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The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation Hardcover – August 23, 2011

1,068 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A Letter from Author Elizabeth Letts

A writer is always on the lookout for a good story, but the first time I saw a striking old photograph, I didn’t realize that I had stumbled across a tale so extraordinary that it had the power to change lives.

The old black and white photo showed a horse and rider team in the midst of a crazy feat--jumping right over the back of another horse. What stopped me in my tracks was the expression on the jumping horse’s face. Even in the vintage picture I could see that the horse had absolute trust in the man who was asking him to make such a tricky leap. I wondered why.

Unable to forget the photograph, armed only with the rider’s name, I tracked down an address, not sure if I would find him there, or even if he was still alive. Just a few days after I mailed him a letter, my telephone rang and a voice on the other end said, “Hallo, this is Harry de Leyer.” The man in the photograph, now in his eighties, was on the phone. The first time we spoke, Harry told me a story that gave me butterflies in my stomach and made my palms sweat--that’s how badly I wanted to write about what he’d said to me and share it with the world.

Walter Farley, author of The Black Stallion, was once asked why horse stories were so popular. His answer was this: “When the books have been read and reread, it boils down to the horse, his human companion, and what goes on between them.” The story of Harry and Snowman, is at its essence, a love story. A man, a horse, and a lucky encounter on a bleak winter day that led to a second chance for both of them. Together, they shared a dream so big that only their combined courage and heart could get them to their destination.

That moment, when the pair of them stood under the spotlights of Madison Square Garden and listened to the thunder of the crowd, was simply unforgettable--the kind of triumph that ripples forward through time. I heard it coming across a crackling phone line, the first time Harry de Leyer told me about Snowman.

Read the book, and I’m sure you will hear it too.


Advance praise for The Eighty-Dollar Champion
“This is a wonderful book—joyous, heartfelt, and an eloquent reminder that hope can be found in the unlikeliest of places. Most of all, it’s a moving testament to the incredible things that can grow from the bond between animals and humans. If you love a great animal tale, you’ll love this book!”—Gwen Cooper, author of Homer’s Odyssey
“The moving story of an indomitable immigrant farmer, his equally spirited horse, and their against-the-odds journey all the way to the winner’s circle, The Eighty-Dollar Champion fascinates from the first page to the last. Elizabeth Letts has uncovered a forgotten slice of American history and brought it to magical life.”—Karen Abbott, author of American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee
“There is something magical about stories in which humans and animals team up to combine their courage, intelligence, determination, physical prowess, and instincts to scale the heights, touch our hearts deeply, and inspire us in the most profound ways. Those are the best stories there are, I think, and The Eighty-Dollar Champion joins their ranks. There is a lot of wonderful emotion in this book, and it left me awestruck once more at the wondrous things animals and people can do when they join together to make some great and beautiful noise in the world.”—Jon Katz, author of Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm
“A real live fairy tale about an unlikely rider and an even unlikelier horse who soared over obstacles to capture the hearts of a nation. An eloquent story about near misses and impossible odds and what can happen with a little luck and a lot of determination. I fell in love with Snowman and Harry, and so will you.”—Susan Richards, author of Chosen by a Horse
“The perfect book at the perfect time. Snowman will lift you up and over.”—Rita Mae Brown, author of the “Sister” Jane Foxhunting Mysteries series
“A fun and wonderfully detailed story about a most remarkable bond between a man and his horse. You will fall in love with the eighty-dollar champion.”—W. Bruce Cameron, author of A Dog’s Purpose

Not only a heartwarming tale of the bond between human and horse, but also a fascinating look at the the Eisenhower years, when faulty memory tells us that America was placid and conformist." —Mary Doria Russell, author of Doc

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1st edition (August 23, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345521080
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345521088
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,068 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #45,429 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

ELIZABETH LETTS is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Eighty-Dollar Champion, winner of the 2012 Daniel P Lenehan Award for Media Excellence from the United States Equestrian Foundation. She is also the author of two novels, Quality of Care and Family Planning, and an award-winning children's book, The Butter Man. She majored in history at Yale, where she studied creative writing with Pulitzer Prize-winner John Hersey. Her writing has been recognized for numerous awards, including a John H. Daniels fellowship, The Charlotte Zolotow Award (honor book) and the Middle East Book Award. A lifelong equestrian, as a teen she represented Area VI (California and Hawaii) in the North American Junior and Young Rider Championships. She lives in Southern California.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

193 of 199 people found the following review helpful By Miz Ellen VINE VOICE on August 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Like the author of this lovely book, I was a horse-crazy little girl and one of the books I remember reading is SNOWMAN by Rutherford Montgomery. Therefore I'm thrilled that Snowman's story is being rescued from the dustbin of children's lit and being told again with greater detail and accuracy. I especially like the way Elizabeth Letts paints a complete picture of Snowman's time. This is history not just a horse story; a portrait of the America that embraced the former plow horse and his immigrant owner, Harry De Leyer, also known as "The Flying Dutchman".

This is the stuff of horsemen's dreams: to literally pull a thin and dirty horse off the slaughter truck and train him to become a champion. That is the true story of Snowman.

Could any book have a more charming hero? Snowman sparkles in these pages, a quiet gentle giant who gave pony rides to little children and taught timid beginners not to be afraid. He's so loyal that he repeatedly jumps both paddock and pasture fences to return to the man who rescued him from the slaughter truck. Harry De Leyer is a young horseman with a growing family who desperately desires to run his own horse business. He's looking for that magic horse who can take him to the top.

He'd been training a top thoroughbred prospect, Sinjon. In 1957, Harry persuaded the owner of the horse to take him to the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden. Sinjon, a nervous and hot-blooded animal, exceeded expectations by jumping out of the qualifying rounds to place fourth. That very success was Harry's undoing: he loses the mount he has carefully and lovingly trained to a rider on the U.S. Equestrian Team.
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80 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Dreamer on January 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was a 10 and 11 year old girl in love with horses when my parents agreed to give me lessons. We lived on the south shore of Long Island, about 45 minutes from the de Layer farm, but Harry de Layer was chosen to be my teacher. Snowman, not yet a champion, was one of the horses Mr. de Layer used to teach eager children like me. Mr. de Layer taught me that if I were a gentle, kind rider, I could learn invaluable lessons about courage and accomplishment. Snowman rewarded me with an extraordinary personal experience and an amazing example that, in life, anything is possible if you are willing to try. I was outraged to read a one star review, a personal attack by a local person who says Harry De Layer abused his horses. I absolutely do not believe that and wonder what part jealousy and bigotry may have played to influence the writer of that review and/or his own riding teachers. Mr. de Layer always insisted that his horses be treated well. His message was to learn to trust the horse, trust myself and to find the rhythm between the horse's spirit and my own. I was a tiny girl, Snowman was a very big horse and Mr. de Layer and Snowman taught me not only how to enjoy jumping and showing, but also a great deal about myself and life in general. I am so grateful to have known them both and my life has been richer for it. I am now 65 and have shared this story with my children and grandchildren. Mr. de Layer and Snowman are still teaching my family about the spirit of kindness and courage.

I wish I could recommend the book as highly as I do Mr. de Layer. I found it quite shallow and very repetitive. Letts tells us about Snowman and Harry de Layer, but doesn't allow us to get to know them. They are worth getting to know.
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65 of 69 people found the following review helpful By feemeister VINE VOICE on August 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I really have to hand it to the author here! She really had me going when she wrote about the competitions in this book, they were SO exciting!

The book was beautifully, done, and on so many levels! The horse's owner, Harry, had lived through wartime with the Nazi occupation, which colored (rightly so) many of his thoughts and feelings about things.

This book tells of him taking a huge chance on this horse that was bound for the knacker's yard. $80 was a good bit of money back then, for someone in his economic position. But his instinct won out, and he purchased the horse, and took him home. He was used as a lesson horse to teach riding, until they pretty much accidentally found out what a jumper he was. The story is just beautifully told by the author all the way through.

There are lots of things to learn throughout the book about immigrants coming to this country and working hard at what they knew best, in order to finally make good. There are lots of different bits of information about many different things; different lifestyles, details about a girl's school, as well as lots of information on the horse jumping circuits. This is one of those books that teaches you lots of information, but in such a fun and exciting way that you don't realize you are actually learning (which is my favorite way to do it)!

This book is interesting, entertaining and exciting. I highly recommend it, and am really glad I found this book and read it. A great, heartwarming read. Wonderful horse, wonderful man and wonderful story!
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