From the 1920s to the 1970s, horse diving shows were a popular source of entertainment. The shows involved horses jumping off of towers approximately 40 feet high into a pool. Sometimes the horses had riders and sometimes they jumped alone.
These shows were popular at the historic Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The pier’s owner planned to bring the shows back this Memorial Day. A previous attempt (in the 90s) to bring the shows back was torpedoed by animal welfare organizations. Steel Pier President Anthony Catanoso rejected claims of animal cruelty: “Nobody can show us any documentation that the diving horse act here on Steel Pier ever harmed an animal, ever produced any kind of cruelty or abuse. We would not do that.” However, the Atlantic City SPCA disagrees and says this sport cannot be safe for the horses.
An animal lover by the name of Jennifer Mishler believes that horse diving shows are cruel to horses, so she started a petition at Change.org to get Atlantic City to cancel its plans to bring back the high-diving horses. Since previous plans to renew the show were stopped by public outcry, Mishler wanted to put the same kind of pressure on Atlantic City. The petition is at Change.org. She and fellow activist Tracy Chafin also led a Facebook group page entitled “Horses Don’t Fly in AC: Thousands vs. Steel Pier’s Diving Horse Cruelty” wherein Chafin organized physical efforts including call campaigns and protests wherein Mishler’s petition would be presented.
Pressure from animal welfare groups has apparently made an impact. The pier’s owner claimed that the opposition was only part of the reason that the diving shows will not be reinstated. “We just felt that since Atlantic City is moving forward, we should move forward with it,” he said. “We should create new memories for visitors instead of recreating old ones.” He did add that he didn’t want the pier associated with negativity, but instead with the positive things taking place there.
The president of the HSUS expressed his gratification that the horse diving shows will not be revived: “This is a merciful end to a colossally stupid idea,” society president Wayne Pacelle said. “We are pleased so many citizens spoke up and urged that this spectacle never get off the ground. Horse diving has the potential to frighten and injure and kill horses, and it rightly belongs in Atlantic City’s history books.”
A Disney film called Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, produced in 1991, tells the story of a 1920’s girl blinded while riding a horse during a diving show.