The Story of a Man and His Horse

The Story of a Man and His Horse

The Eighty Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts

There are a lot of books out there -- both biographies and memoirs -- about the relationship between a man and his dog.  But in her book about Snowman, the plowhorse-turned-jumper, Elizabeth Letts writes about an incredible relationship between a man and his horse.

Although it seems you pretty much can't have a book about an animal without it dying at the end, The Eighty Dollar Champion is a story of hope.  When Harry de Leyer and Snowman first cross paths, they are both struggling to survive: Harry as an immigrant, Snowman as an unwanted plowhorse bound for slaughter.  Harry initially buys Snowman as a quiet beginner's mount at the girls' school where he teaches riding lessons, and in that role Snowman quickly proves his worth.  But it's not until Harry tries to sell Snowman to a neighbor several miles down the road -- and Snowman jumps every paddock fence between the two farms to get back to Harry -- that Harry realizes Snowman might have it in him to be much more than a plodding lesson horse.

What follows is a story of the impossible: How Snowman, a horse who was bred to be nothing other than big and strong, and whom Harry bought off the meat truck for $80, out-jumped all of the expensive jumpers with champion bloodlines.  It's the American story -- for if Harry is the proverbial self-made man, Snowman demonstrates that no one, not even a plain-faced horse, has to settle for what they were born to do.

In addition to its heartwarming message, the detail in Letts's book is exceptional.  In an effort to make the reader understand the elite world in which Snowman was competing, she gives a well-researched history of show jumping and the idle rich.  Her description of the role of horses on small farms, a world that was in its death throes in the 1950s when Harry acquired Snowman, is also impressive.

As a horse owner, I loved this book from beginning to end, but I think it will appeal to those who are less familiar with horses, too.  Letts writes with a level of fond detail that often made me smile in recognition at what she described, but it will also prevent those who aren't knowledgeable about horses from feeling lost.  As a result, I think this heartwarming biography will appeal to a wide range of animal lovers, history buffs, and biography fans, rather than just to the horse world the book was written about.