take him back, and Harry, now recognizing Snowman's extraordinary talent, set Snowman on his path to become one of the most beloved show jumpers of all time.

Just two years later in 1958, Snowman was named the United States Equestrian Federation Horse of the Year (formerly called AHSA Horse of the Year), Professional Horseman's Association champion and the champion of Madison Square Garden's Diamond Jubilee. The following year, Snowman achieved the unimaginable returning to Madison Square Garden to be the first horse to win the Open Jumper Championship two years in a row.

The pair became media favorites "“ even appearing on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," where Johnny climbed on Snowman's back. Snowman retired from the show ring in 1962 and in 1974, passed away at home with Harry sitting close by his side. Snowman was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 1992.

Snowman's story raised the consciousness of a nation on the plight of working animals that led to an outpouring of concern for animal welfare. He rekindled our intrinsic sense of fairness in his achieving success by overcoming adversity. The inspiring story of this unlikely duo is a testament to the powerful and magical bond between horses and people.