Sonora Webster Carver

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Sonora W. Carver
Sonora Webster Carver.jpg
Sonora Webster

(1904-02-02)February 2, 1904
DiedSeptember 20, 2003(2003-09-20) (aged 99)
OccupationDiving horse
Spouse(s)Al Floyd Carver

Sonora Webster Carver (February 2, 1904  – September 20, 2003), born in Waycross, Georgia, was an American entertainer, most notable as one of the first female horse divers.[1]


Webster answered an ad placed by William "Doc" Carver in 1923 [2] for a diving girl and soon earned a place in circus history. Her job was to mount a running horse as it reached the top of a forty-foot (sometimes sixty-foot) tower and sail down on its back as it plunged into an 11-foot pool of water directly below. She was a sensation and soon became the lead diving girl for Doc's act as they traveled the country and the first diving girl quit.

Sonora fell in love with and eventually married Doc's son, Albert (Al) Floyd Carver, in October 1928. Al had taken over the show in 1927, after the death of Dr. Carver.[2] Sonora's sister Arnette Webster French followed in her footsteps, becoming a horse diver and joining the show in 1928.[2]

In 1931, Sonora was blinded by retinal detachment, due to hitting the water off balance with her eyes open, while diving her horse, Red Lips, on Atlantic City's Steel Pier,[2] the act's permanent home since 1929.[2] After her accident she continued to dive horses until 1942. Arnette left the show in 1935.[2]

Arnette explained Sonora’s decision to continue riding after her accident in this way: "The movie made a big deal about having the courage to go on riding after she lost her sight. But, the truth was riding the horse was the most fun you could have and we just loved it so. We didn't want to give it up. Once you were on the horse, there really wasn't much to do but hold on. The horse was in charge."[2]

Arnette, who was 15 when she took her first horse dive, remarked in an interview that "Wherever we went, the S.P.C.A. (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) was always snooping around, trying to find if we were doing anything that was cruel to animals. They never found anything because those horses lived the life of Riley. In all the years of the act, there was never a horse that was injured."[2]

Sonora's account can be read in her 1961 book, A Girl and Five Brave Horses, and seen in the fictionalized movie version of her life, Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken, starring Gabrielle Anwar. She was disappointed in the way that the movie depicted her life and career. She remarked to Arnette after screening the film that "the only thing true in it was that I rode diving horses, I went blind, and I continued to ride for another 11 years."[2]

Sonora died at the age of 99 on September 21, 2003.[1] She lived in Pleasantville, New Jersey at the time of her death.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Social Security Death Index". Original data: Social Security Administration. Social Security Death Index, Master File
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Kent, Bill (1997-05-04). "The Horse Was in Charge". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-05-01.
  3. ^ Sims, Gayle Ronan (2003-09-24). "Horse-diver Sonora Webster Carver, 99". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2007-12-03.
    Sonora Webster Carver, 99, the first woman to dive off Atlantic City's Steel Pier while riding a horse - a stunt she continued for 11 years after she was blinded during a performance - died Sunday Sept 20, 2003 at Our Lady's Residence in Pleasantville, N.J.

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