(Dazzling, Clandestine and Pug)
Darlene looked down over her shoulder. Mr. Knickerbockers was coming up the long wooden ramp at a run, eager to reach the top. She climbed up on the railing on the side, waiting for him to reach the spot where she could swing her leg across his back and jump on. She would then hold on as he jumped off the platform into the tank, 40 feet below.
She adjusted the strap on her bathing cap and saw that Mr. Knickerbockers had reached the top. He approached her at a run – she would have to swing her leg up quickly and jump at the same time if she wanted to catch him before he rocketed past. She did miss now and again – only to land painfully against the wooden rails on the other side or in one heart stopping leap, almost all the way across the other side! Today she landed safely on his back and grabbed hold. Billy, the announcer, was already half way through his bit.
“Ladieees and Gentlemen! Have a seat and see the show. Mr. Knickerbockers, the World Famous Diving Horse is about to jump off the platform above your heads. He will perform this death-defying feat before your very eyes, plunging 40 feet into this tank of water!” He tapped the side of the tank theatrically with his decorated cane. “Ladies and Gentlemen, this tank is 10 feet deep! 10 feet of water are all that stand between death and this horse and rider, the dazzling Darlene!” The announcer turned to make sure they were ready. He saw the horse already at the top of the ramp. “What do you say folks, are you ready?”
No answer was really necessary, as Mr. Knickerbockers was already moving and everyone could see it. There were several appreciative smiles as the onlookers watched Darlene leap on to the moving horse’s back and then dozens of shocked intakes of breath as the horse dove off the platform, legs straight out in front of him. A lady screamed as the horse plunged into the tank of water with a terrific splash!
About a full second later horse and rider exploded out of the water. In a moment they were across the tank and walking up a wooden ramp. Darlene slid off his back and took a bow, to much applause. Someone gave her a towel and a carrot. She fed the carrot to Mr. Knickerbockers and stroked his neck as he ate it. He shook his head a few times to get the water off and waited to be led away. They did two shows a day during the week, one at 3pm and one at 5pm. This was the 5pm jump . Another horse, Flying Fred and his rider the Amazing Annabella was up next. Darlene was glad to ride Mr. Knickerbockers; he was always ready and eager to jump. Flying Fred took his time at the top; it seemed like the larger the crowd the longer it took him to dive. It all made for a memorable show, the most popular on the strip at the moment. Along with the audience, the S.P.C.A. was often there to watch and protest. Today was no different.
An older woman in a plain black dress was waiting at the entrance to the ladies’ dressing rooms. She wore her gray hair pinched severely in a knot behind her head. She tapped her ugly booted foot in the dirt as Darlene approached. The poor girl recognized her and tried to slip away but she’d been seen. “Miss Darlene – a word please.”
Darlene put a smile on her face and turned to the woman.
“Mrs. Applebaum. What can I do for you?”
“You slipped that horse something after the act, I saw you. Was he wounded? Did you give him some sort of pain pill so that he wouldn’t cry out?”
“Pain pill? What are you talking about?” Darlene was shocked. “Did you even watch the show? He wasn’t hurt!”
“I saw you sneak something to him afterward, don’t deny it! It was some sort of drug wasn’t it? I have heard of the things you people do to your animals to get them to perform!” Incredibly, Mrs. Applebaum raised her umbrella as though to strike Darlene. A gentleman’s arm quickly came between them. It was Bill Carter, the announcer.
“Nothing so clandestine Madam. She only gave Mr. Knickerbockers a carrot. I was in place and saw the offending vegetable. I can assure you that he did not take it under duress and there were no drugs on it.”
Mrs. Applebaum raised her umbrella again. “What they do to those horses is inhumane! It’s cruel I tell you!’ She raised her voice to Darlene. “You should be locked up you… you little tramp!”
“Why you bitter old…” Darlene started toward her but Bill held her back.
“Don’t do it! Darlene, she isn’t worth it,” he hissed. He turned her around and pushed her toward the dressing room entrance. “Go on now; get the pugs ready for the next act. I’ll take care of Mrs. Applebaum.”
“You’ll take care of…why I never!”
“My dear Mrs. Applebaum,” Bill began as he led her away. “Now you have seen the horses many times with your own eyes. They are fine, unhurt, no cuts or bruises anywhere. Why, our horses are better taken care of than our people are sometimes! The finest oats, the finest straw, a generous rub down by the crew twice a day. Have you gotten a new hat? It’s quite lovely. You know, I don’t believe the Governor of the state is treated as well by his attendants as my horses are!” He stopped suddenly and looked at her. “That is a new hat and it does match your eyes!”
Mrs. Applebaum was not so easily discouraged. “I don’t see the Governor jumping 40 feet into a tank of water now do I?”
“Well I don’t either Mrs. Applebaum, and a delicate lady such as yourself wouldn’t watch it if he did now would you? Perish the thought!” Bill took her arm again and led her toward her waiting buggy.
“No, I… I don‘t suppose, “She was a bit confused now, as Bill helped her go up the steps and settle herself in the seat.
“Ah then, we are agreed!” Bill replied, handing her the reins. “Such a fine, reasonable woman you are Mrs. Applebaum!”
“Well… I…wait what?”
Bill smiled as he lightly smacked the pony on the rump.
“Lovely to see you again, lovely! I promise to keep as watchful an eye on Darlene and her little bathing suit as I will Mr. Knickerbockers and all the other horses. Upon my honor I do promise!”
“Scoundrel!” Mrs. Applebaum called back to him angrily as her pony trotted away. “It’s cruel and horrible what you do to those poor animals!”
“See you soon then, good day!” Bill called, hurrying off. There was another show in 15 minutes and he’d had enough of this one.
* * * * The End * * * *
For those who are understandably outraged, the diving horses do actually exist. The horses were not forced to jump and as the history is written some were even very eager to do so. There are no injuries to animals on record because of the jumping, only to the riders, who sustained a broken bone about once a year each. In all the history there is only one animal death, where a horse jumped into the ocean and became confused, swimming out to sea instead of back to shore. They were not able to get her out in time and did not attempt that act again. There is more information on the web, here are a few sites that I found:
A note of interest:
According to the world-wide web, Atlantic City is planning to bring the diving horses back this summer. Although the horses were well treated , in top health and had the best of everything (horse-wise I suppose) they were still being exploited and I would have no interest in seeing a show like this. Arguably any circus or show act featuring an animal of any kind exploits said animals – but personally I draw the line when danger (even minimal) to the participants is involved.