Diving horse show set to return to Atlantic City this summer

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Diving horse
A diving horse performs in Toronto at the turn of the 20th century. Photo: Archives of Ontario via Wikipedia.

UPDATE 2/14/12: The owners of the Steel Pier have announced that they will not be reviving the diving horse act. Read more here.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE: Many horse lovers have seen the Disney film Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, which is loosely based on the story of a young woman who loses her eyesight while starring in a horse diving show in the 1930s. What most horse lovers of today have not seen is an actual diving horse show. The act fell out of favor in the mid-20th century.

As part of a revitalization effort in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the owners of the city’s historic Steel Pier have announced that they will bring back the horse diving show by Memorial Day of this year.

In the diving horse show, a horse jumps off of a tower that is approximately 40 feet high. In some versions of the act, a rider climbs on to the horse at the top of the tower and rides the horse as it plummets into the 12-foot pool below. In other versions of the act, the horse dives solo.

The diving horses were a part of the Steel Pier from the 1920s through the 1970s. A short-lived attempt to bring the show back in the early 1990s—not long after Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken was released—failed due to outcry from animal welfare organizations and concerned citizens.

In an interview with a Philadelphia NBC affiliate, 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.”

Nancy Beall, president of the Atlantic County SPCA, thoroughly disagrees. “I think it’s disgusting and I think it’s cruelty to animals,” said Beall. “It certainly can’t be safe for the animal.”

The renovation of the Steel Pier is working in conjunction with Atlantic City’s Tourism District plan to rebrand the notorious gambling town as a more diverse vacation destination. Whether or not visitors will view diving horses as wholesome entertainment remains to be seen.

31 COMMENTS

  1. This is SICK and seriously disturbing! How anyone would want to start this barbaric act once again is beyond me, and in 2012 when we are meant to have such strict animal welfare laws, it beggars belief that this will be allowed to start up!
    Scotland, UK

  2. It is scary for me to think that the tank is so small looking. The horse did not seem to mind doing the driving. I have seen dogs do the same thing and also ponies, without anyone making them do the jumping.

  3. What happened to going forward, not backward? This is one of those things that is gone for a reason. This is not natural or humane. That horse would never choose to do that of his own will without being forced to somehow. They may dive of their own will if they have been conditioned to expect punishment otherwise. And the pool is only 12 FEET DEEP? I hope this is stopped before it starts.

  4. Disgusting. I hope to god that every single Animal Welfare org gets onto this and stops it from happening. Its animal cruelty to make a horse do that.

  5. How can anyone condone such blatant abuse of a living feeling animal. No equine would ever choose to do this other than one in abject terror. YOu and this programme disgust me. I hope you get banned and the terrible diving thing stopped.

  6. How any human being can find this entertaining is beyond me. I think it speaks volumes about the mentality of the people in agreement that this should be brought back. Where will it end. Evil act by sadistic people.

  7. Amazing, can you the amount of training it would take to build the confidence of these horses. I don’t see anything wrong with this at all. If it was harmful to the horse or it was stressing the horse “mentally” don’t you think the horse wouldn’t do it. Horses are amazing animals that can be capable of doing anything. This video just proved that.

  8. I don’t find it really fun to watch or anything, but I don’t see how it could hurt the horses at all. My horse loves the water, and I would not have a problem with her doing this. It’s not even that high up.

  9. Please dont let them bring this back it is animal abuse those poor horses I would not like to see this as part of my holiday experience :((

  10. this is soooo abuse!!!! that could break a horses neak let alone kill it! especially hitting the water that hard! i find this VERY insulting and cruel to watch! why would you do it anyways?!?! it’s horrible!

  11. I cannot believe people would actually want to see this. I hope every animal organization and news program makes a huge stink about this. It’s barbaric.

  12. Having grown up in New Jersey and in the 50’s and 60’s going to Altantic City with my folks, I did see this act. I did not see any horse hurt from it. But do I want to see it return to Atlantic City, HECK NO!!!!! I was just a young child and didn’t know any better, now after owning horse’s for over 40 years, I could never subject one to that. And I hope it don’t pass and the ASPCA has it’s way and bans it!!!!!!!

  13. No definitely not. I would never pay money to see an animal suffer. It can’t be safe. And you can’t convince me the horse likes it. You can train it or make. But it aint right.

  14. This is just plan wrong! After myself having done enough high diving in my younger years, I know that the impact on the water from just 15 feet up HURTS.
    Can’t imagine from 35 feet!!! This is a cruel way to make money on the back of horses.

  15. If you read how the first diving act came into being, it would surprise you. A stuntman would have to cross a bridge and the trapdoor was opened, throwing horse and rider into the water below. A lot of horses would NEVER cross any bridge again. But to the surprise of its owner, one horse, immediately after being dumped into the water ran back up and jumped in by himself!!! He became the first diving horse and he LOVED it. Not many horses will do it, so it isn’t really about training as much as the individual animal enjoying the experience. I had a friend who lived near a rock quarry and he and his horse loved diving, but he never had another one that would do it. Sort of like people, some love it and others (probably the vast majority of people) never do it and don’t want to try.

  16. Is there anyone Horse Channel viewers can send letters of protest to in the Atlantic City government? Or can HC.com viewers complain to the entertainment company that wants to put on this show?

  17. This not necessary cruel, we have ponies that will jump in the water from a high bank, ans swim in the pond. Perhaps these horses like to drive.

  18. I think this is really cruel! It’s just selfish for people to make a horse jump off a platform, I mean the horses could get seriously hurt. If you watch the video on the close up that rider FORCES that poor horse off. This breaks my heart and needs to stop. 🙁

  19. Horse owners and lovers please make your voices heard about this act. Many are saying horses not hurt! But, your voices will have impact. Please do it now. Join the 14,000 who have signed the petition Debi mentioned

  20. It is absolutely disgusting to hear about hores being thrown into the water from a platform, just to entertain humans! A horse would never do this voluntarily and has sadly no choice, similar to horses let to the slaughterhouse. This should never be authorized, not with horses or any other animals!

  21. i think its a wonderful idea. it is not cruel to the animals they are not getting hurt just by jumping into water. it was only the riders taking the risk. i would def be a diving girl. where can i apply?

  22. I feel the diving horse act is and always will be the great memory of Atlantic City. The steel pier was the center attraction of Atlantic City. Now, people take their hard earned money and throw it away on the sickness of gambling. My family and me lost 40 dollars in slot machines, where as others are spending $400 dollars , just to try to win any possible amount. My point is, gambling infected the entire city . The great attractions are gone because of gambling. Bring back the shows at the steel pier like the bands from the past who are still together. The diving bell was wild, the steel pier divers act, the clowns, and most of all, the high diving horse. As mr. Anthony caruso said, the horses were never forced, mistreated, or harmed during the acts. The casinos are scary. You might get robbed while in there. Back in 1974 my mom was robbed of $350.00 while my father was playing a quarter slot machine. The camera’s above did not see this happen, and the thieves got away. When we contacted security, they attempted to find them, but no luck. The casinos are robbing people who have gambling sickness. The people who robbed my mother, I feel, they worked for the casino. Anyway, the memories I have were playing the skee ball games and boardwalk stores . The steel pier was the best of the whole vacation. My father took us kids to Atlantic city for the attractions as well as the entertainment. To have fun was the best, but not to leave the city discussed because of casino thieves. We as kids, myself and two older brothers enjoyed the ocean, the rides, the arcades to win prizes, and most of all, THE STEEL PIER. Please write this story for others to read. Bring back the steel pier as it use to be. Give people the fun back that the city once provided. I was told that Gino’s will be back soon. Thanks. Dennis and Jonathan Bennaman. P.s . To Anthony, sir, you own the steel pier please eliminate the crazy sling shot ride. This ride should be erased from the pier before the people who are stupid enough to get on it are erased into the ocean. Bring back the diving horse, this act is more exciting then watching people being shot into the sky at 60 80 or 100 miles an hour . The skyride at central pier was even more safe. The helicopter rides are cool, but to expensive. $60.00 is quite steep for one person. $30.00 IS BETTER.

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