By: James E. Groth
Woven within the triumph of turning a slaughter bound horse into an international show jumping champion is the personal story of Harry deLeyer. This full-length documentary initially traces how a Dutch immigrant working as a riding instructor at the Knox School in Long Island, New York recognizes the spirit left in an Amish plow horse on a truck heading to the glue factory. Harry trusts his instincts and purchases the horse for $80.
We witness in archival footage, photographs and interviews how in less than a two-year period Harry is able to train the horse he names Snowman into the1958 horse show jumping Triple Crown winner. Their Triple Crown success is amazing as this plough horse and rider capture not only the hearts of America and the world. Harry deLeyer becomes one of the most successful riders and trainers as he represents the US at the 1983 World Championships and receives a lifetime Pegasus Medal of Honor in the process.
Most stories leave us here with a feel good ending but real life is not that simple. Director Ron Davis chooses to take us deep into the personal life of Harry and the struggles that result from this lifetime bond of man and horse. This story is much deeper as we learn of the serious injury his daughter incurred while riding and how his wife blames Harry for the injury.
Harry is a dominant man, competitive in every way on the circuit and with his own children. Harry’s dominance alienates his seventeen-year-old son to leave home and his wife to divorce him over the injury to their daughter. Harry also loses his beloved barn to a fire and starts over with a new wife and life, but always with Snowman seemingly the priority.
Harry is now 85 and known as the “Galloping Grandfather”. Director Ron Davis interviews him throughout this wonderful piece of filmmaking edited by Nancy Kennedy. Director Davis says he is inspired by underdog success stories. He and his production team have brought us “Pageant” (2010) and “Miss You Can Do It” (2013)
Director Davis didn’t mention where his inspiration for underdog stories came from. I suspect he has read some of Horatio Alger Jr. stories from the 19th century about poor young boys from humble beginnings that with determination, hard work and dedication rose to middle class and success. I see Director Ron Davis as the 21st century’s Horatio Alger Jr. an uplifting storyteller and filmmaker for our troubled times. “Harry and The Snowman” screened at the 2015 Dances With Films Festival on June 2nd to great admiration.
Next up and close to my heart from Director Davis is: ‘Rescue Me –Life in the Dog House. Please check out their social campaign for dog rescue at Docutainment Films.
Harry and The Snowman
Director: Ron Davis