12 – Under the Pine Trees

The de Leyer family was growing. There were six children now. Fortunately Harry’s income was also growing. With Snowman’s prize money he was able to buy an old dairy farm that was near Knox School. There was a lot of land for the horses and a big house for Harry, Joanna and their children. It needed a lot of work and repairs, but Harry knew how to work hard. He was not afraid of working with his hands.

His success at the National Horse Show had brought him many new students. He had so much work that he had less time to take Snowman to competitions. The big grey was older and Harry didn’t want to push « Teddy Bear ». He knew that the horse’s generous heart would always be ready to jump as high as he could. It was Harry’s job to know when not to ask.

In 1960 they went to Madison Square Gardens for the third time. Snowman won the first fault-and-out class and several second and third places. He was competing against younger, fresher horses, and he did not win the grand prize. Then, on the last night of the show, something happened which made Harry think.

Trail Guide was an older champion that had won medals in two  Olympic Games. He was twenty-one years old and still competing. On the last night of the National Horse Show he fell over a jump and broke his neck. He had to be put to sleep in the arena in front of the horrified spectators.

Harry de Leyer was sad about the old champion’s tragic end. He told himself that Snowman had given him everything he had ever dreamed of. He would not ask the gallant horse for any more. He took his champion home and promised him that he would enjoy his old age.

Hollandia Farms was a big success, prosperous and well-managed. Riders who went there for lessons found Harry friendly and competent. The horses were well cared for and everyone wanted to see the famous champion, Snowman.

Advertizers paid Harry to use Snowman’s picture on their products. Books were written about him and a movie was being planned. Life magazine published an article about the « Cinderella » horse. The article included pictures of all the family on horseback and a picture of Snowman swimming on Long Island Sound with three de Leyer children on his back.

Snowman’s pasture was large with a cluster of tall pine trees. If he thought someone was late coming to get him for supper in the evening, he would jump over three fences and go into his box in the barn by himself.

There were Snowman fan clubs. Letters addressed to « Snowman » arrived in the de Leyer mailbox. Harry, Harriet and Chief toured the country doing exhibitions. One of their numbers featured Snowman jumping over Lady Grey held between two obstacles by the children. Harriet and Chief even sold Snowman’s hoofprints as « autographs » for twenty-five cents.

The years went by. Harry had a new indoor arena built and held a big party to inaugurate it. They tied a blue ribbon across the entrance. Harry wanted to canter Snowman through the ribbon to break it. He mounted up and asked « Teddy Bear » for a canter. Snowman engaged at once and flew towards the entrance. But the when the old champion saw the ribbon, he decided to jump it. He raised his front legs and took off, clearing the ribbon by at least a foot. Harry laughed. He should have known that Snowman would think they were once again competing for a trophy.

In 1969 the National Horse Show wanted to celebrate the decade following Snowman’s victories. They invited Harry and his champion back to Madison Square Gardens. The organizers wanted to make Snowman’s official retirement the highlight of the show. So Harry and the whole family made the trip to New York one last time.

The big grey always seemed to enjoy crowds, as if he understood that the yelling, clapping people were his friends, his fans. He looked over the crowd and winked at them. Harry held the horse while a green and yellow blanket in the colors of Hollandia Farm and a garland of roses was draped over his back. Then Harry led the gallant hero, the only horse to win the Horse of the Year award two years running, around the arena, followed by Joanna and their handsome children. The crowd rose to their feet and gave the gallant old champion a standing ovation.

Snowman lived to the venerable age of twenty-six and was buried in his pasture, where he loved to stand under the pine trees. He had stayed in the pasture for many years. He had never been a prisoner. He could have jumped the fences at any time. But he was a horse that knew what he wanted. He wanted to stay with Harry and the children who brushed him and talked to him and brought him apples and carrots. Harry had made a mistake once, but the horse came back to him, again and again. He knew where he belonged. He belonged to Harry. For the rest of his life he stayed with the man who had taken him off the truck to the dog food factory. That night Harry had bought much more than a horse. For eighty dollars he had bought a great big generous heart.

The End

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