The Mute Native Speaker

I was asked to work with a group of young girls whose parents wanted them to get more English than they were getting in school. I began by explaining that I would be making up stories with the girls and playing games, doing things that would be much different than what they were doing in school. As I gave them a brief explanation of the principles of Comprehensible Input, one of the fathers was vigorously nodding his head.

Later he told me his own story. His father was born in Italy, near Venice, came to France as a small child, and grew up bilingual, speaking Italian at home and French in school and everywhere else. When his father wanted to marry, he returned to Italy and brought back an Italian bride who spoke no French. Their first son grew up perfectly bilingual, like his father, speaking Italian at home and French elsewhere.

By the time the second son was born, the mother had begun speaking some French. The family as a whole considered the Italian dialect which they spoke as inferior, and believed that speaking good French was the key to success. When the second son began to speak, his parents and older brother laughed at him, saying he spoke Italian with a French accent. Because he disliked being laughed at, he found it easier to speak French, which everyone encouraged. His parents were proud of how well he spoke French.

He returned to Italy on holiday with his parents a few times, but relied on his parents or brother to translate for him. He understood what was said in Italian, having heard his parents and older brother speak Italian all his life, but could not answer. Any efforts he made to speak were laughed at, so he stopped trying.

He was a good student, took English and Spanish as foreign languages in school, where he did well, and finished with a very good degree leading to a good job in management. He married a French girl and decided to take her to Italy for their honeymoon.

Then he found himself in Italy with no translators around. At first he found it difficult to make himself understood, then words began to come to him. He told me that within three days he was speaking fluent Italian. He said that today he has a slight French accent and occasionally makes mistakes in gender, but has no difficulties in communicating and being understood.

Dr. Krashen considered this story as a demonstration of the efficacy of comprehensible input alone, proving that production is not necessary for acquisition. Production is merely a way to show what has been acquired.

The Alibi Game

I didn’t invent this game but found it in a text book I used many years ago. I believe it was Oxford Press material. It would take up an entire hour of class without anyone getting bored and gave students lots of practice listening for details, while giving me an easy day. I think I will try it with my next Zoom class.

I began the class by announcing, in a very serious tone, that someone had stolen the principal’s motorcycle. The original version was that someone had been attacked and money stolen from the safe, but I didn’t want to go down that road. Any crime or incident that would involve the police coming to investigate would do.

I told the class that the police were coming to question them all. They would be asking them where they were at the time of the crime. Then I put the students in pairs. Whenever possible I put a strong student with a weaker one. I told them that they were each other’s alibis. They were to develop an alibi, saying they were together at the time of the crime and preparing to be able to say where they were and what they were doing. I reminded them that the police could ask them for details. Which restaurant? What did they eat? What color was the wallpaper?

Of course some of this pairwork was done in the ML, but they were preparing to give their alibi in the TL, so it was not as monolingual ML as pairwork often is. In a Zoom class, this preparation could be done in breakout rooms.

When everyone had their alibis prepared, I would send one partner out of the room while the class, as the police officers, questioned the other one about where they were and what they were doing, trying to get as many details as possible. Then that student would go out and the other one come in to be interrogated. The class would ask the same questions, trying to find contradictions. It was a lot of fun, as the class tried to think of something the pair had not foreseen, and the suspect tried to find plausible excuses for not remembering a detail. My role was limited to helping occasionally with vocabulary and deciding when the alibi was broken.

When the class broke the alibi, which they almost always did, it would then be the turn of another pair of suspects. The best alibi I ever heard was from one clever guy who told that class that just after the motorcycle had been stolen, he had been walking down the street and he and his partner had seen me ride past on a motorcycle!

Is this comprehensible input? I would say yes because the bulk of the class is listening intently to what is being said. I never corrected grammar and only helped with vocabulary when it was needed to be comprehensible. I only used this in classes where the level was sufficient for some output to be relatively painless. There is a lot of built in repetition, as students are hearing the same questions repeatedly. Weak students could reply yes, no, or give simple and brief answers about where they were and what they were doing, having planned ahead of time what they could say.

If you decide to play the Alibi Game, I’d love to hear how it went for you.

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

11 – Not For Sale

When Harry led Snowman forward to collect his trophy, he was accompanied by Joanna and the children dressed in their best clothes. The judges had three trophies for him, the Madison Square Gardens’ Diamond Jubilee cup, the Professional Horsemen’s Association trophy and the Horse of the Year trophy. The wonderful Cinderella horse was the Triple Crown champion. The photographers took lots of pictures of the children and their lovable « Teddy Bear », pictures that were in all the newspapers the next day. The Professional Horsemen’s Association gave their champion a white blanket embroidered with the PHA logo and the words « 1958 Champion ». It was the trophy which meant the most to Harry. Professional horsemen were riders like him, people who often did not have a lot of money but who had given their lives to their love of horses. With the prize money Harry planned to buy more pasture land and enlarge Hollandia Farm.

Just a few hours after Snowman’s victory, Harry was cleaning out the stable when a man named Bert came in and introduced himself. He was a horse lover who had made a fortune selling real estate in New York. He wanted to buy Snowman. He offered Harry 35,000 dollars, saying he had a van and could take him home tonight. At that time, Harry considered that a good year could bring him 3,500 dollars. Bert was offering him ten times as much. It was enough to buy not only a larger farm, but also a dozen promising young horses, future champions. But Harry shook his head. He had sold Snowman once and had had to buy him back. He could imagine the big grey escaping and coming all the way back to Long Island. He had promised his faithful mount that he would never make the same mistake again. He remembered going home last year with an empty van after Sinjon’s owner sold him.

Bert thought that Harry wanted more money. He offered more, but Harry could not be persuaded. So the real estate agent signed a blank check. « I want that horse, » he said. « You write in your price. Whatever it is, I will pay it. »

Harry shook his head. « I can’t sell Snowman, » he said. « My children love him. And he’s a horse who knows what he wants. He could jump every fence between your place and Hollandia farm.»

Bert looked at him for a while, then smiled. « Well, » he said, « if you ever change your mind, let me know. I’ll pay your price, whatever it is. » The two men shook hands and Bert left. Harry finished cleaning out the box.

Harry and Joanna were raised in the Netherlands, where people know how to count. Scots may have a reputation of being careful about money, but in Holland they say that the Scots are just Dutch people who swam across the North Sea because they didn’t want to pay the ferry. Harry and Joanna were careful with their money and they knew how to stretch a penny. Harry’s father had always said, « Every horse in a barn has to justify the cost of its feed. Horses aren’t pets. » Remembering his father, Harry had sold Snowman to his dentist neighbor. But Snowman was a wise horse. He knew what he wanted and had listened to his heart, jumping every fence between the dentist’s home and Harry’s farm. The big grey had proven that there were no fences tall enough to keep him away from the de Leyer family. Harry had promised that he would never sell him again. And he kept his promise.

Suddenly the teachers at Knox School for Girls discovered that they had a celebrity living in their stables. Families were calling every day, begging to enroll their daughters. All the new students wanted to take riding lessons with Harry de Leyer. When they visited the school, they wanted to know if they could have their picture taken with the Triple Crown champion. The headmistress smiled at Harry more often and sometimes she came to visit the stables and brought a carrot for the horse that had attracted so many new students to her school.

Harry used Snowman less for lessons and spent more time training him. The whole family still went to the beach with their favorite horse. The big grey loved swimming and would happily carry as many as could get on his back into the waves. But many things had changed. There was less worry about money and there were people from Hollywood who wanted to make a film about « the Cinderella horse. » Reporters came to interview Harry and take pictures for articles. The photographers claimed that Snowman knew when to pose and always made sure they got his best side.

Then it was spring again, time for the champion to prove that he was still a champion. Once again Harry and his family were taking Snowman to shows and once again the big grey was winning blue ribbons.

His biggest rival during his second year on the circuit was a younger horse named Windsor Castle. Snowman had beat him at the Washington show, but not easily. Because the sport of jumping was becoming more and more popular, prices for good jumpers were going up and up, rivaling prices paid for champion race horses. A group of Chicago investors bought Windsor Castle for $25,000. When the big grey beat Windsor Castle at the Fairfield show, it was easy to estimate which horse was the most valuable.

Then it was summer and Harry was invited to take Snowman on an exhibition tour in Europe. Harry and Joanna were delighted. It was an undreamed of opportunity to visit their family and friends in the Netherlands. They had left nine years ago with 160 dollars. They were returning with five children and a horse that was an international star, featured in Life magazine. It was a bittersweet experience for Harry because his mother was suffering from cancer. He knew it would the last time he would ever see her. Still, he knew that without Snowman he would not have been able to afford the trip. He certainly could not have brought the entire family on his riding instructor’s salary. He and Joanna were proud to show their children their homeland and their Dutch relatives. Harry was able to say good-bye to his mother.

That summer Snowman competed in many shows, often winning the top prize. This time everyone considered him a top contender for the Horse of the Year prize. Then it was once again time for the school to open and Harry and Snowman were back at Knox School for Girls. Harry’s classes were full and the girls listened to him with new respect. No longer did his best riders look down on the quiet grey horse with the scars on his chest, thinking he was only for beginners. Now they were honored if Harry let them ride the Triple Crown champion.

In October, when it was time for the International Show in Washington, D.C., Harry had no trouble getting permission to take Snowman himself. He even brought along Chief and Harriet. They had planned a special exhibition. The children lined up Snowman’s stablemate behind an obstacle, and Harry and « Teddy Bear » jumped high over both the obstacle and the other horse. It looked impressive but Harry had complete confidence in his horse.

In November, Harry and Snowman were back in Madison Square Gardens. Windsor Castle was there too and on November 6th he won the first class of the National Horse Show, beating Snowman. The same night his owners, the Chicago investors, sold him for $50,000, doubling their original investment. « It’s business, » one of them said. They were not attached to the beautiful, nervous, talented animal they had owned. They were bankers and investors, businessmen.

But the show was not over, and there were still many classes to win. Partly because of Snowman, jumping had become a popular sport, attracting crowds who were not riders but enjoyed the excitement of watching horses fly over obstacles. Sponsors had noted the new popularity and were putting more money into the prizes. The prize of the Championship Stakes, the last class of the show, was set at $5,000. It was the biggest prize Harry had ever competed for and he wanted to win.

But Harry knew better than to be thinking about prize money during a competition. His thoughts were completely focused on Snowman and the jumps. When their turn came for the last round of the last class on the last day, his miracle horse flew over the obstacles, in perfect time with his rider, cutting corners precisely, taking off with power, landing effortlessly, already aiming at the next jump.

They scored a perfect round, cheered by thousands who had come to see the Cinderella horse. Once again Snowman had won « the Triple Crown ». He had won the Madison Square Gardens championship, the Professional Horsemen’s Association championship and the Horse of the Year award. He was the first horse in history to win the Triple Crown two years in a row. His biggest rival, Windsor Castle, might be worth $50,000, but Snowman, rescued from the dog food factory for $80, was not for sale.

10 – The Diamond Jubilee

The National Horse Show was created in 1883 at the original Madison Square Garden. It continued to be held in New York at « Madison Square Gardens » until 1966, when the event was moved to Kentucky, where it continues today. It was more than a sports event for New Yorkers. It was always held the first week of November and marked the beginning of the winter season for wealthy families that had summer homes on Long Island and town houses on Fifth Avenue. (The National Horse Show directory had been used as the basis of the first New York Social Register in 1887.) In November 1958, its members were celebrating its Diamond Jubilee, the seventy-fifth year of the National Horse Show. The finest horses in America, some travelling all the way from California, were there. It was the one show no serious horseman wanted to miss. A journalist wrote, « Any ribbon from the Garden was worth its weight in blood, sweat and tears. »

Harry was coaching two of his students in the junior classes and riding Night Arrest for her owner. He had only one horse registered in his own name : Snowman. Last year Harry had brought Sinjohn and won fourth place, but he had left with an empty van because Sinjohn’s owner had sold him. This year, win or lose, Harry was sure that he would take his horse back home. His children would never let him sell the big grey again.

Some stables brought twenty horses to « the Garden » and as many grooms, lads and tack men. Harry was his own groom, his own lad and he took care of his own tack. He thought it was an advantage. He knew that the bandages that protected Snowman’s legs in the van were not too tight because he had wrapped them himself. He knew his tack was in good condition because he had cleaned it and oiled it himself. He knew that his horse was fit and feeling good because he had exercised him himself early in the morning.

But Harry was not alone. Jim and Joe had come to help with Night Arrest and his students’ horses. And Johanna had brought their five children. She decorated Snowman’s stall with the ribbons he had won during the summer and fall season. Few horses had a display as impressive. Snowman had many fans, people who had read about him in the papers. A famous cartoonist, Willard Mullin, had drawn his story for the newspapers. The big grey seemed to enjoy the attention and let children pat him on the nose. Some of them called him «White Beauty», the name the cartoonist had used.

At that time, Madison Square Gardens was the largest covered stadium in the world. It could hold 20,000 people and it was filled to capacity for the opening ceremonies of the Diamond Jubilee of the National Horse Show. The U.S. Army Marching Band played for the international teams. The Canadian Mounties paraded and for extra excitement a group of Cuban protestors interrupted the show when Cuba’s national team appeared. They were quickly contained by the ring stewards and grounds keepers and the New York Police escorted them out.

In Snowman’s first event he was again competing against the big German champion, Diamant. The Olympic champion was called early and finished with an excellent time and zero faults. When Snowman was called he was attentive to Harry and had a very good round, but on the last obstacle, a wide jump, a hind foot touched a pole and made it fall. With no faults, Diamant won the blue ribbon. Then the judges announced the second place. With one fault and the fastest time, Snowman had won the red ribbon !

Harry had entered both Night Arrest and Snowman in the open jumping classes, which meant he would be riding both horses, competing against himself in a way. He hoped that the mare, having had a little more experience, would be calmer. She had talent but was nervous and sometimes diffictult to control. The crowd, the noise, the strange building, its dark passages and the bright lights of the arena frightened the little mare. She tried to listen to Harry, but was easily distracted. As she jumped, Harry worked to keep her calm over the first fences. But as she took off for the oxer, she was no longer listening to him. She hit the bars in a crash. Harry relaxed and let himself fall, but a foot stayed in the stirrup. Night Arrest panicked and ran across the arena, dragging Harry behind her. Just before he slammed into the wall, he was able to free his foot.

The crowd was holding its breath, but the little Dutch rider got up, dusted off his clothes and walked up to the frightened mare. When he held out his hand, she smelled it and recognized him. He was able to pick up the reins and lead her out of the arena.

Only two other horses had taken their turns when Snowman’s name was called. Harry, ten minutes after his spectacular fall, seemed unperturbed. He rode the big grey into the ring. As usual, like a true star, Snowman looked over the crowd, as if he wanted to know who was there, who had come to see him. Sometimes Harry wondered if he was looking for someone, someone from his former life, from the time before he had ended up in a truck on its way to the slaugherhouse.

Snowman touched one pole for half a fault and on the last fence he made a pole fall. Two faults was not good enough for a ribbon. First place went to a pretty mare named First Chance ridden by Adolphe Mogavero, a veteran rider. Harry wasn’t worried. Although Snowman had had a lot of successes, he wasn’t a machine and Harry certainly wasn’t a machine. After the fall with Night Arrest, it was normal that the team did not perform at 100%. There would be other opportunities. They would do better next time.

The next day Snowman and Harry were again competing against First Chance. Snowman navigated the course beautifully and scored a perfect round. First Chance also had no faults, so they were asked to go another round to decide the winner. The workers raised the poles of the jumps to make the course more difficult.

First Chance was still only seven years old, still full of energy. Adolphe had lots of experience and knew how to get the maximum from his horse. The little mare jumped the twelve obstacles, higher now, and scored another perfect round.

Then it was Snowman’s turn. Once again the big grey flew over the obstacles without touching them. He too scored a perfect round. The workers came into the arena and raised the bars again for the second jump-off.

Nervous, the mare rushed into the arena. This time she touched one pole, earning a penalty of one point. Snowman was neither nervous nor excited. While waiting for First Chance to finish her round, he was so relaxed that it looked like he was asleep.

« Okay, Teddy Bear, » said Harry. « Do this right and we’ll have another blue ribbon for your collection. »

Snowman responded and moved calmly into the ring. There he looked over the crowd until Harry touched his heel to the horse’s flank. The big horse went into action smoothly, like a well oiled machine. He sailed over one, two, three, four obstacles, giving the impression that he was enjoying himself. Five, six, seven, eight. The bars had been raised twice. The obstacles looked the same but Snowman had to jump higher. Yet he seemed to find them no more difficult to jump than a farmer’s fence. He carried Harry over all twelve obstacles without touching a single bar, winning the blue ribbon.

The National Horse Show was a series of contests that lasted a week. Every day there was a new challenge for Harry and Snowman. The lovely mare, First Chance, and the big grey were fairly evenly matched. The championship cup would go to the horse with the best overall score. Harry scarcely slept all week. When he was not riding one of his two horses in the arena, he was cleaning stalls, cleaning his equipment, preparing the horses, feeding them, cooling them off or grooming them.

On the last day of the show, before the last competition, only two horses still had a chance to win the show championship : First Chance and Snowman. The mare had one more point than the big grey. Marie Lafrenz, the journalist who had first written about Snowman, was contacted by the Tonight Show. Johnny Carson, who was still new to the show then, wanted to interview Harry and Snowman live, in his studio. It was an outrageous idea, the kind of outrageous idea that would make Johnny and the show famous.

Harry did not have his van. Because of the exorbitant parking fees in downtown New York, true to his Dutch origins, he had sent it back home until the end of the competition. Hiring a van for the evening was possible, but very expensive. Harry decided that he and his horse could walk from Madison Square Gardens to the TV studio on Sixth Avenue. It meant going through the Broadway theater area with its noisy crowds, but Harry was sure that Snowman would take it all in stride, would act normally. The big grey always seemed ready to follow Harry anywhere.

Some pedestrians and theater-goers may have been startled, but Snowman took in the lights, the noises, the crowds and honking taxi cabs with his usual calm.

The studio itself would have terrified a normal horse. There were many bright lights, a noisy audience packed into a tiny space, technicians and cameramen with strange helmets and trailing cables everywhere, shouting orders and instructions into microphones.

The Tonight Show was broadcast live. Johnny Carson explained to his audience how Harry had bought a horse that was on its way to the glue factory for eighty dollars, the same horse that was that very night tied for the championship of the National Horse Show in Madison Square Gardens. Then Harry brought Snowman onto the tiny stage. The big grey gelding gave Johnny a friendly nuzzle and let the show host climb on his back, sitting backwards, as if he was one of Harry’s kids. The studio audience and the people at home, watching the show on their television sets, were captivated. By the time Harry led his gentle giant back through the streets of New York to Madison Square Gardens, Snowman had millions of new fans.

The next day, as Harry prepared Snowman for the last competition, Johanna insisted that the children put on their best clothes. Their father had promised to bring them along if their horse won the cup. Harry knew that Snowman was competing against the finest horses in America and that a single fault could give First Chance the trophy. But not a one of his kids had the least doubt about who would win the blue ribbon.

Harry drew one of the last places, so he had time to watch their competitors. It was a difficult course, designed to test the very best. He watched as, one after the other, his competitors failed to score a perfect round. Snowman, as calm and relaxed as his master, showed none of the nervous stress the other horses exhibited. When at last it was their turn, Harry picked up the reins and asked the big grey to move forward. Then they were cantering into the arena, the big grey’s ears pointing forward. Man and horse flew towards the first obstacle, a team, concentrated and focused. A few minutes later they were soaring over the last obstacle and Harry dropped the reins and raised his arms in triumph. Snowman had scored a perfect round, the only horse with zero faults. There would be no jump-off. The former plough horse, with scars from an ill-fitting harness that he would bear all his life, was the champion of the National Horse Show, the champion of Madison Square Gardens’ Diamond Jubilee.  

Tack : horse equipment, the harness, bridle, saddle, etc.

Ring stewards : People who are responsible for security in the arena

take it all in stride : treat something as normal, without any anxiety

to honk, honking : klaxoner, qui klaxonaient

helmets : casques

nuzzle : touch and feel with the nose

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.

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.

7 – The Fairfield Horse Show

Harry and Dave Kelly had met at many horse shows. The two men liked and respected each other. The stars of the horse show circuit were the rich amateurs who could compete in the Olympics. They often paid professionals to ride their horses in horse shows, but only amateurs could enter the Olympics. A horse is an expensive pet. To compete in the top shows, a rider needed more than one horse. To be an Olympic competitor, a rider had to be very rich, very wealthy, and an amateur.

Professional riders were not often wealthy. Harry and Dave Kelly were excellent riders, but the prizes were not big and their sport was expensive.  Unable to ride in the Olympics because they were not amateurs, they had few chances of becoming famous. They did become good friends, sharing their problems, their difficulties and their love of horses.

Harry decided to take Dave’s advice to take Snowman to the show in Fairfield, Connecticut. He could take three horses to the Fairfield show, Snowman, Wayward Wind and a horse that belonged to one of his students, horse, Night Arrest. Riding three horses, Harry would need help with the others while he was in the ring. He asked two friends, Joe “the Pollack” Keswyzk and Jim Troutwell, to help him. Jim and Joe would be his grooms.

On June 18th, Joe, Jim and Harry put the horses in the van and drove to Westport, Connecticut. Johanna and the children followed in the station wagon. It was a cool day and it looked like it was going to rain. When they arrived at the beautiful Fairfield County Hunt Club, they saw handsome horses, expensive cars and well-dressed people. Many of the competitors often had their names in the society columns of the newspapers. Snowman was not a handsome horse with an expensive pedigree. He had no papers. Harry didn’t have a Rolls-Royce. He drove an old station wagon and he didn’t have a tailor. But Harry believed in his horse. He believed in his chances. Harry believed Snowman was as good as the best. Harry believed Snowman could win.

On June 19th, Joe, Jim and Harry cared for the horses. They brushed and cleaned them. They fed them, they gave them fresh hay and grain, they watered them. Harry exercised them. They cleaned the saddles and bridles. Harry hung Wayward Wind’s blue ribbon from the Sands Point Horse show beside her box. Then beside Snowman’s box he hung all the blue and red ribbons and the tricolor ribbon that he had won as show champion. Many people came to look at the “Cinderella” horse, but they did not think he would win at Fairfield. They thought he had been lucky at Sands Point. He was a calm horse, too calm to be a great champion. He liked visits and one of the de Leyer children was often in the box with him. Chief and Harriet and Marty liked to brush Snowman and pet his shoulder and give him apples and carrots. Snowman liked the children and enjoyed being petted. He was always calm in his box and the other horses were calmer when he was near them.

The next day, June 20th, was the first day of the competition. In the first class, Snowman and Harry were competing against Andante and Dave Kelly. First Chance, a young mare with a lot of potential and many fans, was also competing against them. The rain had started and didn’t stop. On the first round Andante made a bar fall. First Chance and Snowman had clean rounds. They both scored zero faults. To decide who was the winner, the workers put the bars higher. The team of workers prepared the obstacles for every class. When a horse made a pole fall, the workers, the jump crew, put it back. The jump crew at Fairfield wore white uniforms, but it was raining and the arena was muddy. There was a lot of mud. The jump crew worked in the mud and they had mud on their white uniforms.

Harry sat on Snowman in the rain and watched First Chance fly over the obstacles. She was a gallant competitor. Again, First Chance scored zero faults. Harry watched her leave the arena. He wasn’t wearing a helmet and his hair was wet. “You can win this,” he said to Snowman. “You must win this. You will win this. You shall win this.”

He touched Snowman’s sides lightly with his heels. Snowman cantered into the arena, into the ring. He jumped over the first obstacle, high and wide. Harry kept the reins loose, letting Snowman reach out with his neck. The mud didn’t bother Snowman; it wasn’t a problem for him. Like First Chance, he flew over every obstacle and scored zero faults. The two horses had the same score. Again, they were tied.

The jump crew ran into the arena, into the ring. They raised the bars. Now the bars were higher. Now they were five feet six inches high. (They were one meter sixty-five centimeters high.) First Chance went first. She touched a bar. The pole fell. First Chance scored one fault. Then it was Snowman’s turn.

If he scored zero faults, he would win the class. If he touched a pole, he would again be tied with First Chance, and the two horses would be obliged to jump another round. If Snowman knocked down two poles, First Chance would win.

Harry looked at the obstacles. “You can do this,” he told Snowman. “You must win this class. You will win it. You shall win it.”

Snowman moved his ears. He was listening to Harry. Harry touched his sides and the big grey gelding cantered into the ring. Harry looked at the first obstacle and let the reins go. Snowman jumped high. Horse and rider flew over the obstacle. As they landed, Harry was already looking at the next jump. He guided Snowman around the course and Snowman flew over every obstacle. Snowman liked to jump. He enjoyed jumping. Jumping was fun. The big grey horse scored zero faults. He won the blue ribbon.

“You won!” cried Harry. The children were clapping their hands. “You won again, Snowman!” they shouted.

He wasn’t the only horse from Hollandia to win a ribbon that day. Harry rode Night Arrest and Wayward Wind in the next class. He rode both horses in the same competition. It was still raining. It was raining more and more. It was raining harder and harder. Harry was wet. His hair was wet, but he didn’t care. He concentrated on his horses and on the obstacles. Night Arrest won first place, the blue ribbon. Wayward Wind won second place, the red ribbon. Horses from Hollandia won first and second place. The farm was gaining a reputation.

The next day was Saturday. It was still raining. There were not many spectators. People who wanted to see the horses compete carried umbrellas. They wore boots for walking in the mud. Many of the horses and their riders were nervous. They were worried about the mud. There was a lot of mud. A horse could slip and fall in the mud. If the horse fell, the rider and the horse could be hurt. They could both be hurt.

Harry was not worried about the mud. He had ridden Snowman on many outdoor rides with his students. Snowman never fell. His feet were sure. He was sure-footed. Harry talked to the big grey. “Don’t worry about the mud,” he told Snowman. “You can do it. You must do it. You will do it. You shall do it,” he said.

And Snowman did it. He jumped every obstacle and each jump was clean. First Chance, the pretty young mare, also had a clean round. Once again the two horses were tied. The jump crew raised the bars. Now the obstacles were higher.

This time Snowman was a little too confident, a little careless. Or maybe it was Harry who was too confident. The big grey touched a pole.  The pole fell. Snowman had knocked down a pole. First Chance won the blue ribbon. Snowman won the red ribbon.

In the next class Andante, ridden by Dave Kelly, won the blue ribbon. Harry was happy for his friend. Snowman won the red ribbon. Harry had entered Snowman in seven classes. Snowman won seven ribbons. The de Leyer family was very happy. The children were proud of their champion and they were very proud of their father.

Sunday was the last day of the show. The rain had stopped and the sun was shining. Today there were a lot of people watching the show. There were families and children. They were talking and laughing together. Snowman’s ears moved and pointed and turned. He seemed happy. He seemed to like crowds. He looked at the children and winked at them.

Snowman and First Chance were both competing in the last class. The horse that won the last class would be the champion of the show. First Chance was younger than Snowman and she was prettier. She was also lighter than the big grey gelding. It was easier for her to jump. Her rider, Adolph Mogavero, was an experienced professional. It would not be easy to defeat First Chance. It would be difficult to beat her. She was tough competition. But Snowman was also competing against his pasture friends, his stablemates, Night Arrest and Wayward Wind. Harry de Leyer was riding all three Hollandia horses in the same contest. Joe and Jim prepared the horses and held them. Harry rode Wayward Wind first. She had a clean round. Then he rode Night Arrest, who also had a clean round.

Then he rode Snowman into the arena and his riding style changed. Night Arrest and Wayward Wind were nervous and difficult horses. He had to control them carefully and contain their energy. He rode Snowman with loose reins. Riding Snowman was all about communication. The horse had an enormous heart. He would do anything Harry asked him to do, as long as he understood. As the two of them cantered around the course, Harry spoke quietly to his big grey horse in Dutch and Snowman’s ears moved, listening to his rider.

Canter. Count. One. Two. Three. Jump. Lift your knees. Up, up, over. Land and look at the next jump. Around the course they went and Snowman flew over the obstacles, one after another. Then they were over the last obstacle and Snowman had scored a perfect round with zero faults. They had won the class. They had won the show championship. Snowman had another blue ribbon and another tricolor ribbon. They had also won $200. Not a lot of money if you are rich and wealthy, but to Harry and Joanna it was a lot. They felt rich.

But the show was not yet finished. There was one more class, a special class that was reserved to grooms and lads. Joe and Jim came to talk to Harry.

“Hey, Harry,” said Joe the Pollack. “I heard you say that Snowman is easy to ride.”

“Sure he is,” said Harry. “All year I use him at the school. He ‘s a lesson horse. I put beginners on him.”

“Well, Jim and I were thinking. There’s a good prize for the grooms’ class. We have a friend who’s a good rider. Do you think he could ride Snowman? If he wins, we could split the prize money three ways. One part for Jim, one part for me and one part for our friend. What do you think? Could we use Snowman?”

Harry laughed. “Of course you can. The two of you have been a big help to me. Tell your friend to give Snowman his head when he jumps. The horse knows his job.”

So Snowman’s big day was not finished. Joe and Jim took off Harry’s saddle and brushed the big grey until he shone. Their friend, Sam, came and introduced himself to his four-legged partner. Sam was small and dark and very young. He gave Snowman a carrot and Joe helped him climb up on the big gelding’s back.

Most of the crowd had stayed for the “grooms’ bonus thriller”. It was an exciting competition because the grooms rode without saddles, so there were a lot of falls. The families in the stands had just seen Snowman collect a silver plate and a tricolor ribbon as Show Champion, so they were surprised to see him return with a little groom riding him bareback. Most of the other stars, like Andante and First Class, were already in their trailers on their way home. The crowd cheered and applauded the champion who had stayed for the grooms’ competition. Snowman seemed to enjoy their approval as his little ears moved from side to side.

There were always falls and laughter in the “grooms’ bonus thriller” but Snowman carried his little groom around the course without touching a bar and won the blue ribbon, the first prize. Sam, Joe and Jim shared the prize money and gave Snowman a big bag of carrots.

Back home, Harry thought about how much Snowman seemed to enjoy jumping. He decided to put an obstacle up in the middle of Snowman’s pasture. And later he saw the big grey jump over the obstacle for fun, just for fun. After that, there was always an obstacle in Snowman’s pasture.

Wealthy – rich

Groom – a person who takes care of a horse. Sometimes grooms can become jockeys. A horse can be very attached to its groom.

Station wagon – “un break”

To pet – caresser un animal

Both – tous les deux

Jump crew – team that is responsible for setting up the jumps and putting poles back in place when they fall.

Muddy – boueux

Mud – la boue

Ring – an enclosed space used for a jumping competition. It can also mean the space used for a boxing match.

6 – Snowman’s First Show – July 1958

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