Harry & Snowman Tells the Tale of a Special Horse and His Trainer

August 26, 2015

This article originally appeared on Dr. Mahaney’s Pet-Lebrity News column on Pet360.com as Harry & Snowman Tells the Tale of a Special Horse and His Trainer

Harry+&+SnowmanDocumentaries are one of my preferred styles of cinematic entertainment. Generally, I’m more interested in learning about aspects of real life of which I’m not aware than popcorn fantasy tales and multi-million dollar efforts in computer generated imaging.

One such film that recently caught my attention is Harry & Snowman, which screened during the 2015 Los Angeles Dances with Films festival and just so happens to be directed by a personal friend of mine, Ron Davis.

I first got to know Davis before he moved into the realm of documentary filmmaking through his production company, Docutainment Films. Davis has produced an impressive body of work, including the award-winning Pageant and the HBO picture Miss You Can Do It.

When Davis told me that Harry & Snowman was coming Los Angeles, I eagerly anticipated the film’s screening due to my equine interests from my veterinary school days. There was a time when I planned on being both a large and small animal radiologist, but those post-internship plans for a radiology residency didn’t quite work out.  Alas, I’m happy in my current small animal practice and appreciate the chance to glimpse into the equine world as a spectator.

What is the Story of Harry & Snowman?

For you horse aficionados, there’s plenty of equine action to satisfy your interests. The documentary chronicles the lives of Henry de Leyer, a Dutch-born horse trainer, and his incredible gelding, Snowman.

Snowman was an Amish plow horse slated to be sent to the slaughter house to be used in dog food (i.e. rendering), but was given a second chance when de Leyer purchased him at auction for $80. Snowman was then sold to a local doctor, but no confinement effort was successful and Snowman kept returning to de Leyer. Snowman was repurchased and never put him up for sale again. De Leyer’s training elicited such a positive response from Snowman that his true athletic capabilities for jumping were recognized.

Snowman won the Rice Farm Horse Show, his first competition, in May 1958, where he jumped higher than any other horse. Because Snowman came from an unusual background and went on to achieve such greatness, he was nicknamed, “The Cinderella Horse.”  Snowman ultimately won the United States Open Jumper Champion title at the prestigious National Horse Show in 1958 and 1959.

What Were my Favorite Parts of Harry & Snowman?

There were many parts of Harry & Snowman that I enjoyed, but I especially liked learning about de Leyer’s background, as his good deeds helped bring him to the U.S. Reportedly, de Leyer gave refuge to American soldiers during the Nazi’s invasion of Holland during World War II and the family of a deceased soldier helped de Leyer by sponsoring his travel to North Carolina to work on a tobacco farm. During his free weekends, he would attend horse shows. He then moved to Long Island and became a much-loved riding instructor at the Knox School.

I also enjoyed seeing original footage showing the Snowman and de Leyer competing and winning the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City, watching de Leyer get interviewed by Dick Cavett (whose show was one of my first glimpses of intellectual adult entertainment during my childhood) and learning that after their rise to fame, de Leyer was offered $100,000 to sell Snowman, but he turned down the offer to keep his beloved horse as part of the family.

Witnessing Snowman’s non-competition life at home with the de Leyer family, especially seeing footage of Snowman going for a swim in a lake with de Leyer’s children perched on his, back was a sight I’ve never before seen.

What’s Next for Harry & Snowman?

Ultimately, the wear and tear of competitive jumping took a toll on Snowman and he was retired at the 86th National Horse show in 1969. Snowman lived the rest of his days with de Leyer and his family at Holland Farms, but he was put to sleep in 1974 at 26 years of age. Now 90 years old, de Leyer stills trains jumping horses and is an international fixture in the equine community.

The Snowman Rescue Fund supports Omega Horse Rescue & Rehabilitation Center which, “gives other slaughter bound horses the same chance that Snowman had to become a part of a loving family.”  Since being founded in 1997, Omega “rescues slaughter bound horses from the New Holland Auction, the same auction where Harry deLeyer rescued Snowman in 1956” and has found new homes for more 1,200 horses.

Harry & Snowman is already garnering critical accolades and won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2015 Nantucket Film Festival. There’s still the chance for you to see Harry & Snowman at upcoming 2015 film festivals. The screening schedule can be viewed here and you can see the movie trailer here.

Did you see Harry & Snowman?  If so, what did you think of the film? Feel free to leave your comments below.

Copyright of this article (2015) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

TheOldBroad August 27, 2015 at 3:49 PM

I always love hearing a story about a critter who is slated to have a bad end – but ends up being pretty darned wonderful for/with someone.

Although there aren’t decent film festivals in my area, I’ll be sure to keep an eye out. Maybe it’ll turn up on cable.

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