Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Book Review: The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse That Inspired a Nation by Elizabeth Letts

I know it's an American cliche, but I do love books about underdogs that triumph. I adored Seabiscuit and even though I'm not a big animal person, I do sometimes like animal books. I read all the great horse books as a child (Black Beauty, Misty of Chincoteague, Black Stallion) and liked to ride at summer camp. There's something relaxing and homey about a horse book, as it brings most women back to a time in our childhoods when life seemed simple and made sense.

Like the girls at the Knox School out on Long Island where Henry de Leyer worked as the stable master back in the 1950s. They too probably looked back on those years learning to ride and jump with fondness, particularly the girls who had ridden Snowman, a gentle lumbering former plow horse who wouldn't hurt a fly and who all the beginners started out on. Henry had saved him from the knacker's truck for only $80 and just hoped he'd be a good riding horse for students. He was surprised as anyone when Snowman turned out to be a gifted natural jumper. And the poor immigrant couldn't not let Snowman perform, even when he struggled to pay the entrance fees to contests or needed to ask someone else to ride Snowy when he couldn't escape from school duties. Within a couple of years, Snowman was competing against the best of the best at Madison Square Garden in New York City in front of an audience of tens of thousands including the richest of the rich.

Snowman's abilities were renowned and spectacular, but what truly won everyone over was his personality. His rags-to-riches story made for great copy and was perfectly suited to an American audience, but it was his steadiness, calmness, and his constant giving it his all for Henry, that made him beloved.

This book was a lovely break from stories inevitably involving some tragedy or at least  bad guys to overcome. Snowman only had to overcome people who didn't believe in him and the easiest way to do that was just to do what he did. To jump. It doesn't matter how many people say you can't do something if you then go prove them wrong. Words mean nothing up against actions. This story was uplifting, sweet, and made me wish for more.

I bought this book at Barnes & Noble.

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