Sonora Webster Carver was an American entertainer, widely known for being one of the first female horse divers in the world. She was born on February 2, 1904 to a working-class family in Waycross, Georgia. After seeing an ad placed by circus entertainer William Doc Carver in 1923 that called for “a girl who could swim and dive and was willing to travel” Sonora felt her call, lifting her from a life of “genteel poverty.”
Her job as horse diver was to mount a running horse as it reached the top of a forty-foot (sometimes sixty-foot) tower and sail down on its back as it plunged into a tank of 12-foot-deep water.
Sonora married Doc Carver’s son Al and shortly after her engagement, she was blinded from retinal displacement during a performance after one of the horses, Red Lips, went into a steep nosedive sending her face-first into the water with her eyes open. She fearlessly continued to dive horses for 11 years until World War II.
“She represented courage, fearlessness, but also the fun of the times …”
Sonora’s riveting story can be read in her 1961 book “A Girl and Five Brave Horses.” It was later made into a fictionalized movie of her life called “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken”, which was produced by Walt Disney Pictures. Webster was disappointed with the way the movie portrayed her life and career. She told her sister Arnette, who also became a horse diver, that “the only thing true in it was that I rode diving horses, I went blind, and I continued to ride for another 11 years without the crowd knowing.”
The diving horses were a popular attraction at the Atlantic City pier before being discontinued in the 1970s after concerns from animal-rights activists. After leaving the carnival in 1942, she and her husband moved to New Orleans. She learned Braille and worked as a Dictaphone typist until her retirement in 1979. Sonora died at the age of 99 after seventy two years of being blind.
Regardless of your stance on horse diving, Sonora stands as a inspiration. “She represented courage, fearlessness, but also the fun of the times,” said Donal French, Sonora’s nephew.
Her tenacity to get back on the horse after being blinded speaks of her resilience.
Her life, a testimony to the human spirit.
FOLLOWING HER LEGACY: What dreams or opportunities are tugging at your heart to follow? What are ways we can be champions of persistence in our own lives?
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