Review

From plow horse to champion in the documentary 'Harry & Snowman'

Equine fans: Gallop, don’t trot to Ron Davis’ winning documentary “Harry & Snowman,” which recounts the inspiring story of an underdog show horse, his tenacious trainer and their rise to fame in the late 1950s.

Dutch-born horseman Harry deLeyer immigrated to the United States after World War II and settled on Long Island where he taught riding at a tony girls’ academy. On a horse-buying trip for the school, Harry spent $80 on Snowman, an older plow horse slated for slaughter, then miraculously turned the compliant animal into a triple-crown champion of show jumping.

The movie enjoyably blends archival photos and footage, plus chats with 86-year-old Harry and other equine experts and observers, to track how Harry and his “Cinderella horse” took the competitive circuit by storm. Clips of Snowman’s heyday show jumping are a thrill.

That Snowman was also a “family horse” to Harry, wife Johanna and their eight kids provides much of the film’s heart.

But interviews with a few of Harry’s now middle-aged children reveal how their supportive-if-driven dad demanded as much from them as he did from his horses.  

Meanwhile, Harry admits that after daughter Anne Marie’s near-fatal 1977 riding accident, his wife insisted he give up horses. Harry refused, so she divorced him. That there’s no further mention of the integral Johanna, who died in 2012, is the weak link in this otherwise captivating film.

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‘Harry & Snowman’

Not Rated

Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena

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