Diving horse

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The diving horse at the Hanlan's Point Amusement Park, Toronto, Canada, circa 1907
A diving horse in Toronto

A diving horse is an attraction that was popular in the mid-1880s,[1] in which a horse would dive into a pool of water, sometimes from as high as 60 feet.[2]

History[edit]

William "Doc" Carver "invented" the idea of horse diving exhibitions. Allegedly, in 1881 Carver was crossing a bridge over Platte River (Nebraska) which partially collapsed. His horse fell/dived into the waters below, inspiring Carver to develop the diving horse act. Carver trained various animals and went on tour. His partner, Al Floyd Carver, constructed the ramp and tower and his rider Lorena Carver was the first rider. Sonora Webster joined the show in 1924. She later married Al Floyd Carver. The show became a permanent fixture at Atlantic City's very popular venue, Steel Pier. There, Sonora, Al and Lorena continued the show following his death.

In 1931, Sonora and her horse "Red Lips" lost their balance on the platform. Sonora survived the fall, but was blinded (caused by detached retinas in both eyes). She continued horse-diving while blind. In 1991, the film Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken based on Webster's life and her memoir A Girl and Five Brave Horses was released.[3]

Animal welfare[edit]

The shows received very strong criticisms of animal welfare abuses, which contributed to the decline of its popularity after World War II.[1] The horses sometimes dove four times a day, seven days a week.[2] There were allegations of using prods, electrical jolts, and trap doors to get unwilling horses to dive.[4] A recent attempt to revive the shows at Steel Pier was halted when animal welfare advocates petitioned the owners not to hold the shows. The president of the Humane Society of the United States stated: "This is a merciful end to a colossally stupid idea."[5]

Impact on science[edit]

In addition to amusements, the Steel Pier at Atlantic was also used as a mounting platform for a sea level monitor and during the 20th century, scientists documented changes in sea level at the Pier. However unbeknownst to the scientists, it was the weight of the crowds gathered to watch the diving horses that caused the pier to sink by very small but measurable amounts into the relatively soft sandy bottom of the bay, or rise when the crowds were absent, thus affecting the sea level monitor. Measurements from 1929 to 1978 indicated sea level rise - when the crowds were regular and caused the Pier to settle slightly - except during the horse-jumping hiatus from 1945 to 1953 when the lack of regular crowds allowed the Pier to rise slightly. This seeming coincidence suggested it was in fact the crowds and not sea level that changed, and was documented in a paper in 2012: "The history of apparent sea level rise at Steel Pier is consistent with increases caused by loading the pier deck with crowds, and the absence of apparent sea level rise when the pier deck was not loaded by spectators" [6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b The Great Carver Show, Jumper, Diving Horse, and Sonora Webster the Horse Jumper
  2. ^ a b Dedicated to The Diving Horses
  3. ^ Kent, Bill (4 May 1997). "The Horse Was in Charge". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ Rex the Diving Horse, Lake George, New York
  5. ^ Goldberg, Barbara (16 February 2012). "Atlantic City high-diving horses revival scrapped after protests". Reuters. Retrieved 20 March 2013. 
  6. ^ Apparent Sea Level Rise Due To Loading Of The Atlantic City Steep Pier By Spectators Viewing (1929-1978) Diving Horses

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