The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation

Elizabeth Letts. Ballantine, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-0-345-52108-8
Letts (Quality of Care) raises expectations in her newest book by claiming national inspiration in the subtitle. Snowman was a plow horse bought off the slaughter truck for $80 by Danish immigrant Harry de Leyer. Snowman's appearance masked superior jumping talents, and de Leyer took him to the top of the "expensive.... equestrian world [that] was one of the last bastions of the upper-class elite." The events occurred in the late 1950s and early 1960s; however, Letts doesn't quite establish the context, and it's not clear how a horse provided inspiration for workers "starved for dreams" amid "terrifying fears of nuclear age tensions." Diversions such as the decline of the American horse population offer little insight, and nonequestrians will occasionally be puzzled by the lingo, particularly with respect to equine anatomy. Still, Letts is a solid prose stylist; her vivid descriptions of staid Long Island with its "gentle meadows ringed by dogwood trees" provide virtual tours, but it is de Leyer's realization of the American dream that is the real story. Photos. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 05/09/2011
Release date: 08/01/2011
Genre: Nonfiction
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