Harry got into his old car. He drove through Pennsylvania and he drove through the state of New York. Then he drove through New York City. It was February and when Harry arrived on Long Island, it was snowing. Harry and Joanna, his wife, had a small farm on Long Island, near the school where Harry worked. They had three children. Joseph was six years old and took his role as oldest son very seriously, so everyone called him “Chief”. Harriet was four and Marty was three.
It was still snowing that evening when the truck from the slaughterhouse arrived with only one horse, the big grey horse. He walked down the ramp from the truck with difficulty. It had been a long ride. It had been an anxious ride with many frightened horses, then all alone. He was very tired, very dirty and very hungry. Nobody fed horses on their way to the slaughterhouse. The horse stood in the falling snow and looked at the de Leyer family. He looked at the children and the three little children looked at him.
“Look!” called little Harriet. “He’s a snowman!”
“Snowman!” shouted Chief. “The new horse is a snowman! We’ll name him Snowman.”
Before his mother could stop him, little Marty ran forward and put his arms around the big horse’s leg.
“Marty!” cried Joanna, frightened. The strange horse could kick Marty. Joanna was afraid.
“Snowman!” repeated Marty, hugging the horse’s leg.
The horse Snowman did not kick the little boy who was hugging his leg. He put his big head down and touched the boy’s blond hair with his soft nose. Then he looked at Chief and closed one eye.
“He winked at me!” exclaimed Chef. “Did you see that? Did you see him wink at me?”
“Yes,” said Harry. “I think he winked at me when I first saw him in the truck to the slaughterhouse. I think he likes us. Let’s put him in the box and give him something to eat. I bet he’d like to have some supper.” He smiled at Joanna. “He was a good deal,” he said. “He only cost eighty dollars.”
Joanna smiled. “You are a good Dutchman,” she said. “You know how to count and you know a good deal.”
The next morning Harry fed the big grey horse again. Snowman ate all the hay and oats, then looked around for more. Harry had a new brush for the new horse. Every horse had its own brush. A new horse could have a skin disease and Harry didn’t want one sick horse to contaminate the others. He wrote “Snowman” on the brush and began to clean him. He scraped off the dry mud and massaged the horse’s coat to loosen the dust next to the skin.
Snowman had marks where he had worn a plough harness. The harness had been too little. It had left scars on his skin. Harry put medicine on the marks. There were cuts on his knees. Harry put medicine on the cuts. Then he brushed and brushed and brushed. He combed the horse’s tail and thick mane. It took a long time, but Snowman stood quietly. He liked to be brushed.
Harry took Snowman to the pasture. Snowman walked into the pasture, then looked around. He looked at the trees and the grass and he looked at Harry. Then he winked and started to eat. Harry smiled. With good grass and good hay, Snowman would soon be a different horse.
In the evening Harry brought the big grey horse back into the barn. He gave him extra oats and hay to eat. The horse was hungry and thin. You could see his bones under his skin. He was “skin and bones”. But Harry took good care of his new horse. He brushed his coat again. He combed his long white tail and mane. Snowman was quiet and calm. Chef helped to brush the tail. He liked Snowman and Snowman liked the children. He liked his new home.
Every morning Harry gave oats and hay to the horses in the barn. When Snowman saw Harry coming to the barn in the morning, he greeted him with three soft nickers.
Harry put new shoes on Snowman. One day, when he took him to the pasture, Snowman put his head up and began to trot. It was spring and the sun was shining. The big grey horse smelled the air and began to run, his head up, his mane and tail flying. Harry smiled. The horse was in good condition now. His coat shone in the sun and he was almost fat. Harry liked to see a happy horse running in the wind.
“I think he likes being at Hollandia,” said Chef. “I think he likes us.”
“But he’s not on holiday,” said Harry. “Every horse on the farm must work. Our horses are not pets. Snowman was tired and hungry. Now he is strong and healthy. You can’t see his bones now. He is getting fat. Now he must learn to work.”
Snowman had pulled a plough. He was a plough horse. His chest had the marks of the plough harness. All his life he would carry those scars. Harry thought Snowman had never had a saddle on his back. He had never carried a rider. Harry had to teach him how to accept a rider. He was a big, strong horse. What would he do when Harry sat on his back for the first time?
It was time for Snowman’s first lesson. Harry put him in the little corral. He showed the big grey horse the saddle. He let him smell it. He touched the horse’s side with the saddle. He talked to Snowman. “It’s okay. It’s okay. It’s just a saddle. It doesn’t hurt. See? I’m putting it on your back, okay? The saddle is not too heavy. You’re a strong horse. You have a strong back. It’s easy, isn’t it? A big strong horse like you can carry a little saddle, can’t you?”
Snowman was a little surprised at first, when he felt the saddle on his back. His head went up but his ears pointed at Harry, listening to his voice. Slowly, he relaxed and his head went down. He stood quietly, listening to Harry, waiting.
Harry attached the saddle. He continued talking to Snowman. He went on talking to the horse. He put his hands on the saddle. He pushed down. The horse stood quietly.
“You’re a good horse,” said Harry. “You are a good, kind horse. I’m going to get on your back. I’m going to sit on you. Be good, Snowman. You know I won’t hurt you.”
The horse stood quietly. Harry put one foot in the stirrup. Slowly he stood up over the horse, balanced on the foot in the stirrup. Then he passed his other leg over the horse’s back and sat down in the saddle very gently.
Surprised, Snowman raised his head. His muscles tensed. He was worried. But the man continued talking to him. Harry went on talking softly. Snowman relaxed. This was a good man. He was his friend. He could sit on his back if he wanted to.
Harry made a little sound with his mouth. It sounded like the sound the farmer made when he wanted Snowman to go forward. The grey took a step forward, then another one. Soon Harry and Snowman were walking around the arena, like two old friends.
In just a few days Harry was able to teach Snowman to walk and trot with a rider on his back. Harry was a good teacher and Snowman was a quiet, attentive student. He also learned to canter. A canter is a slow gallop. Snowman was not a race horse. He was to be a riding horse. Race horses gallop. Riding horses don’t gallop. They canter. Snowman was a big horse with long legs. He could canter very nicely.
Harry was happy with his student. “You’re a good horse, Snowman. You will make a good lesson horse. The girls at Knox School will like you.”
School began in September. Harry took Snowman to the school. Harry worked for the school. He taught the girls of Knox School to ride horses. Knox School was expensive. Many girls of Knox School were rich. Some had a horse at home. Some of the girls were champion riders. Some of the girls were beginners.
If the girls were beginners, Harry put them on Snowman. He was a good horse for beginners. He was quiet and calm. Some girls were afraid of the other horses, but they were not afraid of Snowman. He was a very good lesson horse.
Many girls wanted their horse to jump over obstacles. They wanted to learn to jump on a horse. All horses can jump, but it is difficult to jump with a rider. Harry wanted to teach Snowman to jump with a rider.
First he put poles on the ground. He got on Snowman and asked him to walk over the poles. But the big grey did not pick up his feet. He walked on the poles. He knocked the poles. He stumbled. Harry stopped. He got off Snowman and he put the poles back in their places. Then he tried again.
Again the big grey horse ignored the poles. He hit them with his big feet. He did not look at them. He did not care about them.
Harry put the poles back in their places again. He tried again. He was patient. After many trials, the big plow horse learned not to walk on the poles. Harry taught him to trot over the poles. It took many lessons, but Harry was patient.
When Harry came to the United States, he didn’t speak English very well. He and Joanna and the children spoke Dutch at home. When Harry talked to his horses, he talked to them in Dutch. Sometimes the girls at Knox School taught Harry new words in English. Sometimes the new words they taught him were bad words, but Harry did not know the words were bad. The girls thought it was funny when Harry said bad words in English. But Miss Wood, the headmistress of Knox School, did not think it was funny.
Through : à travers, (go through = traverser)
Ramp : passerelle
Snowman : bonhomme de neige
Hugging : enlaçant avec les bras
Kick : donner un coup de pied
I bet : je paris
Hay and oats : du foin et de l’avoine
Scraped off : to scrape = racler, to scrape off = enlever en raclant
Scars : cicatrices
To comb : peigner
Mane : crinière
Nickers : “bonjour” en langue des chevaux
Coat : robe
Saddle : la selle
Stirrup : étrier
Canter : “petit gallop”
Stumble : trébucher
Poles : barreaux ronds
Trials : essais