The rescue story of a film about a rescued horse.
Harry deLeyer had arrived late to the Pennsylvania horse auction. In fact, it had just ended. The remaining unclaimed horses were being loaded onto a truck en route to their final destination, the slaughterhouse.
A beat-up, dirty plow horse, about eight years old, was just being loaded as Harry approached the truck. “He had the kindest eyes I’d ever seen,” recounts Harry, “so I bought him.” Harry named the horse Snowman as he led him off of the truck in the falling snow.
The Long Island riding instructor had only been seeking to acquire another horse for his students to ride, but he didn’t know that he was literally in for the ride of his life. Harry perceived his new horse as just another horse in his stable, but the grey perceived Harry as his savior.
A year later when Harry sold the gelding to a neighboring farm for one of his students, the horse would have none of it, and he jumped the fences to return to deLeyer’s barn. His years under the plow as a beast of burden had clearly led to the development of exceptionally powerful hindquarters. He was a natural jumper!
When Harry originally bought the horse for $80 and ultimately purchased him back from his neighbor, he could have never dreamed the extent to which his life would be enriched. Snowman became champion of the national horse show in New York City just two years later in 1958.
The story of Snowman is legend. He eventually earned three more championships, culminating in his induction into the Show Jumping Hall Of Fame, an appearance on the Johnny Carson Show, two books, a Breyer horse model, and finally the new feature-length documentary movie in his honor, Harry and Snowman.
Within this tale lies another story that connects lives across decades through a shared love of both film and horses.
A Project of Passion
Karin Offield’s film Jumpers was an unreleased documentary filmed in the late 1970s and early 80s about equestrian show jumping. The film focused on three of the top grand-prix riders and the top jumping horses of the day. As fate would have it, one rider was Harry deLeyer, among the winning competitors on the circuit at the age of 53.
Offield knew of Harry’s success with Snowman having heard the story as a little girl, and she captured him telling it on film. Combined with her competition show-jumping footage, Offield effectively created a time-capsule featuring Harry’s first-person account of the Snowman story.
Offield’s desire was to capture the action of her sport in slow motion to show the power and grace of a horse and rider as never seen before. This required shooting film at a high rate of speed through the camera, the most costly approach to filmmaking in that day. She spent the year traveling, resulting in 40,000 feet of film in the can, a seven-mile trail of celluloid.
Filmmaking may seem glamorous to some, but the life of an independent filmmaker is a life spent raising money, with only occasional shooting and editing, governed it seems by Murphy’s Law.
By 1982, Offield had run headlong into the money trap of post-production. Throughout her years living in New York City, she knocked on every door, meeting with the highest level of advertising, corporate, and television executives. Offield found only “future interest” and “good luck” in their responses. This horse girl from Aspen, Colorado, just couldn’t close the distribution deal.
The Death of a Dream
The death of a dream is a slow process to accept. Some never fully do, and they hold onto it for a lifetime. The loyal and dedicated film crew who poured heart and soul into Offield’s vision were faced with the reality that money had run out, and their work would not be seen.
All of that beautiful footage and priceless interviews were now held hostage to the lack of funding. Reality hit when an equine-industry veteran admonished, “If you ever hope to finish your film, you’re going to have to pay for it yourself.” Jumpers was shelved as Offield continued with her truest passion, riding horses.
For years the footage languished in a Manhattan film-storage vault. In the early 1990s, she wrote to the vault asking about the possibility of digitizing the 16mm footage. She received the letter back unopened.
She eventually discovered that the storage vault had declared bankruptcy. All of her original Jumpers footage stored there had gone missing.
Finding the locations of the boxes and recovering her footage became an immense undertaking. Apparently, multiple unnamed creditors from five different states had confiscated the stored films. Over the years, she ran ads in magazines in search of anyone willing to take on the task of tracking down and returning her footage.
Eventually, with her unwavering determination and the help of an investigative production manager, she recovered her film footage. “I remember the exact day they called and said the films had all been found,” Offield exclaimed. “What a St. Anthony moment that was for me!”
At last, all the pieces came together in the winter of 2012. Partnering with former equestrian and filmmaker Ron Davis, Offield became the executive producer of Docutainment’s Harry & Snowman.
“Being able to finish the film with the story of Harry deLeyer and the legendary Snowman is an absolutely perfect ending,” said Offield. She feels the story of a rescued film about a rescued horse is more relatable to a wider audience, beyond the equestrian world. “For me, as a promoter of grand-prix jumping, dressage, and all things ‘horse,’ this is a dream come true,” she added.
The film has screened at various film festivals throughout the country and plans for a wider release are being set. “Audiences of all ages will be moved by this nags to riches tale,” said Indiewire film critic Jake Jacobson. “This love story between a man and his horse will move and excite the most devoted cynic.”
Watch for news on the film’s release and view the trailer at harryandsnowman.com
See the article in EQ magazine.