Harry deLeyer, 93, Dies; He Saved a Horse and Made Him a Legend

by Msnbctv news staff


Harry deLeyer, a horse coach and rider who, in what can solely be described as a nags-to-riches story, turned an aged, deserted gelding named Snowman into one of the vital acclaimed present horses of all time, died on June 25 in Stanardsville, Va. He was 93.

His daughter Harriet confirmed his demise, at an assisted residing facility.

Mr. deLeyer (pronounced deh-LAY-er) was a Dutch immigrant who had labored with the anti-German resistance throughout World Conflict II and arrived in the USA in 1950 together with his spouse, Johanna, his work expertise largely confined to his household farm within the Netherlands. He quickly took a job because the driving teacher at a ladies faculty on Lengthy Island.

In 1956 he traveled to a horse public sale in Pennsylvania to see if he may choose up a couple of animals for his newbie college students. However he needed to cease for a flat tire, and by the point he arrived for the public sale, it was over. The horses that hadn’t been bought had been being loaded onto a truck, sure for the slaughterhouse.

Mr. deLeyer peered inside, and a grayish-white horse caught his eye. The others had been visibly frightened; this one was calm. Most had apparent accidents; this one, apart from a couple of superficial scars, was wholesome and well-built. He had been a plow horse and, at about 8 years previous, was beginning to wear down.

Mr. deLeyer, who grew up round work horses, noticed one thing the opposite patrons hadn’t. He purchased the horse for $80 (about $750 in as we speak’s cash), at a time when prize horses may need fetched over $40,000 (or about $375,000 as we speak). When he arrived house with the horse, his 4-year-old daughter, Harriet, named it Snowman.

Snowman was alleged to be a lesson horse for brand new riders. However as he gained power, he confirmed promise as a jumper, and Mr. deLeyer was at all times looking out for brand new present horses. He and Snowman started to coach.

“I feel that horse knew my father had given him a second likelihood,” Harriet deLeyer stated in a cellphone interview. “My father requested him to do some loopy issues, and he would do it.”

Two years later, Mr. deLeyer rode Snowman in his first competitors, a neighborhood present, the place they simply took the blue ribbon within the jumper class. One other, greater present adopted, the place they knocked off the two-time defending champion. Extra victories adopted.

“There appears to be no finish to Snowman’s profitable titles on the nation’s greatest reveals,” the journalist Marie Lafrenz wrote in The New York Herald Tribune.

Horse reveals had been broadly widespread within the Nineteen Fifties, particularly round New York Metropolis, the place the well-to-do each participated and noticed — the Nationwide Horse Present at Madison Sq. Backyard kicked off the Manhattan social season.

The press fawned over Snowman and Mr. deLeyer, as did the followers, who liked their scrappy method to an in any other case elite endeavor. The place many groups arrived with fancy tools and enormous entourages, Mr. deLeyer confirmed up with Johanna, their eight kids and his occasional scholar, all of whom pitched in. Just a few of them hand-painted the signal exterior their short-term steady throughout their first look at Madison Sq. Backyard, in 1958.

Snowman took the blue ribbon that 12 months, was named horse of the 12 months by the American Horse Reveals Affiliation (as we speak the USA Equestrian Federation) and gained the Skilled Horsemen’s Affiliation championship, making him one of many few horses to win what was then thought of the game’s triple crown.

Mr. deLeyer and Snowman narrowly missed repeating their achievement the subsequent 12 months, once more profitable at Madison Sq. Backyard and capturing the horse of the 12 months title.

The unbelievable story of Harry deLeyer and his “Cinderella Horse” made them celebrities. They appeared on the “Tonight Present,” the place Johnny Carson took a flip within the saddle. They traveled to Europe. Followers got here from all over the world to go to their Lengthy Island paddock.

Showing on “The Dick Cavett Present,” Mr. deLeyer stated: “Snowman and me each got here from nothing. However collectively we made it to the highest of the world.”

Snowman continued to compete, however much less usually, and profitable fewer titles as he confronted youthful and youthful horses. He and Mr. deLeyer extra usually appeared at exhibitions — regardless of his age, he may simply clear seven-foot-tall obstacles and took to leaping over different horses as a part of his present.

Mr. deLeyer at all times expressed amazement at Snowman’s power — “a freak of nature,” he as soon as referred to as him — however he insisted that the important thing to the horse’s success was his demeanor: calm, pleasant, prepared. Out of the ring, Snowman grew to become part of the deLeyer household, lake-swimming with the kids in the summertime and pulling them on skis within the winter.

Snowman formally retired in 1969, at Madison Sq. Backyard, the place the gang stood cheering and singing “Auld Lang Syne.”

In 1974, Snowman started to expertise kidney failure, and the deLeyers determined to euthanize him. For all his hard-bitten farmboy perspective, Mr. deLeyer at first couldn’t carry himself to be there when the veterinarian took Snowman from his steady. However the horse refused to go till Mr. deLeyer arrived, teary-eyed, to stroll him out.

Henricus deLeyer was born on Sept. 21, 1927 in Sint-Oedenrode, a Dutch city close to the Belgian border. His father, Josephus, ran the household farm and brewery, whereas his mom, Wilhelmina, raised their 12 kids.

Mr. deLeyer, who adopted the primary identify Harry when he got here to the USA, realized to journey virtually as early as he realized to stroll, and by 7 he was competing, ultimately making it to the Dutch junior nationwide group.

His budding equestrian profession was disrupted when the Germans invaded the Netherlands in Might 1940. His father turned their farm right into a manner station for the resistance, hiding Jews and downed Allied pilots in a secret cellar that he dug out subsequent to a barn and disguised underneath a manure pile. At night time, Harry would journey out on horseback, searching for wounded pilots.

One such pilot, an American, died quickly after Harry introduced him again to the farm. The household buried him, and despatched his canine tags again to his dad and mom in North Carolina, who struck up a correspondence with Mr. deLeyer and Johanna. In 1950 they sponsored the couple’s arrival in the USA.

The deLeyers separated within the Seventies, and Mr. deLeyer later remarried. His second spouse, Joan, died in 2013. Three of his kids, Joseph, William and Harry Jr., additionally died.

In addition to his daughter Harriet, he’s survived by his kids Martin, Andre, John and AnnaMarie; 14 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Info on his siblings within the Netherlands was not instantly accessible.

Mr. deLeyer spent 4 years managing a tobacco farm in North Carolina, exhibiting horses on the weekends. He and his household moved to Lengthy Island in 1954, when he grew to become the driving teacher on the all-girls Knox College in St. James, N.Y.

Snowman was not his solely horse, and Mr. deLeyer continued to journey competitively, even after Snowman’s demise. Followers referred to as Mr. deLeyer “the Galloping Grandfather,” and if he didn’t at all times win — although he usually did — he was beloved as a fierce competitor and keen showman.

In 1979 he returned to the Nationwide Horse Present and as soon as once more took the blue ribbon in his class, 20 years after his preliminary triumph.

He continued to show driving and prepare horses, ultimately shifting to rural central Virginia, the place he owned a breeding farm. His household adopted his lead: Six of his eight kids grew to become riders and trainers as properly.

Snowman and Mr. deLeyer had been the topic of a number of books, together with “The 80 Greenback Champion: Snowman, the Horse Who Impressed a Nation” (2011) by Elizabeth Betts, a New York Occasions finest vendor.

They had been additionally featured in a 2016 documentary, “Harry and Snowman,” which incorporates in depth interviews with Mr. deLeyer.

“I had so many fantastic horses in my life, however Snowman was essentially the most particular to me,” he stated within the movie. “Snowman was greater than a horse to me. He was my pal.”



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