Snowman was the ultimate Cinderella story of the show jumping world. An obscure mixed breed gelding on his way to the glue factory, he was discovered by American horseman Harry deLeyer and bought for a mere $80. Even back in 1956, $80 is dirt cheap for a horse. No one knows Snowman's breeding or previous history, although it was thought he used to be a plow horse. But it was as if he just stepped out of thin air.
That Certain Something
Legends vary about just what Harry deLeyer saw in the light grey gelding. Certianly, at the time, deLeyer saw a lot of horses bound for the glue factory or to the slaughterhouse but rarely bought them. Perhaps it was the way Snowman looked at him. Perhaps it was his gentle demeanor. Who knows?
Legend does relate how Snowman received his name. It was a snowy night when deLeyer brought his new horse home and his children came out to see him. The youngest daughter promptly declared that the new horse looked like a snowman, and the name stuck.
DeLeyer ran a riding school and thought that Snowman would make a great school mount for beginning riders. Snowman fulfilled that role and even after winning shows still was used as a lesson horse. No one could figure out why such a wonderful horse was on his way to death. But before he went to those shows, Snowman was sold.
The Bad Habit
And then Snowman's bad habit showed up. Snowman did not want to live at his new owner's. Every day, he escaped and wound up back at the deLeyer's. In trying to figure out how Snowman escaped, the owner and deLeyer saw Snowman, without a rider, easily clear a six foot fence.
DeLeyer bought Snowman back and took him to his first jumping class. The rest is history. They won at the National Horse Show in 1958. He was made champion show jumper in 1958 and 1959. He would even jump over the backs of other horses. And, as if that wasn't impressive enough, Snowman even appeared on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson.
When deLeyer would finish a clear round on Snowman, he'd tip his hat to the crowd, sometimes over the last fence. He'd continue this tradition long after Snowman retired. He lived with the deLeyer's for the rest of his life at the deLeyer's New York farm. It's thought that he was twenty when he passed away. Snowman was inducted into the Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 1992. His story has been immortalized by radio host Paul Harvey in his popular "The Rest of the Story" feature.