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Publisher's Summary

Number one New York Times best seller

November 1958: the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Into the rarefied atmosphere of wealth and tradition comes the most unlikely of horses - a drab white former plow horse named Snowman - and his rider, Harry de Leyer. They were the longest of all longshots - and their win was the stuff of legend.

Harry de Leyer first saw the horse he would name Snowman on a bleak winter afternoon between the slats of a rickety truck bound for the slaughterhouse. He recognized the spark in the eye of the beaten-up horse and bought him for 80 dollars. On Harry’s modest farm on Long Island, the horse thrived. But the recent Dutch immigrant and his growing family needed money, and Harry was always on the lookout for the perfect thoroughbred to train for the show-jumping circuit - so he reluctantly sold Snowman to a farm a few miles down the road. 

But Snowman had other ideas about what Harry needed. When he turned up back at Harry’s barn, dragging an old tire and a broken fence board, Harry knew that he had misjudged the horse. And so he set about teaching this shaggy, easygoing horse how to fly. One show at a time, against extraordinary odds and some of the most expensive thoroughbreds alive, the pair climbed to the very top of the sport of show jumping. 

Here is the dramatic and inspiring rise to stardom of an unlikely duo, based on the insight and recollections of “the Flying Dutchman” himself. Their story captured the heart of Cold War-era America - a story of unstoppable hope, inconceivable dreams, and the chance to have it all. Elizabeth Letts’s message is simple: Never give up, even when the obstacles seem sky-high. There is something extraordinary in all of us.

©2011 Elizabeth Letts (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“This is a wonderful book - joyous, heartfelt, and an eloquent reminder that hope can be found in the unlikeliest of places. Most of all, it’s a moving testament to the incredible things that can grow from the bond between animals and humans. If you love a great animal tale, you’ll love this book!” (Gwen Cooper, author of Homer’s Odyssey)

“The moving story of an indomitable immigrant farmer, his equally spirited horse, and their against-the-odds journey all the way to the winner’s circle, The Eighty-Dollar Champion fascinates from the first page to the last. Elizabeth Letts has uncovered a forgotten slice of American history and brought it to magical life.” (Karen Abbott, author of American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee)

“There is something magical about stories in which humans and animals team up to combine their courage, intelligence, determination, physical prowess, and instincts to scale the heights, touch our hearts deeply, and inspire us in the most profound ways. Those are the best stories there are, I think, and The Eighty-Dollar Champion joins their ranks. There is a lot of wonderful emotion in this book, and it left me awestruck once more at the wondrous things animals and people can do when they join together to make some great and beautiful noise in the world.” (Jon Katz, author of Meet the Dogs of Bedlam Farm

What listeners say about The Eighty-Dollar Champion

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Excellent story about an incredible horse and his owner

The story and the narration of it were excellent. I like the way the author told the backstory of horses and the horseback riding community and their changing role over time intertwined with the story of this incredible horse and his owner/rider. Nice story!

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Nothing like the love of a horse!

A brilliant and inspiring story. Thank you for telling it so well. Horses are intelligent, hard working and loyal friends. Much more than just an animal.

2 people found this helpful

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This is a wonderful and well written book.

I grew up on a ranch. My horses were my best friend and they saved my life. I could ride them away from my abusive home environment.
I loved my horses and they loved me!

1 person found this helpful

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Great story, poor narrator

This was a wonderful story. Unfortunately, the narrator reads with all of the enthusiasm of Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The narrator pronounces mare as a 2 syllable word like ma-yor and equine with a short e as in elephant rather than the correct long e as in equal. If I hadn’t been previewing the listen for a class, I would not have stuck with it. It is a shame because the book is well written and inspiring. Even when Snowman wins competitions or does unexpected things, the narrator continues to drone on in a monotone voice that sucks the joy out of listening.

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A story that inspires!

The story of Snowy and Harry is one of hope, inspiration, perseverance, and... success! Everyone should read it and know it! Horse lovers will Recognize the bond that can exist between horse and man and those who don’t know much about that bond will discover it in its purest and most genuine fashion!

1 person found this helpful

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Heartwarming and historical

I watched the movie HARRY AND SNOWMAN first, which led me to seek out this audiobook, and to seek the library for the digital book, to see the photos. Excellent narration! I enjoyed this heartwarming "true" story even thought it’s told in a somewhat rambling fashion, intermixed with various info-dumps that detract from the personal tone of the book.

In 1956 Dutch immigrant Harry DeLeyer purchased / rescued a young Amish plow horse doomed for the slaughterhouse. Through photos and narrative, including information gleaned from personal interviews and newspaper clippings, the author recounts how the placid, loyal gray gelding, dubbed Snowman, became a family pet, a celebrity, and a national jump champion, outperforming the snooty nobs at Madison Square Gardens (two years in a row).

Personally, I wanted more elaboration on Snowman as a family pet and less about each competition. I also wanted more about Snowman’s retirement at the family farm, Hollandia. I felt he certainly earned a long rest after jumping so high so many times. It cannot be good for a horse, and I didn’t care for it at all when he jumped over another horse. That’s so wrong. To her credit, the author provided glimpses, anecdotes, and photos of Snowman’s life on the farm, so patient with the children, swimming in the adjacent ocean off Long Island — but I wanted more. That’s just me.

And to be contrary, I also wanted to know how much Snowman earned in purse / prize money, especially for the National Show at Madison Square Gardens. Given the repeated commentary describing how poor these Dutch immigrants were at first, and how Snowman cost $80, this seemed like a reasonable inquiry. I could find it nowhere in the text. Perhaps I overlooked it?

I appreciated the glimpses into Harry’s boyhood in Holland, with anecdotes describing how his family did their part to help others escape from the Nazis, and how the Nazis conscripted all the Dutch horses into the war. None of that felt like a digression, or an expository info-dump.

I occasionally enjoy biographical animal memoirs and can also recommend audio and/or printed versions of SEABISCUIT, THE ELEPHANT WHISPERER, BABYLON’S ARK, THE DOG WHO THOUGHT HE COULD FLY, A LION NAMED CHRISTIAN, etc... (PENGUIN LESSONS was also an okay listen).

And in nonfiction, WATERSHIP DOWN. Of course. Best narration goes to Ralph Cosham, in my opinion.

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Everyone should read this book

I have never enjoyed a book more than The Eighty-Dollar Champion. It was warm but so down to earth with how each moment of Snowman’s life was captured. Thank you so much Elizabeth Letts for writing this book and also Arthur Morey for his narration. I didn’t want the book to end.

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loved this book

in addition to being a good story, I enjoyed the amount of history the author included.

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Snowman Hope!

There is always hope and possibility. Story of a champion just waiting on a chance. Wonderful story.

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Can’t Put Down!

Fast reading and couldn’t put down. It’s the perfect feel good reading, especially during the pandemic. Loved all the 1950’s trivia and everything about Snowman and the family. The only thing that disappointed me happened in the epilogue and it wasn’t explained at all. Other than that it’s a really fun and interesting read!

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-19-21

Great story with historical context

My wife and I are listening to this book. We bought it as my wife has ridden from and early age and loves horses. We are really enjoying the book, alongside its tale of hardship the historical context is very interesting. This includes details of American society, horse trading, immigration to the US, WW2 references.

Excellent listen

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  • Retro gal
  • 11-23-20

Lovely story

I really enjoyed this book. An amazing story which I was totally unaware of before listening. Animal lovers will enjoy this :)

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  • Lu
  • 07-08-20

Good horse story

Along with 'The Perfect Horse', this is a wonderful story of an amazing horse, a beautiful friendship and fascinating insight into the era.
I'm glad I stuck with it, I nearly returned the book before the end of the first chapter as the sugary, laboured, gushing sentimentality was so over the top is enough to give the reader diabetes.

Given that most horsie people will read the phone directory if it has a horse picture on the cover, it's a book about a horse. Every chapter mentions horses, horse riding, a little of the technicalities of horses so for horsie people, it's got sufficient horses to keep you going.

The book is probably three times longer than needed because of incessant heart tugging and sadly the truly visceral parts of the story were lost to reader desensitization from the continual forced emotion.

However, behind the candy floss, there is an incredible, genuinely warm-the-cockles tale of overcoming adversity. This book is for the horse lovers and I'd hesitate to recommend it to anyone who doesn't have at least a passing interest in show jumping. For readers who have read Jilly Cooper, the story of Snowman is the foundation for Sailor in Riders.


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  • Ke Donn
  • 06-12-20

Lovely book for horse lovers

This is a really enjoyable listen. The narrator has a soothing voice and if you love horses you will definitely enjoy it. it is a little bit repetitive sometimes just in the descriptions of the shows but how many times ways can you describe jumping a course. Great to hear the story of this wonderful horse and his kind owner