The greatest attraction in Atlantic City for most of the century was the Steel Pier, which featured a host of mind-blowing side shows, and where stars of stage and screen regularly performed at the Marine Ballroom. But the most popular, and the most indelibly remembered, act on the Steel Pier was the Diving Horse. Children, especially loved this mesmerizing attraction. As some eye-witnesses recant,
“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. One day, he got up so much speed he almost overshot the pool.”
The Diving Horses ceased in 1978, when the Steel Pier was bought by Resorts International, and was shut down. Thankfully, the last two diving horses were saved by an animal protection society. The Steel Pier itself had been through a good deal of drama: in 1962 a tidal wave washed part of it away, and in 1970 the famous Marine Ballroom was sadly destroyed by fire. Atlantic City had acquired a somewhat seedy and run-down reputation, but today there are plans to restore and reopen the pier.
But the diving horses will never come back. It was an act with significant dangers, and many riders, Sonora Carver in particular, suffered quite severe injuries. The horses seemed to enjoy it greatly, but the animal protection societies would never permit such an act again.