Sonora Webster Carver - Horse Diving

Sonora Webster Carver
It is said that when you fall from a horse, you get back on right away. This has never been truer when it came to Sonora Webster Carver.

In 1923, 19-year-old Sonora Webster was intrigued by an ad placed in a local newspaper by William Doc Carver, the owner of a carnival act. He was seeking a girl who could swim and dive and was willing to travel. Knowing she was perfect for the job, she applied. For a girl like her, it was her chance to rise out of the trap of poverty.

Pretty and spunky, she got the job and would perform at Steel Pier in New Jersey as a diving girl. She was to mount a running horse as it reached the top of a forty to sixty foot and plunge into a 12-foot deep water tank. On a horse named Red Lips, Al Carver, Doc’s son, taught her how to ride and dive on a horse. She learned how to keep her head tucked down to one side so that when Red Lips raised his head as he jumped up at the bottom of the pool, she would get smacked in the face. In 1924, almost a year later, Sonora and Red Lips made their first dive. They became an instant sensation.

Sonora fell in love with the patient and talented instructor and she married Al in 1928. For nearly three years, everything was fine and her act became more and more popular. But things would soon change.  

In 1931, during a dive, Red Lips Red Lips jumped off the platform unbalanced and went into a steep nosedive. Sonora hit the water with both eyes open. The hard strike displaced her retinas. She was 27 years old and fully blind.

The doctors told her that her career as a diving girl in a carnival act was over. But not even blindness could stop her, from doing what she loved. Why? Because riding was the most fun she could have and she loved it so. She didn't want to give it up. Once she was on the horse, there really wasn't much to do but hold on. The horse was in charge. So With courage, fearlessness, and a great deal of tenacity, Sonora continued to dive horses for 11 more years without the crowd knowing she was blind. She dove until 1942 during World War II when she retired at the age of 73. In all the years of the act, no horse suffered any injury.

She and Al moved to New Orleans where she learned Braille and worked as a Dictaphone typist until her retirement in 1979. Sonora died at the age of 99. To this day, she is a symbol of resilience and the strength of the human spirit.

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