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The Diving Horses of Atlantic City

The diving horses performed at Atlantic City's Steel Pier in the 1920s and 1930s.  The horse would jump into a tank of water, typically with a young woman riding on its back.
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.

‘The riders (all women) would suffer one or two broken bones a year.  Most of the injuries came from getting out of the pool of paddling hooves. They made it look easy, but it wasn’t.  Years ago a rider by the name of Sonora Carver (in the late 1920’s) went blind from a bad impact with the water.  The jump was sixty feet at that time, but was then lowered to forty.

‘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.

Further details and additional photos at the, via

Wow!! I can't even imagine seeing this in person today let alone being the girl on the horse. I love Atlantic City....the casino's, entertainment, shops, restaurants, not to mention the people! I travel there 2 to 3 times a month and it's great! There is always something to do or see....come visit.
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The article ends by saying the horses seemed to enjoy it greatly. I wonder if that's true or if they were beaten until they jumped and learned that way.

Hard to say, I had a border collie that loved jumping off the river dike wall, probably 20 feet into the river below. He'd jump swim to the shore, run up the hill and jump again. Throw a ball into the mix and he'd do it all day long.
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The horse were still diving into the early 70s, at least.

My aunt used to own a house not too far from Steel Pier, and I remember being able to watch the horses dive from the beach.

One year, my parents took us to see the show and ended up traumatizing my sister. Part of the show involved some trained dogs doing tricks, and two dogs got over-enthusiastic and fell into the water. A couple divers went in after them, but came up empty-handed. My sister was quite the animal loving 4-year-old and she cried for the rest of the day. She didn't quite believe my parents when they told her the dogs probably swam to shore further down the beach.
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Am I the only person who thinks that forcing an animal to do something against its nature, such as diving 40-60 feet into an abyss, an extreme in animal cruelty? Does anyone actually think that those poor horses weren't beaten into submission? Not to blame Jersey, but then again, is the same town (the Jersey Shore) that let Thomas Edison electrocute an elephant, and only a decade before...
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Yep, I hate being forced to do unnatural things myself. The amount of beatings it took before I was able to ride a bike, fly in a plane, wear shoes, play videogames....doesn't bear thinking about.

Not to say that it *definitely* wasn't cruel, but I think to always assume that animals have to be beaten into submission to do something different is also a little shortsighted.
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Unlikely it was initially voluntary. In early cowboy movies, they filmed horses jumping off cliffs by using a trip wire to make them fall over the edge. A lot were killed or broke legs, which, if you're a horse, is the same thing.
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Very true, BikerRay, but horses are now humanely trained to perform stunts/falls in films, so it *is* possible. It may well not have been voluntary, true, but there's always the immediate assumption that if an animal is doing something other than standing about, eating grass, it must have been beaten to within an inch of its life to do it.

I come from a family of farmers, with highly trained dogs who respond to all sorts of calls to perform all kinds of 'unnatural' duties, even including diving into lakes etc to rescue livestock. Not once has any of them been beaten.
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Don't forget that humans jump off high dives for fun. Is it so much of a stretch to think that our "lowly" animal friends don't enjoy it too?
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Horse person here-
I've looked at the pictures from this and other links and I can't see any indications that the horses were coerced. Nothing in their facial expressions or body shows fear. I'm not saying that they weren't trained with cruel methods, just that I can't see any evidence. I think it would be entirely possible to teach this using positive, reward-based methods and taking it one small step at a time. Actually, I don't know how you could get a horse to repeatedly dive like this any other way. A frightened horse in a situation like this could easily run through a fence or off the side of the ramp or he could decide not to move at all.
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Actually I'm inclined to agree with Lisa. It's 'easy' enough to get a unsuspecting horse on a trailer for the first time. It's not the first time that's the problem it's every time after that. Either the animals enjoy the activity, have developed a tolerance for it because of some awesome positive reward, because like Lisa I cannot fathom how you would persuade a horse to do that. If you use beatings you would have to beat it every time. Or have some form of threat ready that it couldn't avoid. Doesn't make sense.

Does it look unnatural and scary? Heck yeah? Dangerous for the horse? Absolutely! But the question it?
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okay, so recently read an autobiography on one of the girls that dived with the horses. the horses were never beaten, never harmed. forced sometimes at first, yes. but never hurt. the horses they used were handpicked from all over the country, and if the horse just really did not want to dive, they had to sell it and find another that was okay with diving. but the horses that dived loved doing it. there was even one that would run up the ramp and not wait for its partner, and dive alone. believe me, it was not like diving into an abyss. the horses enjoyed what they did.
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well i say that if they didn't wont to jump off of the ramp they wouldn't of done so and animals have minds to if they didn't wont to they wouldn't of and i have 2 horses and they both have mind of there own and i would not force them to do any thing they wouldn't wont to do and to all of u have a good day

farm boy cowboy up
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I've grown up around horses. I've been riding as long as i can remember and i can agree with the statement that a horse has a mind of its own and will do nothing it doesn't want to no matter what you do. theses horses were probably scared the first few times they did it but grew to love it. I highly doubt they were beat until they did dive. People who have never been around horses just need to be quite they just sound like complete idiots to us that have and know about horses. Just because you can read a book doesn't mean your an expert on these animals.
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I saw the diving horses in Atlantic City. No, they don't beat the horses. In fact, if they didn't want to go they wouldn't go. Fact is I've never seen a horse refuse to jump. I'm not saying none did, but I never saw any refuse to jump.
Horses are pretty smart. I recall General Meade's horse, Old Baldy, was wounded 7 times during the Americn Civil War, including at Gettysburg. One day Old Baldy refused to go into battle. Meade retired Old Baldy and both Old Baldy and Traveller, General Robert E Lee's horse, out lived both Generals. Don't cut horses short. After all, where do you think the phrase, "Horse Sense" came from?
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um well i have a horse my self so i now what i the limits are on him. while if a horse was forced to do that it wouldn't run up the ramp like they do because they would need to beat it every time. with horses we use them with so many thing because just see it has this way would you think that its animal crulety riding a horse well why do they even let us sit on there backs. people think they come to us for protection and over years there have learnt to trust us.
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