Review: The Eighty-Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts

The Eighty-Dollar Champion
This book is amazing! I’m incredibly subjective about this book because I love horses, so I can’t say that I’ve ever read a bad horse story. However, The Eighty-Dollar Champion is so much more than a horse story – it’s about America in the Cold War era, and it’s about how perseverance and hard work leads to success. Letts was able to bring this little piece of history back to life so that we could all relive the triumphs and failures of Henry de Leyer and Snowman and appreciate their impact on the United States at that time.


On one fateful day in 1956, Harry de Leyer – a riding instructor for Miss Knox’s School for Girls in Long Island, New York – arrived at a horse auction late and bought a shabby plow horse that was headed to the slaughterhouse for $80. Snowman was a calm and patient horse who wasn’t easily spooked, which was great for the girls who were just beginning to ride. But Harry, a recent Dutch immigrant with a growing family, needed thoroughbreds that can be trained and sold as show horses, so he reluctantly sold Snowman to a neighboring farm. Much to Harry’s surprise, Snowman kept escaping back to the de Leyer farm, even with an old tire weighing him down and multiple high fences in his path. When Harry finally decided to train Snowman in show jumping, this pair of underdogs slowly but surely climbed to the top to become an equestrian legend.


This is my first non-fiction horse book, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked Letts’ writing style even though it didn’t make me feel like I was a part of the story. It was as though I was watching a movie – Letts would hint at how Harry and Snowman may have felt, but she usually sticks to describing the actions (or the lack of actions) and let the readers interpret for themselves. So much detail and thought went into describing the scene and the sounds that I could almost hear the crowd at the National Horse Show or see Harry’s expression when Snowman first returned to his farm.

Aside from the main story of Harry and Snowman, parts of history were concurrently detailed to explain how Harry got to where he was and the state of America during that time period. I haven’t picked up a history book since high school, but I enjoyed these info-packed sections about the history of horses and the impact of industrialization on the value of horses because, really, anything related to horses piques my interest! The mini history lessons also complemented the main story well because it gave me a better understanding of some of the choices Harry and others made.

I was also really taken by the end of the book where Letts introduced the current Harry de Leyer (now a “galloping grandfather”!), but was a bit thrown off by one statement on how he and his first wife had divorced somewhere after that happy Snowman story. It made me realize how tough those times were, and how much of the story we don’t really get to see.

And finally, the photos! PERFECTION.


The Eighty-Dollar Champion has a wonderful message about never giving up that stems from the efforts of one man and his horse (or one horse and his man). This captivating book played like a movie in my head, and I thoroughly enjoyed the history lessons and the photos.


5 thoughts on “Review: The Eighty-Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts

  1. I am telling you, Sophie, we are book soul-sisters! I, too, LOVE HORSE BOOKS. And really, I can’t explain why because I’ve never actually had a horse and I’m a terrible rider. But I grew up devouring C.W. Anderson (actually, my cat is named Clarence after him!), Sam Savitt, Marguerite Henry, and any and every other horse book I could find. For instance, Grossett & Dunlap published these books, mostly in the 40’s and 50’s – “Famous Horse Stories.” I still snatch them up whenever I tumble across one at a booksale or antique store. Actually, I was just looking through them today (since all I do these days is unload bookshelves, move them, and then load them back up again), thinking about how long it had been since I read Henry Larom’s “Mountain Pony” or the “Fury” books by Albert Miller. Ah, good times!

    • Girl, we’re like two peas in a pod (except, well, we’re not really peas, so… book soul-sisters it is)!!! ❤ I'm pretty sure we also bonded over Black Stallion books and Marguerite Henry and Walter Farley during our book-pushing e-mails, haha. But I probably didn't tell you that I had a phase when I borrowed Lee J. Ames' Draw 50 Horses from the library, Xeroxed the whole thing, and drew horses everyday after school… ^^’

      I just searched up these Grossett & Dunlap books you mentioned and I’m so. In. Love. With these horse covers! And same here, it’s been so long since I last read those horse books on my bookshelf (at least 9 years ago!)…

      • Haha well I was just thinking that I should reread a couple of those Famous Horse Stories, so hopefully I’ll find one that will inspire you to buy it off eBay, haha. Some of them were pretty fun stories.

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