Harry was looking for a good horse that could win prizes and attract more students to his riding school. But a young, untrained horse with a good pedigree is very expensive. Harry did not have enough money to buy such a horse, so he looked for problem horses, horses that had been poorly trained and had a bad reputation. He could buy such a horse cheap and, if the horse had the potential, train it to win. Harry went to many horse sales, hoping to find the right horse, a horse he could buy cheap and teach to be a champion.
At the same time, Harry continued the big grey’s training and soon he appreciated Snowman’s ability better. He had never doubted his attitude. Snowman was always ready to jump. He actually seemed to enjoy their training sessions and he had a strong work ethic. He was never lazy or nervous during a session. During the winter at Knox School the horse’s balance and coordination improved. He had taught himself how to jump. Now he was learning to carry a rider over the jumps. He knew how to jump high. Harry was teaching him how to jump wide and how to economize his strength by measuring his efforts. He was a good student. As the winter progressed and Snowman improved, Harry began to think that his eighty-dollar horse was more than a good lesson horse. He began to think that maybe the tired and hungry horse in the truck going to the dog food factory could become a champion jumper.
During the fall, winter and spring, Harry taught girls to ride at the school. During the summer, school was out and Harry was able to show his horses. He hoped that winning trophies would help him attract new students to his private lessons. He was taking four horses to the Sands Point Horse Show. They would be competing against some of the best jumpers in the East.
Harry got up at four o’clock in the morning to do the barn chores and prepare the horses for the trip in the van. When Harriet and Chef woke up, they came to help him. Then Joanna called them to take their baths and put on clean clothes. Baby William would stay with a neighbor, but the other children were going to Sandy Point with their mother. They wanted to see Harry compete against some of the best professional riders in the business.
Harry drove the van with four horses in it: Wayward Wind, a chestnut mare, Cicero, Night Arrest and Snowman. When he reached Sand Point, the other horses were beautiful and nervous, excited by the noise and the people and the odor or smell of other horses. Snowman was curious, but calm. The Sands Point show was not a snobbish, exclusive event for rich horse owners and their friends. It was a charity event that attracted many local people and their families. Children ran among the vans and trucks, admiring the handsome horses.
First were the hunter events, where horses were judged not only on their ability to jump but also on their obedience and on their beauty. Snowman could never compete in the hunter classes because, with his plow horse scars, he did not meet the standard criteria for beauty. Harry rode Cicero and won a blue ribbon. Then he rode Wayward Wind and the lovely little mare also won a blue ribbon. Harry hung the two blue ribbons beside the horses’ boxes. He put the two silver trophies in the front of the car, where everyone could see them.
Then it was time for the jumper classes, where horses did not have to be beautiful or to hold their heads in a certain way to mark points. They only had to jump high obstacles and very high fences. Snowman was registered in the jumper events. The children helped Harry brush Snowman’s coat until it shone silver in the sunlight. They braided the hair on his neck, his mane, and polished his feet, his hooves. Harry’s saddle was old but clean and shiny. The children said good luck to Snowman and their father, then went quickly to sit on the fence to watch the competition. Joanna sat in the crowd, but the children wanted to be in front.
One of the first competitors was David Kelly, a professional rider, on Andante, a small, nervous bay mare that was a veteran performer. In the first event she knocked down a single pole. The other horses had also knocked down poles. No one had had a clean round.
Then it was Snowman’s turn. It was his first competition but he was relaxed and curious as he entered the ring, turning his head, pivoting his ears, looking over the crowd. The children sitting on the fence shouted, “Snowman!”. The big grey horse looked at them and winked. Some of the crowd applauded politely, but many continued chatting with their neighbors. The horse didn’t look like a jumper. He was too calm. He looked like … a plow horse. Champions were full of fire, quick and nervous, difficult to control. They didn’t walk quietly into the ring, look around and wink at children.
But when Harry asked Snowman to canter, he went to work and sailed over the first fence and the second one and the next one. Some of the spectators noticed how high the big grey gelding jumped, how easily he cleared the obstacles. They stopped talking. They were intrigued to see Harry let the reins go loose as the horse jumped. More people became silent. So far Snowman had not touched a single bar. If he scored a clean round, he would win the event and receive a blue ribbon.
The last jump was an oxer, more difficult than a simple fence because the horse had to jump high and wide to clear the second fence. Snowman sailed over it and scored a perfect round, the only horse in the event who had not touched a single bar. The spectators were silent a moment, then began to applaud the big grey horse that Harry had saved from the slaughterhouse just two years ago.
Soon it was time for the judges to give the winners their ribbons. Davy Kelly rode Andante into the arena to collect his red ribbon for second place. Then the crowd began to clap their hands and cheer as Harry led Snowman into the arena with his three children, Chef, Harriet and Marty sitting on the gentle horse’s back. The children were as proud as their father. They had known from the first that Snowman was a special horse. They had known that their father was making a mistake when he had sold Snowman. They knew that Snowman had jumped over every fence between the doctor’s house and their home because he wanted to be with them. He didn’t want to leave his little friends. He knew what he wanted. Chief, Harriet and Marty always felt that Snowman was their horse, their own horse that they let their father ride.
After the ceremony, Dave Kelly chatted with Harry. “You have a good horse there,” he said. “He has a lot of potential. You should bring him to the show in Fairfield.”
Snowman was entered in four more classes. Harry had entered Snowman in four other classes. He could become the show champion if he won enough ribbons. During the third class Andante made only one fault. Snowman had a clean round and won first prize. But on the last jump, as he landed, one of his back hooves touched a front hoof. Harry saw that his horse had hurt himself. The damaged hoof was bleeding.
In the box Harry examined Snowman’s injury. It was not too serious, but if it swelled, Snowman would not be able to jump the next day. (To swell means to get bigger and bigger.) Harry put ice on Snowman’s foot. All night he stayed with his horse, putting fresh ice on his foot every hour. Snowman slept and did not seem to suffer. His foot did not swell. Harry was up all night and slept very little. But in the morning the foot looked normal. It was not hot and it was not swollen. (There was no swelling.) Harry saddled his horse and rode him in the practice ring. Everything seemed normal. Snowman had no pain. He could compete in the last class.
Andante and Snowman were tied for show champion. (They had the same number of points.) The horse who won the last class would be the show champion. Harry was still worried about Snowman’s foot. He didn’t want to take chances. But the big grey was acting normal and seemed to have no pain. Harry was tired after his sleepless night. He was riding four different horses, sometimes in the same event, sometimes with very little time between rides, but he wanted to give Snowman a chance.
The last class was the most difficult. The bars were higher. Andante scored four faults. Snowman jumped high and wide. He scored a perfect ride with zero faults. At his first big competition Snowman brought home the show champion trophy.
Marie Lafrenz was a young, free-lance journalist who sometimes sold articles to the New York Herald Tribune. She was curious and interested in the champion that did not look like a champion and did not act like a champion. She talked to Harry and wrote an article about Snowman’s victory. She called the big grey “the eighty-dollar wonder horse”. The New York Herald Tribune printed the article with the title “Cinderella Horse.”
Braided – tressa
Mane – crinière
Hooves – one hoof, four hooves – sabots
Swelled – gonfla
Tied – match nul, à égalité