November 12, 2016 -- The remarkable story of Snowman, the farm horse rescued from the slaughterhouse to later became a champion, the toast of New York high society. This uplifting documentary film is also about Snowman's unlikely owner, a refugee from war-torn Europe.
I like movies about horses, but had never heard of Snowman before, since I am not a fan of this high society sport of show jumping, in which horses and riders compete on an obstacle course for time and for cleanly clearing high barriers. But this is also the story of Harry de Leyer and his family, Dutch refugees who came to America after World War II.
Harry, a riding instructor, was late getting to a horse auction. The only horses left were those loaded onto a truck headed for the slaughterhouse. Harry made eye contact with Snowman, one of the horses on the truck, and decided on the spot to buy the eight year old former plow horse for $80 (similar “eye contact” was reportedly involved in the purchase of the great race horse, Seabiscuit). Snowman proved to a gentle, calm horse, perfect for his riding students.
Harry reluctantly sold Snowman to a neighbor to fulfill a promise, but Snowman kept jumping fences to come back to Harry. Since Snowman could not be contained by normal fences, Harry bought the loyal horse back. Since Snowman had shown an unexpected talent for jumping, Harry decided to train him. Soon, Snowman was winning show jumping competitions.
Snowman looked and acted nothing like the sleek, beautiful, nervous, flighty, fidgety thoroughbred horses he was competing against. He looked, and acted like a gentle farm horse, his head lowered, his eyes half shut, seemingly bored. But when it came to jumping, Snowman could out-jump any horse in any competition. He became a champion, and set a world record, jumping over seven feet high.
But Snowman was more than a jumping horse, he was like a beloved dog, a family pet, who went swimming at the beach with the de Layer children. His calm, gentle nature was such that children could ride him into the water and even dive off his back. He was like a member of the family.
Snowman became Harry's best friend. Harry owed his fame and fortune to Snowman. Without Snowman, Harry might not have owned such a large farm and had such a thriving business as a riding instructor and competitive rider. When Harry met Snowman, he was working as a riding instructor at a boarding school, but his success with Snowman allowed him to have a successful business of his own.
The documentary goes on to detail Harry's relationship with his wife, Johanna and their eight children, how they were involved with the family business and how the marriage ended up in divorce, which was also related to the family business. There is also some interesting information about Harry's involvement with the Dutch Underground during the war, and how the de Leyer family helped refugees escape the Nazi occupation of Holland.
This is a moving documentary about relationships, between horse and man, and family relationships too. The story of Snowman is truly amazing, and the story of Harry de Leyer and his family is remarkable in its own way. These days, it is good to remember how the story of immigrants is so essential to understanding America. This film rates a B.
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