Artist’s Lane: Snowman for all seasons

By Betty Slade
PREVIEW Columnist

My Sweet Al and I have spent our winter evenings watching movies and documentaries. One in particular is a documentary about Harry de Leyer and his horse, Snowman. It was not only entertaining, but thought provoking on many levels. 

As a young man, Harry, alongside his family, worked with an underground resistance movement during the Nazis’ invasion of Holland in 1940. Their mission? To help hide Jewish people and keep them out of the clutches of Hitler’s regime.

During that time, Harry decided to help the Allied Forces. This included burying U.S. soldiers who died in war, right there on his family’s farm. After the burial, Harry and his family would send the personal effects of each soldier back to their families. 

Out of gratitude, the family of one of the soldiers who died and was buried in their field sponsored Harry de Leyer, a Dutch immigrant from St. Oedenrode, Holland, to come to America. Along with him, he brought his family of eight children.

Prior to the war, Harry was best known as the lead rider for Holland’s Junior Equestrian Team. After relocating to Long Island, N.Y., nothing could have been more perfect than for him to land a job as a riding instructor at a private institute called the Knox School.

In 1956, on his way to purchase a horse at auction, de Leyer had a flat tire. Because of his tardiness, Harry missed out on the bidding for the best horses of the day. Meanwhile, men scrambled as they herded unsold horses onto a trailer soon to leave for the slaughterhouse.

As Harry turned to leave, he caught the glimmer in the eye of a nearby white horse. It was a mixed breed, possibly a cross of a grade horse with a U.S. Army remount. There was something about that horse that held great appeal. For the price of $80, Harry took the horse home and his children had a new pet. They named him Snowman.

As time went by, it was decided that Snowman would be sold to a neighbor for $160. Unfortunately, he kept jumping the fence, trotting 6 miles back to the de Leyer home. Time and time again, no obstacle was a match for Snowman, who continued to make his way back to the farm and family he loved. 

Out of frustration, the neighbor gave the horse back to the de Leyer family. You would think that was the end of the story. Not so for the horse whose fate had been changed. For Snowman was a natural when it came to jumping. And that was the beginning of this equestrian tale. Soon Snowman, a decorated champion, set a jumping record at 7 feet, 2 inches. In 1992, he was inducted in the United States Show Jumping Hall of Fame. 

As I contemplated the documentary I had watched, I found myself asking the question did de Leyer save the horse or did the horse same him? 

After the war, the family found themselves in a new country, building a new home and life from scratch. As for Snowman, we don’t know where his beginnings laid. Only that there were talents discovered that may have laid waste to a glue factory had not something, or someone, intervened. 

How many times have we seen this happen in our own lives? When only the hand of God could have navigated. 

I am reminded when the Zechariah came on the scene and prophesied to the children of Israel. He shook things up and said how things were to be, contradicting how things were at the time. He spoke of the day when the kingdom of God would come to earth and all things would change. 

When Jesus came to this earth, he brought God’s presence to a fallen world. As a common man, Jesus told the woman at the well, you will no longer worship where you used to worship, but now you will worship in your heart in spirit and truth. You will become the temple of God and his holy words will be written on your heart.

Final brushstroke: Could a flat tire or a plow horse be considered a holy moment that encouraged change? Was there a divine hand that touched the de Leyer’s story, where the goodwill of the common became a turning point that brought new life? Sometimes God’s hand moves in a way that defies understanding. And only after we live can we truly know the blessings had. 

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This story was posted on February 22, 2021.