Today it would never happen thanks to animal cruelty laws, but once upon a time in Atlantic City, women used to ride diving horses into an 11-foot tank at the Steel Pier.

The idea of a diving horse act came about when William "Doc" Carver, who was a champion marksman and partner of Buffalo Bill Cody and his traveling Wild West Show, left after a falling out to form his own troupe.

According to, "Carver got the idea while attempting to outrun outlaws, he started over a bridge which gave way throwing he and his horse into a stream below." They started it at Electric Park in San Antonio, TX, where people came from miles around to pay as much as 50 cents to see it.

When Carver died his son took AJ took over the business and married the rider, Sonora Webster. They would settle the show in Atlantic City.

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The way they did it in Atlantic City had the horse run up a 40-foot carpeted ramp with the rider waiting on top to mount as the horse ran by to take the plunge together. The horse would then dive into an 11-foot tank and push off the bottom to spring back up. They would also throw their head so the rider had to make sure to keep her head to the side.

According to, no horse was ever injured, but the girls riding them suffered broken bones and black eyes.

via Ken Butz on YouTube
via Ken Butz on YouTube

Tragically for Sonora Webster, in 1931, her horse Red Lips slipped while attempting a dive and fell nearly straight down, Sonora, in an attempt to avoid him flipping over sat as far back as she could but she hit the water with her eyes open. She would eventually go blind from the incident and the audience never knew.

Webster's story became a Disney film in 1991 called "Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken."

Later, Webster's sister would tell the New York Times:

"The movie made a big deal about having the courage to go on riding after she lost her sight. But, the truth was, riding the horse was the most fun you could have and we just loved it so. We didn't want to give it up. Once you were on the horse, there really wasn't much to do but hold on. The horse was in charge."

Horse diving lasted until 1978 when pressure from animal rights groups forced it to shut down.

Among the women riders were Sarah Detwiler Hart, wife of the late Philadelphia Flyers announcer Gene Hart. In 1994, Donald Trump's organization tried to bring it back with mules and miniature horses but to no avail.

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