Weekly Watering Hole, Presented by Horse Quencher: High-diving horses

Horse Nation historian Lorraine Jackson provides a bit of context for this incredible 1923 film footage.

[via BritishPathe]

Whew! What a heart-stopper. Horse Nation historian Lorraine Jackson has done some terrific research for us on diving horses in the past–here is her take on this particular video:

I hope it may be helpful to our readers to have some of the more specific details and history of the High Diving Act before you pass judgement one way or the other. (That being said, this is for HISTORIC context, and I DON’T condone bringing the show back in the modern era.)

I read Sonora Carver’s autobiography (after whom the movie “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” was based, but is far from accurate). According to her very blunt and seemingly honest account of her life, a horse was never hurt during a performance (I have never found any press or other accounts that contradict this from that era). The only exception was that one of the venues wanted the horses to dive into the ocean instead of the carefully constructed pool (by making the pool 12 feet deep, the horses were able to safely and gently touch the bottom and then kick off to the surface without rolling) and when the horse came up in the ocean during a riderless practice, it became disoriented and drowned. After that, the show refused to stray from their formula. It was the only injury/death of a horse in the 30+ years of the Carver High Diving Horse Act.

The horses were treated like royalty, and went through several months of training on increasingly taller platforms to get to the heights they reached. If the horses ever showed fear, sideways jumping technique, or fear of crowds, they were instantly removed from the program. They never used whips, spurs or other devices to get the horse to dive. (And as you can see from the youtube video, they let the horses take their time getting off the platform.)

I think in the context of 1910-1940, when massive wild west shows (which were MUCH more dangerous for horses than the High Diving Act with a high casualty rate of accidents) were all the rage and the humane society didn’t exist, the Carvers appeared to take exceptional care of their animals when no one was looking, and can’t be properly judged in the moral context of 2012. All in all, they did better by their animals than most.

Also, my last note on this is that if this is in fact the Carver’s High Diving Act in the video, they never jumped from higher than 45 feet, not 60 feet. Judging by the construction and the era of the footage, I would make an educated guess that it is the Carver’s Act, and the poster overestimated the size.

Sadly, my research is limited to the Carver’s Act, while other copycat productions may have chosen bigger heights or may not have generally adhered to the same standard as the originals, so I can only speak to the most famous and widely attended of the Diving Horse Acts.

I hope this historic context gives Horse Nation readers some perspective about another place and time when viewing this footage!


The diving horse at the Hanlan's Point Amusement Park, Toronto, Canada, circa 1907. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Thanks, Lorraine! Well, that's one way to keep your horse “watered down”… here's another much less terrifying idea!

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