8 -Piping Rock and the Blitz Memorial

After their success at Fairfield, Harry was certain that Snowman had the ability to compete with the best jumpers around. Through the summer he and the rest of the family traveled to all the big shows and Snowman continued to win. The former plough horse was amazingly calm and generous, but he could sometimes be careless if the obstacle was too low. He seemed to enjoy the challenge of the higher jumps. In show after show, he won the top prizes and he became a favorite with the fans. They called him “the Cinderella horse.” Harry and Dave Kelly became good friends during the summer. Unlike the wealthy sportsmen against whom they competed, they needed the prize money to stay in the profession they loved. The two men understood each other and they trusted each other.

Piping Rock was the big show that ended the summer season. It would be Harry’s last show because school was starting and Harry needed his job to feed his family. Other horses would continue to compete during the fall season. Piping Rock was also special because horses that had spent the summer in Europe in the Olympic competition would be challenging the summer champions. For the first time Snowman could be measured against the very best American jumpers.

For Harry, Piping Rock was also important because of the prize money. The Blitz Memorial offered 1000 dollars to the best horse in the show. With that money Harry could buy more pasture for his horses and develop Hollandia into a real horse farm.

If an owner won the Blitz Memorial three years in a row, it was retired and the owner kept the big trophy cup. Miss Eleonora Sears had won it the last two years. She wanted to win it again and keep the trophy. From a wealthy family, she was a great-granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson and an excellent tennis player. In 1915 she had been the first woman rider to wear pants in the National Horse Show. That summer she had taken her horses to the Olympics in Europe. She brought two of her Olympic champions back to Piping Rock, hoping to leave with the Blitz Memorial.

One of her champions was Ksar d’Esprit, an American horse that had won the National Horse Show cup. He was ridden by Bill Steinkraus, a wealthy and skillful amateur. Her other horse was Diamant, a German horse that Miss Sears had recently bought. No one knew how much she had paid for him, but people said it was a small fortune. His rider, Frank Chapat, had been with Bill Steinkraus on the victorious Olympic team.

Against such elegant competition, Olympic champions, Harry was ashamed of the old army blanket that he used as a saddle pad. He decided not to have anything and put the saddle directly on Snowman’s back. He lost his first match against Ksar d’Esprit, but Harry didn’t worry. He concentrated on cooling his horse and relaxing him for the Blitz Memorial Series.

After the first round of jumps, only two horses had perfect scores: Diamant and Snowman. The crew came in and raised the bars.

Diamant was first to come into the arena. The German horse jumped every obstacle easily, without touching a bar. Then Harry rode Snowman into the ring. The big grey cantered around the arena, his ears moving when his rider whispered to him, and flew over the obstacles on loose reins. He too scored another clean round, without touching a single bar.

The crew raised the bars again. Now the smallest jump was five and a half feet high. This time Snowman was first. Harry rode into the arena, smiling at Joanna and the children. He might not win today, but he could tell the story for the rest of his life, the story about the eighty-dollar horse who loved to jump, who could compete with Olympic champions. He showed Snowman the first jump and asked for a canter. The big grey took off and flew around the ring. He was so easy that on the last jump Harry let go of the reins and raised his arms in triumph. Zero faults, again.

A girl in the stands stared at the grey horse and his blond rider. She was Wendy Plumb, a student at Knox Academy. She was competing in the junior division that day. First, she recognized her riding instructor, Mr. de Leyer. Then she saw the scars and recognized the horse he was riding, Snowman, the lesson horse that Mr. de Leyer used for girls who were afraid and needed a calm, gentle horse.

Frank Chapat rode Miss Sears’ big German champion into the ring. Diamant was a powerful horse, taller and more muscular than Snowman. Frank rode him with tight reins in order to control his explosive force. Diamant, the horse that had brought the United States an Olympic medal, was being challenged by an unknown horse of unknown origin, a horse from nowhere with no papers. The German thundered around the obstacle course with the energy and precision of a mechanical horse. It looked like another perfect round, but on the last obstacle one of his hind (back) feet touched a bar and it fell. Snowman had won the first round of the Blitz Memorial Series!

The trophy would go to the horse with the best average over the three days of the Piping Rock show. Snowman had proven he was to be respected, that he was capable of beating the best, but he would have to maintain that same high standard for the next two days.

The journalist, Marie LaFrenz, was at Piping Rock. She wrote another article about the Cinderella horse, calling Harry “the Flying Dutchman.” The name stayed with Harry for the rest of his career. Reporters from other papers came to talk to Harry while he worked, cleaning the stalls and preparing his gear. He was happy to answer their questions, as long as he could continue his work.

The main event, called the Blitz, was on Saturday. Frank Chapot was determined to win and avenge his horse’s loss the day before. There were more jumps and they were higher. Diamant had rested before the event, but Snowman had competed in two other classes. Harry didn’t want to tire him, so he did not ask his mount to practice jumping just before the Blitz. Instead, he simply walked him around so that he would not be stiff.

One of the jumps was new to Snowman. It was a high brush jump with a bar behind it. The horse needed to jump wide in order to have an arc wide enough to avoid the bar he couldn’t see. Snowman had taught himself to jump high fences topped by wires. He always jumped higher than necessary. It was more difficult for him to jump wide. As a novice jumper, Snowman had no experience with this type of obstacle. He jumped so high that he didn’t even skim the brush, but coming down hit the bar hard with both front legs. He landed poorly and was penalized four points.

Quietly Harry spoke to the big grey. “That’s okay.” He knew that now Snowman had no chance of winning the Blitz or even getting a third place. He decided not to tire him anymore. He pulled up, saluted the judge and left the arena. Diamant won the Blitz.

Chief was sad about Snowman’s defeat. “Why didn’t you finish the round?” he asked his father.

“Take care of your horse and he’ll take care of you,” answered Harry. “If I had continued, Snowman would have used his energy and strength for nothing. He could have hurt himself. I wanted to protect him. Tomorrow he will be rested and fresh.”

Harry still had hopes that Snowman could win the Blitz Memorial Challenge. Its prize money could buy more land for Hollandia farm.

The next day, for the final competition, the stands were full. Since Snowman’s abandon on Saturday, Diamant was the favorite. The course was very difficult. Harry watched as some of the best horses scored faults. He was glad to see there was no brush wall followed by a gate, even though the obstacles were higher. So far none of the horses had been able to make a clean round with zero faults.

It was Harry and Snowman’s turn. As they entered the arena, Harry let “Teddy Bear” look around at the crowd. Many horses were nervous about crowds, afraid of the noise and lights, but the big grey seemed to enjoy seeing his fans. When Harry asked for his attention, he became focused on his job, listening carefully to the man on his back as they cantered around the course. He took every jump extra high with perfect timing. Both man and horse were concentrated on doing their best. Then it was finished. Snowman had scored a perfect round. Zero faults. Miss Sears’ horse, Diamant, would have to score a perfect round to have a chance against the ex-plough horse in a jump off.

When it was his turn, the big German horse jumped with precision, like clockwork. The crowd held its breath as he cleared each of the obstacles. It seemed like nothing could stop him from scoring a perfect round. As he cantered towards the last jump, he seemed unbeatable. His rider was already smiling and let him go a bit faster. The horse took off a second too soon and as he came down a hind foot touched a bar. It didn’t fall but Diamant had earned a penalty of half a point.

So Miss Sears did not retire the trophy that her horses had won the two previous years. Snowman won the Blitz Memorial Gold Challenge and his name was engraved on the big gold cup. Harry won one thousand dollars, enough to buy more land for more pastures, and a new saddle pad for his horse.

To skim: to brush very lightly 

Saddle pad: a thick cloth or sheep skin which is placed under the saddle to protect the horse’s back.

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