2 April 2006

High Diving Horses

Gorman's Diving Horse The early 20th century show featured a couple of white pure-blood horses that nose-dove from a high platform into the water at the Hanlan ferry terminal. The famed show was brought by J.W. Gorman (from Boston) to the amusement park of the Hanlan family estate on the Centre Island (Toronto, Ontario). The partners of the show, John Whalen and George Holloway, also owned the horses — one called King and the other Queen. See the other picture in the Gallery.

The show had likely travelled to New York and other places in New England. The pictures are dated between 1905 and 1908.

Riders were also introduced to other inspiring high-diving acts. In February, 1907, a dentist-turned-performer called Doc Carver, organized a diving-horse show at Electric Park, San Antonio, Texas. In 1924, Sonora Webster (later married to Dr. Carver) became the firstwoman to fall 40 feet on horseback into a tank of water at Steel Pier in Atlantic City. Sonora and her sister Arnette continued to ride in the show from the hard times of the Depression into the Second World War. The show and Sonora inspired the 1991 Disney movie, "Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken."

The high-diving act attraction was discontinued in 1978 after animal-rights activists complained. In Sonora's autobiography, "A Girl and Five Brave Horses," she insisted the animals loved the dives and were not forced to jump.

Postcard: Gorman's Diving Horses

At present, the amusement park Magic Forest still offers diving horse shows in the summer at Lake George, New York, although the horse is riderless. The 13-year-old gelding freely walks to the diving platform and dives on his own 9 feet into a 14-feet-deep pool.


  1. Horses are exploited, but some horses might be willing to participate in stunt acts, shows, racing, or even military services.
  2. The 40-to-60 ft stunts were breathtaking and accidents did happen.
  3. Incidentally, an unrelated young girl, Margaret Gorman 1906-1995), won the first Miss America pageant in 1921.
  4. In the Walt Disney's movie, Doc Carver died and Sonora married his son. The high dive was exhilarating. In generall,
    the movie was beautifully filmed and quality produced for both children and adults.


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