The Eighty-Dollar Champion is an edge-of-seat story


This week's read


The Bookworm

They said you were worthless. You’d never amount to anything.

No good. Not worth the time. And just like that, you were written off, completely and irrevocably dismissed.

Discouraging? Yes, but scenes like this tend to fan the spark of defiance inside each of us, compelling us to boldly prove the naysayers wrong, thus ultimately creating fist-shakingly strong human beings.

And, as you’ll see in the new book The Eighty-Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts, such discouraging words also work for horses, too.

By the time he left Holland, bound for America, Harry de Leyer had seen plenty.

As the eldest of his parents’ dozen children, he’d braved the Nazis and risked his life for family and neighbors. He’d met hardship. So when he immigrated to America with his wife, a trunkful of possessions and $160, he was eager for opportunity.

And he found it: by the mid-1950s, the de Leyers had succeeded enough to buy a small farm on Long Island.

A horseman at birth, Harry was the riding instructor at a posh girls’ school near his home when, in early 1956 and late to a horse sale, he spotted a ragged gray gelding on its way to slaughter. He was always looking for gentle steeds for his students. Something in the animal’s demeanor made Harry pull out his bankroll.

Cleaned up, the horse was rather pretty; “fleabitten,” as horsemen would say. He’d seen the harness of a plow, but he was friendly, easy-going and steady, a willing pupil. Snowman, as Harry’s children named him, would be perfect for Harry’s students. The animal’s $80 cost was money well spent.

At the end of the school year, with no room at his own stable, Harry sold Snowman to a nearby doctor, but Snowman had other ideas. Like a faithful mutt, the horse kept returning to Harry’s barn, leaping several fences to get there.

Then one day, in Harry’s mind, everything clicked: this horse was a jumper! With a little work, he might be able to win a few competitions. With training, Snowman might, in some small way, fulfill one of Harry’s dreams’.

Author Elizabeth Letts says that in the late 1950s, when Snowman rocked the horse world and word spread like wildfire, people needed a hero. Even now, we love an underdog story. But The Eighty Dollar Champion jumps well over that.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to avoid wanting to cheer while reading this book. Though we can surmise by its cover what happens, Letts lends a definite edge-of-your-seat feeling to the story of Harry de Leyer and his unlikely dream-maker, and she does it by pulling readers back to mid-last century: the times, the newsmakers, fashions, and myriad reasons why the nation held its breath as an aging gray plow horse flew over nearly-inconceivably high barriers.

Just Posted

Kenney talks pipelines with Trudeau after election win, calls it cordial

Almost a year ago Kenney dismissed Trudeau as a dilettante and a lightweight

ELECTION DAY: Lacombe-Ponoka heads to the polls

Voters came out to the Lacombe Memorial Centre to pick the next MLA of Lacombe-Ponoka

‘Open for business:’ Jason Kenney’s UCP wins majority in Alberta election

The UCP was leading or elected in 63 of 87 seats Tuesday night

Undercover cops don’t need warrant to email, text suspected child lurers: court

High court decision came Thursday in the case of Sean Patrick Mills of Newfoundland

VIDEO: Trump tried to seize control of Mueller probe, report says

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report revealed to a waiting nation Thursday

Alberta RCMP reminds Albertans how to be ‘egg-stra’ safe this Easter

Put away phone while driving, plan for a designated driver

B.C. awaits Kenney’s ‘turn off taps,’ threat; Quebec rejects Alberta pipelines

B.C. Premier John Horgan said he spoke with Kenney Wednesday and the tone was cordial

Federal government extends deadline to make Trans Mountain decision to June 18

The National Energy Board endorsed an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline on Feb. 22

Precautionary evacuation for Red Deer, Alta., residents due to industrial fire

City officials are advising people to close windows and doors and to turn off air intakes into homes

Study links preschool screen time to behavioural and attention problems

The research looked at more than 2,400 families

Most Read