The Horse Diving Sisters

Did you know that Atlantic City, New Jersey, may see the return of the “Diving Horse Show” popularized there in the 1940s through late ’60s? It may seem odd, but the owners of the Steel Pier, which was once an iconic family entertainment destination, are bringing the act back, as part of their revitalization plan for the Pier.

If you’ve watched the movie, “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken,” you’ll know the most famous of the divers was Sonora Webster Carver, who rode the diving horses for nearly a full 20 years, from 1923 to 1942.

While the show travelled around North America in the early years, it became a permanent fixture at the Steel Pier from 1929 on. At the age of 27, in 1931, Sonora was blinded with a retinal detachment, attributed to hitting the water with her eyes open, perhaps just once, or perhaps, one too many times. While she herself may have lost her sight she always insisted that the horses loved the dives as much as she did, and were in no way ever harmed, or for that matter, forced to jump.

She came into this incredible line of work by replying to a newspaper ad looking for girls who were “not afraid of heights and willing to travel.” Here’s a film clip of her.

The Diving Horse Show was invented by Dr. (Doc) W. F. Carver, who also had ties with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Many different stories circulate on how Dr. Carver came up with the idea, but the most popular is that one day he was riding across a bridge, which collapsed and sent him and his horse into the river below. The horse “dove” into the water and they swam safely to shore. This made him wonder if horses could be taught to dive, and the act was conceived.

Sonora signed on at the age of 20, and her sister, Arnette followed in her footsteps a few years later at the age of 15. The act was a great sensation of the times.

Sonora’s 1961 autobiography, “A Girl and Five Horses”, was the inspiration for the 1991 film. The diving horses were the iconic attraction at the Pier until being dicontinued in the ’60s following complaints from animal-rights activists.

A little known fact is Sonora was disappointed in the movie. Her sister, Arnette, remarked in a 1997 New York Times article by Bill Kent:

“They weren’t so truthful about the facts in that movie, either. My sister was so disappointed in it. I remember her turning to me in the theater after we saw it, and her saying, ‘the only thing true in it was that I rode diving horses, I went blind and I continued to ride for another 11 years.’’

She felt the Disney movie was over-romanticized. As her sister explained, “The movie made a big deal about having the courage to go on riding after she lost her sight,” she said. “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.”

She also commented on the welfare of the horses in the same article.

“What impressed me was how Dr. Carver [manager of the horse diving act, and later, husband of Sonora] cared for the horses,” Arnette said. “Wherever we went, the S.P.C.A. was always snooping around, trying to find if we were doing anything that was cruel to animals. They never found anything because those horses lived the life of Riley. In all the years of the act, there was never a horse that was injured.”

The challenge for the riders, Arnette explained, was to remember “to keep your head tucked down to one side, so that when the horse raised his head as he jumped up at the bottom of the pool, you wouldn’t get smacked in the face.”

Apparently, the sisters lived the life of Riley as well. Arnette was 84 when she gave this interview in 1997, and her famous sister Sonora, died just a few months short of 100.

While Sonora may have downplayed her own courage, I’ve always seen these adventurous diving horse sisters from our history as spirited and inspirational.

Frenchmans Guy Cloned

Listed as a leading all-around performance sire for the past decade by Equi-Stat, Frenchmans Guy has progeny earnings in excess of $4 million. Owners, Bill and Deb Myers of Myers Training Stables in St. Onge, South Dakota, announced just yesterday that they have cloned the now 25-year-old super stud. According to a news release, three Frenchmans Guy clones were born in the Austin, Texas cloning facility of ViaGen – an animal cloning company – in June. As stated in the news release:

“After long thought and consideration as well as extensive research, we have decided that keeping Frenchmans Guy’s genetics alive into the future would be the right thing to do both for our breeding program as well as the horse industry as a whole. Knowing the prepotency of Frenchmans Guy and finding through our research and our consultation with Blake Russell of ViaGen that these foals would in fact produce exactly like their sire was the deciding factor in our final decision,” said Bill and Deb Myers in a joint statement.

“Seeing these foals in person has validated our decision and we are extremely happy and excited for their future,” they added.

“It is a true pleasure to work with such a legendary stallion owned by a great family,” said Blake Russell, CEO of ViaGen, Inc. “Frenchmans Guy is a proven, elite stallion and now through advanced reproduction his genetics can continue making a positive impact for many years to come.”

Cloning produces a later-born identical genetic replica. It’s a topic of great controversy in the horse industry. Back in May, 2010, longtime Texas breeder, Carol Harris spoke of the practice: “Breeding is an art. Cloning is a replication.”

To others, such as the Myers and Charmayne James, cloning is a means to keeping alive bloodlines which have changed the face of the western performance world, and a service to their respective sports.

Other notable horses which have been cloned in the western riding world include  Jame’s incredibly talented gelding Scamper, the sire Smart Little Lena and Elaine Hall’s $300,000+ money-earning cutting mare, Royal Blue Boon, which was incidentally the first mare to be cloned.

We’re working on a story about cloning for the January/February issue of Western Horse Review. On our radar for that piece is an update on Scamper’s clone – the stallion Clayton, as well as a look into the Smart Little Lena clones. We hope to speak with Bill and Deb about their hopes and plans for these three babies as well. Look for it in the January/February issue.

Equine Canada Reaches Settlement

Deanna Buschert Photography

Photo by Deanna Buschert.

Ottawa, ON—The Joint Steering Committee (JSC), comprised of representatives of Equine Canada, provinces/territories participating in Equine Canada programs, and non-participating provinces and territories, has concluded negotiations and has reached agreement on roles, governance structure and finance. This agreement will enable Equine Canada and its provincial/territorial partners to reunite and collaborate more effectively in the future.

These negotiations were a culmination of a mediation process that began in earnest in March 2011, when the Canadian equestrian community established the JSC and authorized it to explore options for the future governance and management of Equine Canada. Over the period of May and June, three volunteer sub-committees addressing governance, roles and responsibilities, and financial models worked tirelessly to prepare recommendations and options for the JSC’s consideration.

“This journey has been a long one, and credit must go to the two dozen volunteers who invested incredible time and energy to make this project a success. Our result represents significant changes for the organizational structure and business model of Equine Canada, and we all know such change does not come easily and without sacrifice,” says Mike Gallagher, President of Equine Canada and member of the JSC.

Adds Dominique Chagnon, Chair of the JSC and President of the Fédération équestre du Québec, “Our sport has been divided for a very long time. I believe we have prepared the road map to re-establish trust and to guide all of us forward into a new era of national and provincial collaboration. I congratulate all participants in this process for the effort they have made.”

Noted Gary Yaghdjian, Past-President of the Ontario Equestrian Federation, “We look forward to non-participating provinces rejoining us in Equine Canada as full members.”

The JSC has prepared a full report of its findings, which will be available in both official languages on the Equine Canada web site on August 8, 2011 ( The report describes numerous changes that will be made to governance and membership structures, competition management, coaching and officials development, member dues and national/provincial/territorial relations. Some changes will take effect immediately while others will be phased in gradually. The voting membership of Equine Canada must also endorse any necessary bylaw changes. Over this transition period, Equine Canada and its provincial/territorial partners will also be making the necessary governance adjustments to ensure full compliance with the forthcoming federal Not-for-Profit Corporations Act.


About Equine Canada

Equine Canada is Canada’s national governing body for equestrianism.  A member-driven, charitable institution, it is the executive branch of the Canadian Equestrian Team, and the national authority for equestrian competition; the national voice for recreational riders; and the national association for equine welfare, breeding, and industry.  Equine Canada is recognised by the Government of Canada, the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), and the Canadian Olympic Committee as the national organisation representing equestrian sport and equine interests. For more information about Equine Canada, please visit

Epona Refuses to Release Film

The FEI is continuing its inquiry into allegations that breaches of its Rules and Regulations occurred during training sessions at the FEI World Reining Final in Bökebergs Gård (SWE) on 20 May 2011.

Findings from the inquiry, which was launched following receipt of a communication from Danish website Epona TV on 23 May, will be incorporated into the ongoing review of the discipline of Reining initiated by the FEI in January of this year.

Despite two formal requests from the FEI, Epona TV has refused to supply a copy of all footage filmed during the training sessions at Bökebergs Gård on 20 May. Combined with the reports from FEI officials on duty at the event, this unedited footage was expected to play a vital role in deciding what further steps the FEI could potentially take against individuals regarding these allegations.

“We are extremely disappointed at Epona TV’s refusal to provide a copy of the unedited footage and find it difficult to understand their attitude”, FEI Secretary General Ingmar de Vos said.

“We are trying to establish the facts as part of the ongoing inquiry, but while Epona TV profess to be upholders of horse welfare, they will not assist the FEI so that we can properly undertake a full and impartial inquiry and act accordingly.

“Epona TV defend their position on the grounds that its journalists are independent and do not want to get involved in an investigation, but many reputable news organisations have given unedited footage under similar circumstances to the relevant authority. Edited footage without authentication from the source is considered to be inadmissible evidence from a legal standpoint and Epona’s refusal to provide the unedited footage means that the FEI now has to proceed without a key piece of evidence.”

The FEI will take whatever action is necessary based on the findings of the inquiry. The findings, which will be based on reports from FEI officials on duty at the event and the edited footage available on Epona TV’s website, will also be used to further improve the FEI Reining Rules that are currently under revision, as well as review the FEI’s stewarding policy with regards to enforcement of the FEI Rules and Regulations.

Three working groups were set up in January of this year to conduct a full review of the discipline which will address all aspects of the sport, including rules and veterinary issues. The new FEI Reining rules and regulations will be voted on at the 2011 General Assembly in November for implementation on 1 January 2012.

It is FEI policy to fully investigate any allegation of rules violations. Horse welfare has always been and will always remain the FEI’s top priority.

Further updates will be issued as soon as the inquiry has been completed.

Welfare Cowboy

A group of horse people in Colorado led by a rancher and veterinarian, have developed what is likely to be a controversial solution to the issue of feral, wild and “excess” horses in the United States. The concept behind Welfare Cowboy has a simple premise: use the excess horses of the continent to feed the poor and hungry of the world.

Welfare Cowboy is challenging the Free-Roaming Wild Horse & Burro Act 1971 (WHBA) claim of “wild,” which calls for the preservation of wild horses.

As printed on the Welfare Cowboy blog:

“Having firsthand experience with having to accommodate excessive feral horses, Charles W. Sylvester initiated “Welfare Cowboy” on December 15, 2010.
“Mr. Sylvester took a bigger view of the matter, thinking there should be a better way to help the horses, help the people, and spread the base of benefits. So in continuing his passion of helping those in need, Chuck thought this would be a beautiful way for feral horses to serve more than the handful of people who just “looked at them;” his idea would provide essential protein and feed starving families worldwide.
“He also figured this would save a huge part of the economic base of the many states that now house feral horses.
1) Welfare Cowboy would help BLM gather, then harvest and process (into hamburger or canned) the excess feral horses.
2) The canned hamburger could then be shipped to hungry children in need of protein, and starving people in areas of crisis such as Haiti, Japan and more.

3) Welfare Cowboy would also take donations of domestic horses and wild game.”


It will be interesting to see how this develops. In the meantime, thoughts?

Record Keeping a Must

We've been hearing a lot about the Equine Information Document lately.

Have you recorded one for each of your horses yet?

If you intend to ship or sell your horses anytime in the future, whether or not you have maintained such a record, may be of concern to a potential purchaser.

According to Alberta Farm Animal Care, management changes have become a necessity for most horse owners, as a result of the new Equine ID requirements. These changes have come into force in order to satisfy the European market. As a result, Canada has introduced the Equine Information Document (EID).

Doug Sawyer, Alberta Farm Animal Care (AFAC) chair, says the document serves two purposes: one is to identify the horse so the animal can be followed with actual paperwork and the second part is the history of the horse including the veterinary history.

“It’s very important for horse owners and producers to keep accurate records right from the time the horses are born, or from the time they own them, to go along with the EID document. Without the document, anybody purchasing the horse can’t re-sell it or move it for six months. They have to have an accurate health record on the horse for a minimum of six months but, in the future, that will be [for] the life of the horse,” adds Sawyer.

This means accurate records on horses born today will be required should owners wish to export them. Sawyer stresses an awareness of drugs is vital. “In the future, to get into the European market, we’re going to have to have certain drug bans. It would be very advisable for producers to be talking to their veterinarian to find out which drugs to use and which drugs not to use.”

Summit of the Horse

We published a recap from the recent Summit of the Horse, held in Las Vegas from Jan. 3-6, a few days ago in the Breed & Sports News blog. Since then I’ve received many more pieces of information of what went on at the Summit, and the talk at the conference.

The United Horsemen is a group of horse women and men, who have a sincere interest and concern regarding the welfare of our horses – particularly those in the category of “unwanted”.

Theresa Manzella, who is the President of Willing Servants, a horse rescue based in Montana, summed it up like this:

“The Summit of the Horse was absolutely jam packed with solid, fact based and scientific, statistical and charted information, presented by people who are the absolute unequivocal  experts in their fields. Not only ranchers and trainers, but representatives from every branch of the horse industry were present, which included, conservationists, rescues for both domestic and feral horses, cattlemen’s associations, tribal council members, veterinarians, breed registries and associations representing various disciplines, representatives for the USDA, as well as Canada and Mexico. Dr. Temple Grandin happened to be one of my personal favorites. Additionally, there were at least two Senators present, as well as constitutional lawyers, and representation on private property rights were also included.

“Never could I have imagined such a comprehensive, educated, well rounded panel.”

Our friends Bill and Jann Parker of Billings Livestock, were also there. The Parker’s have long run this equine sale venue, and have a great reputation for bringing solid and dependable stock horses, performance horses and even ponies and mules to their sales. Some of the most prominent breeders in North America have consigned to a Billings Livestock Sale at one time or another.

They also run a number of “loose” horses – horses which run through the auction ring without a rider, through their sales. Although loose horses are often saddle broke, they sell for much less than saddle horses and are often bought by kill buyers.

Bill and Jann Parker served on the Horseman’s Forum, “Necessary Steps to Restore Lost Value and Normal Markets. “ The forum had a wide range of speakers, from the Horseman’s Council of Illinois and the Master of Foxhounds, to the Intertribal Agriculture Agency and a veterinarian from Iowa. They related what effects they have noted from the closing of the American horse slaughter plants.

Below, I’m reprinting an excerpt from a news release written by Sue Wallis, Vice President of the United Horsemen. You can read the entire post here.

“I talked about our numbers and how they have been negatively affected since horse processing has been stopped in this country,” said Jann Parker. “Basically, since the processing plants closed our sale gross was about half. Our gross sale revenue in 2006 was $979,000 for 1,021 horses; in 2010 for it was $424,000 for 780 horses. Who is being hurt is the person who lives in Cody or Townsend or Roundup who hopes to get about $1,000 when they bring in a few loose horses. That’s not happening now. They don’t receive that money to spend in the community or put toward another horse purchase.”

Parker said one of the subjects she found of particular interest was hearing speakers on the Unintended Consequences on state, tribal and private lands  program. “Five northwestern tribes have done a remarkable job organizing the ‘Intertribal Agriculture Council and Northwest Tribal Horse Coalition.’ They have all had problems with wild and feral horses. One tribe even had as many as 15,000 feral horses on their land. They are being proactive to deal with all of these unwanted horses.”

BLM Director Bob Abbey spoke on the Wild Horse and Burro Program. “He seemed to understand our frustration with the issue, but he has other groups he has to answer to. He knows there is a lot of work to be done with the huge population of wild and feral horses on federal lands,” Parker noted.

Parker said the highlight was listening to Dr. Temple Grandin, the now-famous livestock handling equipment designer who travels around the world speaking on autism and livestock handling.

Other topics included setting a high standard for humane horse processing, efforts to provide humane and economically viable options, the equine market report, protecting grazing and other rights, and a variety of other issues.

“It was productive meeting with many different facets. It brought everyone together, from ranchers and ropers to horse breeders and tribal members, so we had a broad spectrum to discuss what we can do for our industry and our horses,” concluded Parker.  “Horses are our passion, and I felt we owed it to our customers to attend this important event.”

At the head of this blog post stands the mission statement of the United Horsemen. If you are interested in knowing more about this committed group, check out their website here. Remember, they are an entirely volunteer organization. Not one speaker at the Summit was paid, all were there on their own dime, and with a sincere concern for the welfare of horses in our society.

Horse Slaughter Plant Debate

As the lackluster economy continues to challenge the horse industry, ranchers, lawmakers, and horse owners gathered at the Summit of the Horse in Las Vegas, Nev., this week to discuss the economic state of the industry and the unwanted horse issue. One of the topics drawing much attention to the summit was ways to re-establish the horse processing industry in the United States. But the path to making processing plants profitable for investors is complicated, economic experts say.

The U.S. horse processing industry began to decline in 2005 when Congress stripped the USDA of funding for food safety inspections at the plants. The USDA continued to offer inspections on a fee basis until 2007 when a federal judge ruled against the inspection for fee arrangement, effectively forcing the remaining U.S. plants to close.

The decision eliminated the processing option just before the economic recession sent horse-keeping costs soaring. In response, some members of the horse industry sought to reinstate horse processing in the U.S., which they believe would help decrease the number of unwanted horses. Despite potent opposition from animal rights advocates, legislation promoting private sector processing plant development was introduced in a few states in 2009 with mixed results. Processing plant development legislation became law in Montana and Wyoming in 2009, and lawmakers inother states remain committed to passing similar legislation.

Economic development consultant Bill Fredrick, president of the consulting firm Wadley-Donovan Growth Tech Economic & Workforce Development, is not surprised. Given recession-generated job and tax-revenue losses, horse processing plant development can have appeal especially in states west of the Mississippi River.

“People in the Western states and in the upper Midwest tend to be more realistic about things (involving livestock),” said Fredrick. “Also, in areas where unemployment is high, the plants could be pitched as creating jobs for Americans and developing an underutilized resource.”

However, it takes more than processing-friendly legislation to lure serious plant developers. Along with the political will, communities must also have the infrastructure necessary to support plant operations, Fredrick said.

“In order for a plant to be developed, it needs workforce and the sewage and water infrastructure necessary to support it,” he said. “Places where cattle processing plants already exist are good location choices.”

Plant success also is contingent on product safety inspection availability. Wyoming's law avoids the predicament by limiting meat distribution to within its borders and allowing state officials to inspect the products. But the market limitation could discourage serious investors, Fredrick said.

“In states where there is a small population, you just don't have much of a market, and Americans don't generally consume horsemeat,” he said. “So to attract investors, it would have to be an export business, and then the inspection complication arises again.”

But foreign market demand for animal protein products including horsemeat, is on the rise in Asia, Eastern Europe, and other developing economies where per capita incomes are growing and cultural opposition to horsemeat consumption is scant or nonexistent, said Jim Robb, director of the Livestock Marketing Information Center in Colorado.

Even if producers can overcome inspection and operations obstacles, exporting food products is a complicated and time-consuming business. To be successful, exporters must identify marketing channels and cultivate relationships with offshore clients, and cope with export restrictions periodically imposed by foreign governments, Robb said.

Meanwhile, Washington State University agricultural economist Shannon Neibergs, PhD, said plant promoters must be mindful of investor concerns over financial market fluctuations. The U.S. dollar's current value below the Japanese yen and the European euro makes U.S. products affordable for foreign consumers. But the same products become more costly when U.S. currency value rises. The changes are directly connected to plant profits, Neibergs said.

“Plant investors will be looking at the payback period,” he said. “They'll have to evaluate profitability over the long term.”

Despite the passage of processing-friendly legislation, horse processing plants have yet to open in Montana and Wyoming. Even if they do, Neibergs does not believe processing is the sole remedy for the equine industry's economic woes.

“There many variables,” Neibergs said. “The economy isn't going to turn around overnight.”

~ courtesy of

Steroid Misuse in Racing

Veterinary medical professionals and horsemen gathered at the American Quarter Horse Association’s annual racing conference on November 18 in New Orleans to consider the use – and misuse – of drugs and medications in racehorses. Topics included laboratory testing and procedures, out-of-competition and pre-race examinations, therapeutic and illegal medications, joint injections, acceptable threshold levels and withdrawal time, zero-tolerance policies, public education and the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.

Once the panelists and attendees started talking, the discussion focused primarily – indeed, almost exclusively – on clenbuterol.

Approved for veterinary use in horses with allergic respiratory disease and for medical use in humans with asthma, clenbuterol acts as a bronchodilator. The problem, however, is how the drug is being misused – both in horses and humans: While it is not an anabolic steroid, clenbuterol has some of the same effects, increasing muscle mass and enhancing performance.

The consensus was that something has to be done to control the use of clenbuterol and other drugs. The AQHA Racing Committee and Racing Council voted on a number of recommendations, each of which would then go for final approval to the AQHA Executive Committee for final approval. Final regulations and rules will be based on facts supported by research and science, though the studies could take several months or even years. In addition, the Racing Committee will take input from the newly formed Equine Health, Welfare, Integrity and Research Committee.

Among other recommendations sent to the AQHA Executive Committee, the Racing Committee requested that the American Association of Equine Practitioners and RMTC adopt a priority status on therapeutic use of clenbuterol and that the two groups provide information, if possible, on the appropriate levels in accordance with approved recommended dosages.

“Solving this issue is a top priority, and by working with AAEP and RMTC, we hope to come to a swift resolution,” stated AQHA Executive Vice President Don Treadway Jr.  “AQHA must always keep the welfare of its horses at the forefront, while insuring the integrity of the sport.”