The Eighty Dollar Champion Snowman in his glory of horse show ribbons! Harry de Leyer was his rider.

The Eighty-Dollar Champion

DeLeyer Death

The man that became a legend for turning an old plow horse into show horse royalty has died. Harry deLeyer of Stanardsville, VA passed at an assisted living facility on June 25, 2021, according to The New York Times. He was 93.


The 1950s have been called by some as the worst decade for horses.
One plain grey gelding was used as a workhorse for the first eight years of his life. Broken down with harness sores his owner sold the gelding to a kill buyer at auction.
A chance encounter with a man from similarly humble beginnings allowed the horse’s soul to come alive!

Harry de Leyer

After living through the horrors of war, Dutch immigrant Harry de Leyer and his wife fled to the United States in 1950 with little more than $160 in their pockets. He initially farmed but then took a job as a riding instructor at the prestigious Knox School in New York. He grew up riding on his family’s farm in Holland and always dreamed of competing big, but his meager place in life kept his head out of the clouds.
The horseman was running late for the local horse auction after his car broke down one snowy Monday in 1956; he was looking for horses for the school’s lesson program. By the time he arrived, he thought he was out of luck since the auction was over. The only horses left were those standing on the slaughter-bound truck. All of the horses were stomping around impatiently, except for one…
Author Elizabeth Letts brings readers the inspirational story of the pair’s unlikely partnership and ultimate success in The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation.
… Despite his sorry condition, a spark of life lit up the gray’s eyes …
It was the light in Snowman’s eyes that saved him and that brought his story into Letts’ life. A horse person since childhood, she discovered his magic three years ago when she came across a photo of him on the internet, jumping another horse at an exhibition. “I saw the expression on his face and was amazed – I didn’t know his story, but wanted to find out more. Then I realized I needed to tell this magical story.”
The photo of Snowman jumping another horse that inspired Author Elizabeth Letts.
The photo of Snowman jumping another horse inspired Author Elizabeth Letts.

… He handed over the eighty dollars and never looked back …

Snowman was a wonderful mount for children and became part of the de Leyer family. Since he had a knack for jumping out of paddocks his under saddle training over fences began.

At first, things didn’t look too promising, until the fences were large enough for Snowman to appreciate.

In 1958, Snowman won the American Horse Shows Association Horse of the Year, Professional Horseman’s Association Champion, and was the Champion at Madison Square Garden.

Although the pair moonlighted as showjumping champions impressively they kept their day jobs. Snowman as a lesson horse for the children and de Leyer as a riding instructor.

According to de Leyer, the day he met Snowman was the luckiest day of his life.

Letts says de Leyer, who is now in his early 80s is still training horses and teaching riding lessons at his Nederland Farms, located in Virginia. “He is a remarkable man with a legendary impact on so many.”

Harry de Leyer on his farm in Virginia.
Harry de Leyer on his farm in Virginia.

Meredith (Whipple) Smith began riding with de Leyer in the early 70s at the age of twelve. She attributes her passion and success as a rider to him, “He definitely made me the horse person I am today.”

Smith says she remembers de Leyer’s gift for choosing great horses, “Every one of them was so safe. BIG confidence builders!”

A foundation of good basics, horsemanship and plain hard work was taught under de Layer’s watch. He used to say, “Medadin, keep your feet in your pedals!” Meaning, “Meredith, keep your feet in your stirrups!”

She recalls Snowman as king of the farm,What a bond he and Harry had. I used to love watching him ride Snowman. They just knew what each other was thinking.”

Smith says she had the honor of working for de Leyer when she was in her 20s when he had Dutch Crown, another one of his champions. “Harry de Leyer’s name will live on forever as a real true horseman. Wish there were so many more like him.”

The Eighty-Dollar Champion goes on sale today. When you purchase the book you will be helping other repurposed horses. Specifically, those helping people with disabilities. A portion of the proceeds from the book’s sales will go to the 4-H Therapeutic Riding Program of Carroll County Maryland.


This article was last updated on July 24, 2021. 

Click to Purchase


$17.16 Book  List $26.00

$13.99 Kindle


Click photo to purchase The Eighty-Dollar Champion
Click photo to purchase The Eighty-Dollar Champion