9 – Back to School

Harry’s job at Knox School paid him a regular salary while prize money was never guaranteed. In September Harry and Snowman left the shows and went back to teaching rich young girls how to ride. The winner of the Blitz Memorial Trophy was once again a lesson horse, carrying beginners around the arena, so calm and lovable that the girls called him “Teddy Bear.”

He was a wonderful lesson horse, quiet and reliable. As Harry often said, “A horse must earn his keep,” and Snowman earned his. Only once did he seem to protest.

Bonnie Cornelius was one of Harry’s best pupils. She was an excellent rider and proud of her skills. She may have decided that “Teddy Bear” was too easy for her, no challenge at all. She preferred to ride the green horses, the ones that tested her. One day Harry told her to ride Snowman in a junior competition against other young riders. On the big grey, Bonnie seemed a sure winner. She may have been a bit too confident, feeling that all she had to do was sit on her horse and let him jump. She was not acting like a rider, but a passenger. Snowman must have sensed that she was letting him do all the work. It seems that he decided to teach her a lesson. As they came to the next obstacle, he cantered around it instead of jumping over it.

          Bonnie was surprised and humiliated. She realized that the horse was letting her know that they were a team and she hadn’t been doing her share of the work. She brought him back to the obstacle and this time Snowman soared over it easily. Harry laughed at the lesson Bonnie had received.

          “Snowman is a good instructor,” he said to Bonnie. “He taught you that in a jumping competition the horse and the rider are a team. You can’t just sit there and let him jump. You have to do your part.”

          Yet Harry worried that he was not doing everything he could for his champion. While the winner of the Blitz Cup was carrying young girls around the school arena and competing in junior show categories, his competitors were scoring points in the big fall horse shows. Snowman’s numerous victories during the summer had put him in the lead for the Horse of the Year award. But his rivals would easily score more points during the fall season while Snowman was being a lesson horse and missing the shows.

          Harry wanted to take his champion to the National Horse Show at Madison Square Gardens, the biggest competition of all. It was the last show of the year and the most important. He could justify his absence from school because some of his students would be competing in the junior divisions. The school would permit him to accompany them. But he could not miss classes in order to compete in any of the other fall shows and he needed his job at the school. His family was growing.

          He thought of his friend, Dave Kelly. When Harry had been unable to ride at the Smithtown Horse Show, Dave had ridden both Snowman and his own horse, Andante. Snowman had won the first prize. Harry decided to ask Dave to accompany Snowman to the International Horse Show in Washington, D.C. The big grey would have a chance to score more points for the Horse of the Year competition and it would be good preparation for him for the National Horse Show in Madison Square Gardens.

          Dave accepted and one Saturday Harry drove Snowman down to Washington in the van. Then he turned around and drove home so that he would be back at school on Monday morning. His best lesson horse would be in the nation’s capital, in competition with some of the finest horses in the world, Olympic champions from many countries would be there.

          Because Dave was a professional rider, he was not permitted to enter the international division, reserved for amateurs. Snowman was competing in the open jumper classes. He won the first class, but lost to a new horse, Windsor Castle, in the second class.

          Although Windsor Castle was only seven years old, he already had an impressive collection of prizes. He was half Thoroughbred and very nervous, a beautiful horse to watch.

          The last night of the show, President Dwight Eisenhower came to watch. All of the competitors rode up to where the president was sitting and saluted him. Dave rode Snowman by the grandstand while the Marine band was playing. The big grey was alert and calm, as always.

          The last class of the evening was the open jumper championship. In front of President Eisenhower Snowman beat his rival Windsor Castle and took the blue ribbon. With the points he had won, he would go to Madison Square Gardens as the leading contender for the Horse of the Year award. At the end of the show all the horses paraded around the arena. The place of honor was the last place. Snowman, the former plough horse with an unknown pedigree, closed the parade. He strolled around the ring, not frightened by the flashing lights and loud cheers. He gave the impression that he knew the crowd was friendly, that the people who were shouting and applauding were all his fans.

          After winning the International Horse Show, Snowman went back to Long Island and continued giving lessons to the girls of Knox School. But Harry was preparing him for the chance of a lifetime, his participation in the National Horse Show, where he was still a leading contender for the Horse of the Year award.

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