Media Critique: The Eighty Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse That Inspired a Nation

The Eighty Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation. By Elizabeth Letts. Hard Cover. 2011. Ballantine Books. $26. Available at


Often it seems as if author Elizabeth Letts wasn?t sure whether she was writing a biography about the great Snowman or a historical novel.

Letts does a remarkably thorough job of describing the post-World War II horse world in New York and Connecticut, painstakingly sketching the times and places surrounding the relationship between Harry de Leyer and his legendary jumper. But sHe’s overly fascinated by the dangerous sport she perceives show jumping to be. Again and again, she refers to the potential of a rider or a horse crashing in the ring, but never with an example of a crash.

She also relentlessly paints de Leyer as barely more than a peasant competing in a world of only landed gentry.

Certainly there is danger in any horse sport, and showing (then or now) isn?t a poor man?s passion. But the constant repetition of these shop-worn themes obscures the inspiring story of a true horseman and his once-in-a-lifetime horse.

Snowman and Harry de Leyer had a partnership that became the dream of so many riders ever since. Letts presents their development and accomplishments in a touching way, but it would have been even more powerful if she?d let de Leyer talk more, about the horse, about his family, and about his life.

Snowman and Harry de Leyer were a real-life National Velvet. Unfortunately, this biography lacks the passion of that fiction.

Bottom Line:?The Eighty Dollar Champion is a fascinating story about a real 20th century horseman who escaped from the Nazis during World War II and, through hard work and determination, created a life for himself and his family in the United States. And his devotion to his unlikely champion was an integral part of that success.

Best Suited For:?Someone who wants to know what riding on Long Island was like during the 1950s.

you’ll be disappointed if:?You expect an action-packed thriller.

John Strassburger, Performance Editor

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