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 Henricus “Harry” DeLeyer Sr.

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Henricus “Harry” DeLeyer Sr.

Birth
Sint-Oedenrode Municipality, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands
Death
25 Jun 2021 (aged 92–93)
Richmond City, Virginia, USA
Burial
Burial Details Unknown
Memorial ID
223947689 View Source

Harry DeLeyer grew up on a farm in Saint Oedenrode, Netherlands (Holland). His family also ran a brewery, and delivered the beer by horse and cart. Harry began riding at age 2 and by the age of 8, he was an accomplished rider who was competing in local shows.

When the Nazis invaded Holland on May 10, 1940, they drove off everyone's horses, leaving them to die. Harry found them and saved them. During the war, the DeLeyer family became members of the underground Dutch Resistance, hiding Jews on their farm, then helping get them out of Holland to safety.

In 1950, Harry, now a married man, moved to the United States with his wife Johanna sponsored by the Schiltz family, Americans who were indebted to Harry's sister, who tended their son's grave there in Holland.

Harry had a job on a tobacco farm outside of High Point (Guilford County), North Carolina waiting for him. Although he was happy to be working on a farm, he missed riding, so when everyone else was relaxing after a hard day's work, he would ride one of the work horses. He entered a competition that offered $10 to the top rider and won first prize. A well-known trainer named Mickey Walsh saw Harry win and approached him, saying he should be working with horses, not as a farm laborer. Harry kept in touch with Mr. Walsh and when the tobacco crops failed, Walsh just happened to know of a horse farm that needed a manager.

Upon the recommendation of Mr. Walsh, Harry worked briefly (1 year in 1951) at Stirrup Hill Horse Farm in Bakerstown, Pennsylvania for the Sterlings. Then, Mr. Walsh contacted him about an opportunity to work for David Hugh Dillard at his Homewood Farms in Amherst, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley. Harry would bring the horses to nearby Sweet Briar College to be ridden by their students at their equestrian school. There Harry met the renown Captain Vladimir S. Littauer, an equestrian clinician. He encouraged Harry to attend one of his clinics to earn a riding instructor's certificate. With Capt. Littauer's influence and recommendation, Harry was hired as a riding instructor in 1954 at the exclusive Knox School (a private boarding school for girls from wealthy families) at St. James on Long Island, New York.

In the winter of 1956, Harry was on his way to a horse auction in New Holland, Pennsylvania to see if he could find a gentle school horse. Unfortunately, a flat tire caused him to be delayed. He arrived just in time to see the horses who had not been sold as they were being loaded on a truck headed for slaughter for the dog food industry. Harry asked if he could have a look at the remaining horses. A skinny gray flea-bitten plow horse caught his eye. Harry could see the gentleness and peace and trust in the big horse's eyes. He paid $80 for the horse.

Harry let his 4 year old daughter, Harriet, name the horse. When the big gray arrived at their home and was led off the truck, snow was falling and the horse was soon covered in white, fluffy powder. Little Harriet thought he looked like a Snowman, and the name stuck. Although he was a big, gentle horse at 16.0 hands high, Snowman unfortunately didn't seem to have any talent for jumping at first. Because of his size, he didn't show any effort when it came to small jumps that were 3 ft. and under.

Each summer when the school closed, money was tight for Harry and his family because he didn't get a paycheck. When Dr. Rugen ( who had a farm six miles away came looking for a quiet trail horse) Harry reluctantly sold Snowman to him for $160. Snowman returned to Harry's farm numerous times, having jumped out of the doctor's paddock, no matter how tall the fences were raised. The last time it happened, Snowman had his halter tied with a lead rope to an old tire, in an effort to keep him in the paddock, but it wasn't long before he showed up at Harry's farm, dragging the tire behind him. The doctor reported that Snowman had jumped fences over five feet to get out of the paddock. Harry was touched by Snowman's faithfulness. He'd missed the big gray and it wasn't hard for him to decide to take Snowman back — not that the horse had left him any option.

Harry tried Snowman again as a jumper, with jumps up to 3 ft., but found the horse was still awkward — that is, until on a whim, he aimed him at a 4 foot fence. Snowman soared over it with ease. Harry kept raising the jump and found to his amazement that Snowman could jump as high as 6'6", higher than most professional showjumper horses needed to clear in Grand Prix competitions.

In 1958, Snowman was champion at the National Horse show held at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. Instantly famous in the world of showjumping, Snowman and Harry were featured in a 1959 issue of Life magazine.

Snowman also made appearances on several TV shows, including the late night talk show The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, with the host climbing a ladder to sit on Snowman's back.

Harry officially retired Snowman from competition in 1969. Several books were released detailing Snowman's life, including a children's book titled The Story of Snowman: The Cinderella Horse, written and illustrated by Tony Palazzo and a biography, simply titled Snowman, by Rutherford Montgomery. The beloved horse lived with Harry for the rest of his life until he died of kidney failure in 1974.

Snowman was inducted into Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 1992 and released as a Breyer horse in 2005. Although the model was eventually discontinued, it was reintroduced in 2013.

The story of Harry and Snowman was also told more recently in the 2011 book The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation by Elizabeth Letts.

Harry and Johanna were of the Catholic faith and had eight children: Joseph (a/k/a Chef), Harriet, Marty, Billy, Harry Jr., Haike, Andre, John, and Anne-Marie. Harry taught all of his children to ride. Johanna and all of the children went with him to every horse show and worked alongside Harry to prepare him and Snowman for each competition. Each of his children remained around horses their entire lives as either riding instructors, trainers, barn owners, etc...

Johanna was a true partner in the marriage as she handled the farm's books and ledgers and was the family bookkeeper. When their daughter, Anne-Marie was around 12 or 13, she sustained serious injuries from a fall from one of their horses. She was in the hospital for quite awhile and three times Last Rites were given to her. Eventually, she returned home and fully recovered. This accident drove a wedge between Johanna and Harry. After the accident, she insisted that Harry sell all of the horses, but he refused. She filed for divorce and received their home, Hollandia Farms on Long Island, New York in the divorce settlement. Harry eventually remarried and settled down, and bought a spread he named Nederland Farms in Virginia.

At age 77, he was still riding the horse show circuit and was nicknamed "The Galloping Grandfather". During this time, he sustained serious injuries while loading bales of hay into his hay loft. He lost his balance, fell 16 ft. and broke his back in several places. He did recover and in 2008, he was back in the saddle again competing. He stated in The Eighty-Dollar Champion that at one time or another, he had broken every one of his fingers.

The story of Snowman still inspires, in a day when most Grand Prix champion jumpers cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions. In 2015, the documentary Harry and Snowman was filmed by Docutainment Films. Harry is interviewed in the film and is 86.

In later years, due to failing health, Harry became a resident of the Virginia Center for Assisted Living in Richmond and died there.

Biography: Parts were adapted from an article by Alexandra Heilbron and additional information was added by myself.

Harry DeLeyer grew up on a farm in Saint Oedenrode, Netherlands (Holland). His family also ran a brewery, and delivered the beer by horse and cart. Harry began riding at age 2 and by the age of 8, he was an accomplished rider who was competing in local shows.

When the Nazis invaded Holland on May 10, 1940, they drove off everyone's horses, leaving them to die. Harry found them and saved them. During the war, the DeLeyer family became members of the underground Dutch Resistance, hiding Jews on their farm, then helping get them out of Holland to safety.

In 1950, Harry, now a married man, moved to the United States with his wife Johanna sponsored by the Schiltz family, Americans who were indebted to Harry's sister, who tended their son's grave there in Holland.

Harry had a job on a tobacco farm outside of High Point (Guilford County), North Carolina waiting for him. Although he was happy to be working on a farm, he missed riding, so when everyone else was relaxing after a hard day's work, he would ride one of the work horses. He entered a competition that offered $10 to the top rider and won first prize. A well-known trainer named Mickey Walsh saw Harry win and approached him, saying he should be working with horses, not as a farm laborer. Harry kept in touch with Mr. Walsh and when the tobacco crops failed, Walsh just happened to know of a horse farm that needed a manager.

Upon the recommendation of Mr. Walsh, Harry worked briefly (1 year in 1951) at Stirrup Hill Horse Farm in Bakerstown, Pennsylvania for the Sterlings. Then, Mr. Walsh contacted him about an opportunity to work for David Hugh Dillard at his Homewood Farms in Amherst, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley. Harry would bring the horses to nearby Sweet Briar College to be ridden by their students at their equestrian school. There Harry met the renown Captain Vladimir S. Littauer, an equestrian clinician. He encouraged Harry to attend one of his clinics to earn a riding instructor's certificate. With Capt. Littauer's influence and recommendation, Harry was hired as a riding instructor in 1954 at the exclusive Knox School (a private boarding school for girls from wealthy families) at St. James on Long Island, New York.

In the winter of 1956, Harry was on his way to a horse auction in New Holland, Pennsylvania to see if he could find a gentle school horse. Unfortunately, a flat tire caused him to be delayed. He arrived just in time to see the horses who had not been sold as they were being loaded on a truck headed for slaughter for the dog food industry. Harry asked if he could have a look at the remaining horses. A skinny gray flea-bitten plow horse caught his eye. Harry could see the gentleness and peace and trust in the big horse's eyes. He paid $80 for the horse.

Harry let his 4 year old daughter, Harriet, name the horse. When the big gray arrived at their home and was led off the truck, snow was falling and the horse was soon covered in white, fluffy powder. Little Harriet thought he looked like a Snowman, and the name stuck. Although he was a big, gentle horse at 16.0 hands high, Snowman unfortunately didn't seem to have any talent for jumping at first. Because of his size, he didn't show any effort when it came to small jumps that were 3 ft. and under.

Each summer when the school closed, money was tight for Harry and his family because he didn't get a paycheck. When Dr. Rugen ( who had a farm six miles away came looking for a quiet trail horse) Harry reluctantly sold Snowman to him for $160. Snowman returned to Harry's farm numerous times, having jumped out of the doctor's paddock, no matter how tall the fences were raised. The last time it happened, Snowman had his halter tied with a lead rope to an old tire, in an effort to keep him in the paddock, but it wasn't long before he showed up at Harry's farm, dragging the tire behind him. The doctor reported that Snowman had jumped fences over five feet to get out of the paddock. Harry was touched by Snowman's faithfulness. He'd missed the big gray and it wasn't hard for him to decide to take Snowman back — not that the horse had left him any option.

Harry tried Snowman again as a jumper, with jumps up to 3 ft., but found the horse was still awkward — that is, until on a whim, he aimed him at a 4 foot fence. Snowman soared over it with ease. Harry kept raising the jump and found to his amazement that Snowman could jump as high as 6'6", higher than most professional showjumper horses needed to clear in Grand Prix competitions.

In 1958, Snowman was champion at the National Horse show held at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan. Instantly famous in the world of showjumping, Snowman and Harry were featured in a 1959 issue of Life magazine.

Snowman also made appearances on several TV shows, including the late night talk show The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, with the host climbing a ladder to sit on Snowman's back.

Harry officially retired Snowman from competition in 1969. Several books were released detailing Snowman's life, including a children's book titled The Story of Snowman: The Cinderella Horse, written and illustrated by Tony Palazzo and a biography, simply titled Snowman, by Rutherford Montgomery. The beloved horse lived with Harry for the rest of his life until he died of kidney failure in 1974.

Snowman was inducted into Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 1992 and released as a Breyer horse in 2005. Although the model was eventually discontinued, it was reintroduced in 2013.

The story of Harry and Snowman was also told more recently in the 2011 book The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation by Elizabeth Letts.

Harry and Johanna were of the Catholic faith and had eight children: Joseph (a/k/a Chef), Harriet, Marty, Billy, Harry Jr., Haike, Andre, John, and Anne-Marie. Harry taught all of his children to ride. Johanna and all of the children went with him to every horse show and worked alongside Harry to prepare him and Snowman for each competition. Each of his children remained around horses their entire lives as either riding instructors, trainers, barn owners, etc...

Johanna was a true partner in the marriage as she handled the farm's books and ledgers and was the family bookkeeper. When their daughter, Anne-Marie was around 12 or 13, she sustained serious injuries from a fall from one of their horses. She was in the hospital for quite awhile and three times Last Rites were given to her. Eventually, she returned home and fully recovered. This accident drove a wedge between Johanna and Harry. After the accident, she insisted that Harry sell all of the horses, but he refused. She filed for divorce and received their home, Hollandia Farms on Long Island, New York in the divorce settlement. Harry eventually remarried and settled down, and bought a spread he named Nederland Farms in Virginia.

At age 77, he was still riding the horse show circuit and was nicknamed "The Galloping Grandfather". During this time, he sustained serious injuries while loading bales of hay into his hay loft. He lost his balance, fell 16 ft. and broke his back in several places. He did recover and in 2008, he was back in the saddle again competing. He stated in The Eighty-Dollar Champion that at one time or another, he had broken every one of his fingers.

The story of Snowman still inspires, in a day when most Grand Prix champion jumpers cost hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions. In 2015, the documentary Harry and Snowman was filmed by Docutainment Films. Harry is interviewed in the film and is 86.

In later years, due to failing health, Harry became a resident of the Virginia Center for Assisted Living in Richmond and died there.

Biography: Parts were adapted from an article by Alexandra Heilbron and additional information was added by myself.


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