Friday, January 9, 2015

A Girl and Five Brave Horses by Sonora Carver

Rating: ★ ★ ★  ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: January 2, 2015

Sonora Carver was an American entertainer, most notable as one of the first female horse divers. Carver answered an ad placed by "Doc" William Frank Carver in 1923 for a diving girl and soon earned a place in circus history. Her job was to mount a running horse as it reached the top of a forty-foot (sometimes sixty-foot) tower and sail down along the animal's back as it plunged into a deep pool of water directly below. Sonora was a sensation and soon became the lead diving girl for Doc Carver's act as they traveled the country. In 1931, Sonora was blinded, a retinal detachment, due to hitting the water off-balance with her eyes open.while diving her horse, Red Lips, on New Jersey's Steel Pier, the act's permanent home since 1929. After her accident Sonora continued to dive horses until 1942.

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Horse diving from a tower in Toronto.
Sonora Carver was not impressed with Disney's Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken and after reading her memoir, I can't say I blame her. Though inspired by A Girl and Five Brave Horses, the film doesn't begin to do her story justice and conveniently alters and omits the most remarkable elements of her life and experience. 

On film, Sonora is portrayed as a romantic misfit and while her life was undoubtedly unconventional, the book paints a much more compelling portrait. Her self-admitted pride and stubborn nature make the early chapters of the book fun and entertaining, but the astuteness of her reflections in the later chapters open a window to her personality, passion and spirit that eclipses the theatrics and novelty of her diving career.

Sonora's descriptions of the business aspects and the insight they offer are another remarkable aspect of the book. Doc and Al went to great lengths to train both horses and divers and took extreme interest in the safety of all their performers. From the construction of the towers and diving tanks to the clauses they demanded as part of their performance contracts, no detail was left to chance. Their act was a dangerous one, but the care taken in its execution demonstrate the interest and dedication both men had for the routine and its success. 

A surprisingly down to earth autobiography, A Girl and Five Brave Horses proved perceptive and inspiring. Reading it ruined the movie, but what it gave in return was more profound and stirring than anything Miner presented on screen. 

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It seems to me that everyone has to make adjustments to life, that we all have our limitations, but that if we are wise we do not make other people miserable by concentrating on these limitations. One of the fundamental responsibilities of every human being in his relationship with others is to create happiness, not destroy it. We also have responsibilities toward ourselves. The prime one is not to make ourselves miserable by dwelling on something we can do nothing about.
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