Me: Howdy, Prodigal! I like your horse.
Prodigal: Thank you, I love to go horseback riding.
Me: Well that reminds me of a story about a great horse.
Prodigal: Who doesn’t love horse stories!
In the book Chicken Soup for the Country Soul a story was submitted by Philip Kunhardt Jr. It is a long story but it is one of those stories that make you feel good inside so I am going to write it out and I think it is worth reading all of it.
Snow Man had been on his way to the slaughterhouse, a tired farm horse that nobody seemed to want to care about. Fortunately, somebody did care-and this is the story of that caring.
One wintery Monday in February 1956, Harry de Leyer, a riding master at the Knox School for Girls on Long Island headed for the Pennsylvania horse auction and was aiming to buy several horses for the school to use. He arrived late, however; most of the horses had been sold. Wandering outside, he saw several sorry-looking animals being loaded into a butcher’s van. These were the “killers”-worn-out work horses that nobody wanted, except the meat dealer. The sight made Harry sad.
Suddenly, Harry spotted a big gray gelding plodding up the ramp. The horse was chunky, but lighter than the others, and there was a spirited pitch to his ears, a brightness in his eyes. Unaccountably, on instinct alone, de Leyer called to the loader to bring the horse back down.
“You crazy?” said the meat dealer.” He is just an old farm horse.”
Probably, Harry thought. The animal’s ribs showed, his coat was matted with dirt and manure, there were sores on his legs. Still, there was something about him…
“How much do you want for him?” de Leyer asked.
That is how it all started. Harry de Leyer redeemed and old plug for eighty dollars.
The whole de Leyer family was out to greet the horse the next day. Down the ramp of the van he came, stumbling over his big feet. He looked slowly about, blinking in the bright winter sun. Then, ankle-deep in snow, covered with shaggy white hair, he stood still as a statue. One of the children said, “He looks just like a snow man.”
They all set about turning Snow Man into a horse again. First they clipped him lightly, and then they washed him-three times. In a while, the horseshoer came. Finally, cleaned and curried and shod, Snow Man was ready for his training sessions as a riding horse.
But Snow Man learned fast. By spring, he was carrying the novice riders at Knox, and some of the girls even began asking for him in preference to the better-looking horses.
When school closed that summer, Harry de Leyer made what might have been the biggest mistake of his life: he sold Snow Man to a neighborhood doctor for double his money, with the understanding that the doctor would not sell Snow Man, except back to him.
Now Snow Man began showing a side that hadn’t previously come to light. He insisted on jumping the doctor’s fences, no matter how high they were raised, and coming home-cross-country over fields and lawns, through backyards and gardens. Irate citizens called the police. The doctor was glad to let de Leyer have Snow Man back.
The feeling was mutual. For in some strange way, de Leyer had come to believe that he and Snow Man shared a common destiny. Solemnly he promised himself never again to part with the horse.
Now, with indication that Snow Man liked to jump, de Leyer began giving him special schooling as a jumper. With kindness and hard work, he helped Snow Man over tougher and tougher obstacles. Finally, in the spring of 1958, de Leyer decided to put the big gray to his first real test-at the Sands Point Horse Show on Long Island, where he would compete with some of the top open jumpers in the land.
Incredibly, out on the Sands Point jump course, Snow Man could do no wrong. Again and again, spectators held their breath, expecting the ungainly looking animal to come crashing down on the bars-but he never did. By nightfall of the second day of the three-day show, he had achieved the seemingly impossible: He was tied for the lead in the open jumper division with the great old campaigner, Andante.
Then, with success so close, on his final jump of the day, Snow Man landed with his feet too close together, and a back hoof slashed his right foreleg. By the following day, it would be swollen and stiff. But de Leyer wasn’t one to give up easily. He cut a section out of a tire tube, slipped it over Snow Man’s injured leg like a sock, tied up the bottom and filled the tube with ice. All night long, he kept the improvised sock full of fresh ice, telling Snow Man over and over how they would win the next day.
Harry de Leyer now saw that he had a potential champion-possibly even a national champion. However, giving Snow Man a chance to prove it meant hitting the horse-show circuit in earnest, vanning to a new show each weekend, putting up big entry fees, riding his heart out-a long, tiring summer and autumn that could end in little reward. Moreover, a spot on Harry’s tongue had started hurting, and that worried him. It would be easier to forget about championships. Still, after talking it over, Harry and Joanna decided that Snow Man deserved a try.
So, to Connecticut they went. Snow Man won at the Fairfield Horse Show and at Lakeville. Then to Branchville, New Jersey, but Harry was in no condition to ride a winner. His tongue was bothering him badly, and he had scarcely eaten for a week. Consequently, Snow Man had a bad day. Blaming himself for the big jumper’s first loss, Harry de Leyer drove home that Sunday night gritting his teeth against his pain.
On Monday, he went to the doctor. On Tuesday, he entered a Long Island hospital to have a tumor removed from his tongue. On Saturday, he got the laboratory report: The tumor was malignant. It was the end of the life he had known, the end of Snow Man’s quest for glory.
Sitting at the show, de Leyer heard his name announced over the loud-speaker: He needed to go home immediately. Harry’s first thought was his children! His second-a fire! He sped home, wondering how much more a man could take. But when he turned into the driveway, the children were playing in the yard and there stood the house. Joanna was close to hysteria, however. A message had come from the hospital that Harry’s laboratory report had been mixed up with another: The tumor was no malignant!
“All of a sudden,” Harry says, “my life was handed back to me.”
From then on, the summer and early fall became one happy rush toward more and more championships at important shows. And finally it was November, time for the biggest show of all-the National at Madison Square Garden.
The National Horse Show lasts eight days. Horses that lack either consistency or stamina are weeded out long before the final night. After seven days Snow Man was tied in the Open Jumper Division with a chestnut mare, First Chance. For their jump-off on the eight day, the course was long and intricate. It wove around the Garden oval in four overlapping loops; it included quick turns and changes of direction-combinations that call for perfect timing and coordination.
First Chance went first. Whether is was the tenseness of the moment, wear and tear from so many days of jumping or difficulties of the course, no one can be sure. At any rate, First Chance “knocked” several barriers.
Now it was up to Snow Man to run a cleaner course. There were a few touches, but far fewer than First Chance had made. Finally Snow Man approached the last jump.
Now Harry de Leyer sat up in the saddle and threw the reins across the horse’s neck. He was showing, for everyone to see, that it was not he who was responsible for this great performance, it was the horse. Snow Man rumbled up to that final jump, and he thrust and sailed and it was done! and he thrust and he sailed and it was done! An old and unpedigreed farm horse had won it all-the National Horse Show Open Jumper Championship, the Professional Horsemen’s Association Trophy and the American Horse Shows Association High Score Award. He was declared “Horse of the Year” in open jumping.
You know I love this story. You might not have known but I am that horse. I was matted with dirt, ribs showing and sores and headed toward death. I was in line for death and, I didn’t even know how bad I was. Then I was saved.
Then the unthinkable happened. In a world with pedigrees and beautiful horses and the most beautiful pastures. This horse was allowed to be tested with several races. With nothing to show but heart, and a faithful rider, this horse somehow managed to stay in the race. There is one difference though. The final race the reins will be let go, but it is not to show that the horse is responsible for this great performance, it is to show that the faithful rider is sole responsible for the beginning to the end. At the end this horse will hear those words “Well done, good and faithful servant, well done.” See I am the horse and Christ is that faithful rider.
His master said to hi, Well done, good and faithful servant.
Jennifer Van Allen