Starting in 1905 and ending in 1978, Atlantic City featured diving horses. The horses were trained to dive into the water from a platform with girls on their back from 2-4 times daily.
Ones such lady, Lorena Carver, dove from a forty-foot tower into a 12 foot-deep tank for 25 years until 1930 when she "got a little heavy." Lorena averaged one broken bone per year. Lorena remarked that the job was not especially demanding. "All the girl has to do is look pretty and not fear height or water. . . . The horse knows what to do. He'll take care of you."
Lorena said her horses loved to jump, often making it difficult to get them to wait to build suspense before jumping. Much depended on the horse, with some leaping immediately off the platform while some took up to 5 minutes to look around. The horse Klatawah (Indian for "go away" or "go to h*ll"), would often paw with his hoof as many times as he felt before diving, a remnant of a pawing-his-age act he had performed. When the crowd was small, Klatawah would make a "few lazy scrapes" and dive from a "reclining" position, but he would prance and show off when the crowd was large.
Sonora Webster Carver, another girl who rode the diving horses, was blinded in 1931 when the impact of the water detached her retinas. She continued in the show for another 11 years. Her sister, Arnette French, who also dove with the horses until 1935, remembers,. "What impressed me was how Dr. Carver cared for the horses. . . we went, the S.P.C.A. 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.''
Sornoa's worte the memoir, A Girl and Five Brave Horses which can be previewed here and is very interesting and includes pictures. She describes her first performed jump. "I felt his muscles tense as his big body sprang out and down, then had an entirely new feeling. It was a wild, almost primitive feel, that only comes with complete freedom of contact with the earth. Then I saw the water rushing up at me, and the next moment we were in the tank."
One person remembers seeing the horses:
"The High Diving Horses were always my favorite. I must have seen at least six of them over the years. They each had their own style of diving. One would wait a good five minutes before jumping - he would hold his head up and watch the seagulls fly by. Some dove with their front legs straight out, while others tucked up their legs as if they were going over a jump. One horse would twist in the air and land on his side, making it dangerous for his rider.
Another horse, I think his name was Patches, drew quite an audience. After making so many jumps he no longer waited for his rider. He would charge up the ramp to the tower and take a running jump off the diving board, leaving the rider behind. A couple of the girls tried to leap on him as he flew by, only to be left sailing through the air mount-less. One day, he got up so much speed he almost overshot the pool. Needless to say, they retired him. One year they even had a high diving mule."When the show was closed, the last two diving horses, Gamal aged 26 and Shiloh aged 9 were bought by the Fund for Animals.
To see videos of the Atlantic Diving horses, please visit here and here.
Sources: ATLANTIC CITY features the High-Diving Horse, Mr. Peanut, Lucy the Elephant, and generations of Americans running amok under (and over) the Boardwalk, Palisades Amusement Park" A Century of Fond Memories, Dedication, New York Times, Petticoat Discipline Quarterly, Life