16 November 2006

Something Great

Consider this summary of the story of a horse named Snowman by Joseph B. Wirthlin:

Harry de Leyer was late to the auction on that snowy day in 1956, and all of the good horses had already been sold. The few that remained were old and spent and had been bought by a company that would salvage them.

Harry, the riding master at a girls' school in New York, was about to leave when one of these horses—an uncared-for, gray gelding with ugly-looking wounds on its legs—caught his eye. The animal still bore the marks that had been made by a heavy work harness, evidence to the hard life he had led. But something about him captured Harry's attention, so he offered $80 for him.

It was snowing when Harry's children saw the horse for the first time, and because of the coat of snow on the horse's back, the children named him "Snowman."

Harry took good care of the horse, which turned out to be a gentle and reliable friend—a horse the girls liked to ride because he was steady and didn't startle like some of the others. In fact, Snowman made such rapid improvement that a neighbor purchased him for twice what Harry had originally paid.

But Snowman kept disappearing from the neighbor's pasture—sometimes ending up in adjoining potato fields, other times back at Harry's. It appeared that the horse must have jumped over the fences between the properties, but that seemed impossible—Harry had never seen Snowman jump over anything much higher than a fallen log.

But eventually, the neighbor's patience came to an end, and he insisted Harry take back the horse.

For years, Harry's great dream had been to produce a champion jumping horse. He'd had moderate success in the past, but in order to compete at the highest levels, he knew he would have to buy a pedigreed horse that had been specifically bred to jump. And that kind of pedigree would cost far more than he could afford.

Snowman was already getting old—he was eight when Harry had purchased him—and he had been badly treated. But, apparently, Snowman wanted to jump, so Harry decided to see what the horse could do.

What Harry saw made him think that maybe his horse had a chance to compete.

In 1958, Harry entered Snowman in his first competition. Snowman stood among the beautifully bred, champion horses, looking very much out of place. Other horse breeders called Snowman a "flea-bitten gray."

But a wonderful, unbelievable thing happened that day.

Snowman won!

Harry continued to enter Snowman in other competitions, and Snowman continued to win.

Audiences cheered every time Snowman won an event. He became a symbol of how extraordinary an ordinary horse could be. He appeared on television. Stories and books were written about him.

As Snowman continued to win, one buyer offered $100,000 for the old plow horse, but Harry would not sell. In 1958 and 1959, Snowman was named "Horse of the Year." Eventually, the gray gelding—who had once been marked for sale to a low bidder—was inducted into the show jumping Hall of Fame.

For many, Snowman was much more than a horse. He became an example of the hidden, untapped potential that lies within each of us.

For me this story is both inspiring and challenging. Inspiring, because it makes me think I can do something really great. Challenging, because I don't know what that is exactly. Of course, everyone has their different ideas about what constitutes "something great", but more and more I'm starting get an idea. I've always loved this quote by Jenkins Lloyd Jones:

“Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed.

“[The fact is] most putts don’t drop. Most beef is tough. Most children grow up to be just people. Most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration. Most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. …

“Life is like an old-time rail journey—delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed.

“The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride"

And then M. Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled:

Life is difficult.

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.

Most do not fully see this truth that life is difficult. Instead they moan more or less incessantly, noisily or subtly, about the enormity of their problems, their burdens, and their difficulties as if life were generally easy, as if life should be easy. They voice their belief, noisily or subtly, that their difficulties represent a unique kind of affliction that should not be and that has somehow been especially visited upon them, or else upon their families, their tribe, their class, their nation, their race or even their species, and not upon others. I know about this moaning because I have done my share.

Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them?

I suppose I'll finish this way: I've been feeling very thankful these last few days. Thankful for my job and the people I've been able to work with over the years. Thankful for the enormous challenges we get to tackle and the support I've been given from so many people, not the least of which has been my family. So many times, things could have really turned out bad, and they didn't. And then some times they did, and we worked through that too. So, maybe that is something great, sustained effort toward worthy goals. Either way, I sure am learning a lot.


Anonymous said...

Nice positive post but the accompanying picture is truly shocking. Anyone who truly cares about animals would notice the lack of consideration these two guys are showing the two horses involved. Horses are not objects, they are sentient beings. They don't choose to jump over each other or to expose themselves and others to injury. Just imagine the scene if that stunt had failed. Oh by the way animal lovers are calling to boycott the movie Flicka for similar reasons (see http://www.animalperson.net/animal_person/2006/11/dont_see_flick.html)

Anonymous said...

Love the story about the horse. I like the perspective. May you have a day.


Anonymous said...

Thanks David.
That's a very helpful story and thought.

Julie said...

Thanks for posting this story. It is one of my fav's and I have been looking for the vintage "snowman" book to add to my collection. It truly is a great reminder that everyone has hidden potential.

baodad said...

Thank you for your words. I also needed to remember that Jenkins Lloyd Jones quote. I also love "The Road Less Travelled." And I appreciate your testimony at the end. God is indeed watching over us, and at times I falter and murmur and wonder why we have to hurt so much. But if I hang in there and keep trying to do what I can, I again come to recognize how good He is.

Anonymous said...

I came across your site because of a bizarre connection in southwest China when I saw a stranger wearing a Ward Melville High School tee shirt. I hadn't heard that name in more than 45 years.

Maybe you know that Ward Melville, a friend of my grandfather, had a lot to do with the North Shore Horse Show where Snowman won Jumper Champion. I saw him do it. Harry let go of the reins in midair and threw up his hands to show who was really in charge. That was the year he went on to win at Madison Square Garden.

That horse was so gentle. Other jumpers would pull their ears back in irritation and nip at you if approached in their stalls, but Snowman's ears would go forward. He was always interested.

If only we were all just plain interested... curious... wondering WHY is this here person behaving this way.

Most would be glad to tell us instead of taking it out on us.

Just some reminiscences and thoughts from an old lady!


Anonymous said...

I agree that horses are not objects but when has anyone ever heard a horse complain about doing what they love? If a horse choses to jump and then is given the oportunity to do what he is good at then what is the problem really? I think we as a society have come a long way in the area of animal care. Unfortunately we live in an imperfect world and that means trouble for some unfortunates but I believe that quality of life (which is what most animal lovers are so concerned with) would include giving opportunity to do what the animal shows a passion for. I have dealt with animals for much of my life and can say from eperience that if an animal cannot then the animal will not. What that means is that if the telent, drive, desire or ability do not exist then the animal will not willingly perform. Seems to me that Snowman was trying to send a message by jumping those fences. And I for one am happy to have been enriched by such an adoring story.

Anonymous said...

The story written here is not only amazing but also true. I am acquainted with a woman who not only knew the great Snowman, but also rode him. She was a student of Harry de Leyers at the time. I had mentioned Snowmans name one day because I'd seen a Briar horse model was made of him. With that this woman proceeded to tell me the exact story you have just read to the T. Only to follow it up with her own personal picture of Snowman jumping over Lady Grey. That very night I came home and looked up every thing I could find. The story matched perfectly. She told me how much Snowman loved to jump and how Lady Grey always stood still for him to jump over her. They performed this time and time again with out any incidents. If Lady Grey moved even an inch Swowman would tuck a leg even more or twist to be sure he never touched a hair on her. He was truely a great horse that loved his job and was thankful for the 2nd chance at life.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in ranch country, and we preferred our horses calm and easy to work with. The breeds of choice were a local mix of light horse with a bit of draft blood known as a pudding foot, old style mellow, non-TB Quarter Horses, and Standardbreds with an occasional old time Morgan tossed in.

Snowman would have fit right in in looks with the pudding foots.

This trend among those who actually expect horses to do something remains, and can be seen today in the various Foundation Quarter Horse groups that limit participation to animals with no more than 1/8 TB - because the modern "show" QH is an hysterical ninny.

For the same reason old style cowboys only rode geldings. People used to marvel at a little mare I had who didn't show the usual intermittent behavior of mares. The secret - old style pennies in the watering bucket kept her romantic notions to a minimum.

Go Snowman! An interested horse can be amazing to work with. People who scream that what was done with Snoman and Lady Grey tend to have their experience with equines limited to ring riding and reading the old temperance tract, Black Beauty.

Anonymous said...

Oh - and if you want to see really unnatural equine behavior, I used to carry baby pigs around on my little mare, and she never turned a hair after I taught her about them. Anyone who has ever been around a horse understands the sheer terror hogs cause in horses.

a former student said...

I enjoyed the emails re Snowman. I went to the school on Long Island and have photographs of me riding Snowman back in 1959 and 1960. I also used to ride Lady Grey and Mr.de Leyer used to take a few of the girls to horse shows on a Sunday. I used to ride Lady Grey and have a few pieces of silver from winning with her. She was a lovely older mare and a great teacher. I had a very bad accident there in 1959 and was told I was never going to be able to ride again. I was sent home to recuperate for a few months but when I returned to school I could not stay away from the stables. Finally my mother came to see Mr.de Leyer and he and I convinced my mother that I could ride Snowman sidesaddle and he would be quiet. My mother had always ridden side saddle and she said if I was ever going to ride again this was the way it was going to be. Harry agreed and I learned to ride that way on Snowman. I have pictures of me on Snowman and my roommate on Lady Grey. This book and UTube have brought up a great deal of memories. Thank you for your blog.