I was looking through one of the vintage photo groups, when I came upon a picture (not this one) of a horse and rider making a dive.
This was not a big surprise to me; I had known about these shows, but I had forgotten I knew - if that makes any sense.
So I decided to go looking for information on these shows, the horses and their riders.
Here is a bit of what I discovered:
Horse diving gained popularity in the mid-1880s. The legend goes that it was conceived by a man named William "Doc" Carver after he and his horse fell off/through a bridge into a river below.
Training began, and soon "Doc" had a show. In 1924, his daughter-in-law, Sonora Webster Carver joined, and became quite the attraction. She and the show became permanent fixtures at Atlantic City's Steel Pier. Sonora was blinded when a dive went badly and she hit the water with her eyes open. Even blind, she continued to dive.
The platforms themselves were 30-60 feet above the water. And as for the horses, there have been allegations that prods and trap doors were used to get nervous horses to dive anyway. Some reports say horses dove four times a day - seven days a week. Some believe that's exaggerated. The riders were all women (from what I can find) and many suffered broken limbs - especially those whose horses would twist during the dive, landing partly or mostly sideways. There were a few horses who would not wait for their riders, charging up the ramps and off the edge before the women could hop on.
The horse diving at Steel Pier stopped completely in 1978; popularity of the attractions had been waning since 1942. Partially because of changes in peoples' tastes and partially because of rumors/allegations of animal cruelty.
Have any of you witnessed a horse diving? I haven't, and I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. On the one hand - wow! A horse that will dive! and on the other - That's crazy! That poor horse!
What do you think?