Newsletter Article:

Don’t Make Him Do It

A small, gentle horse slowly makes his way up a 100-ft long, narrow, enclosed chute which ascends to a height of 15 feet. Though the chute is rickety — a feeling horses don´t like — the horse slowly plods forward, unable to turn around. As he continues his upward climb, he exhibits nervous defecation. When he reaches the top, the gathering crowd of adults and children below do not notice that his nostrils are flared and eyes are wide-open, revealing his fear. He moves forward onto the top platform, approaches the edge with apprehension, and gathers himself to jump. As the crowd cheers, the horse plunges downward into a pool of water 14-feet deep. His soft belly hits the water — hard, sending sprays of water in all directions; the crowd claps.

As he (the horse) continues his upward climb, he exhibits nervous defecation. When he reaches the top, the gathering crowd of adults and children below do not notice that his nostrils are flared and eyes are wide-open, revealing his fear… As the crowd cheers, the horse plunges downward into a pool of water 14-feet deep. His soft belly hits the water — hard, sending sprays of water in all directions; the crowd claps.

The horse must perform this feat several times a day, every day, for the entire summer season at “Magic Forest,” an amusement park in Lake George, New York. The owner of the park, Jack Gillette, proudly calls him “the nation´s only diving horse” and considers this family entertainment. NYSHA believes it is a form of animal cruelty, as do all other compassionate and humane individuals.

In an effort to bring this cruelty to an end, Sue McDonough, Chair of NYSHA’s legislative committee, and Dr. Holly Cheever, NYSHA’s vice-president and nationally known veterinarian, have joined forces with Susan Wagner of Equine Advocates and Dennis Brida of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Association. Together with such celebrities as Rue McClanahan, Mary Tyler Moore, and Chevy Chase, this ad-hoc coalition hopes to persuade Jack Gillette to retire his diving horse act and replace it with a more appropriate form of family entertainment.

The effort began last year when McDonough began gathering information on the horse diving act after hearing concerns from spectators. She contacted Wagner whose organization provides rescue for horses in a variety of abusive situations. Together they witnessed the act. In hopes of obtaining a quiet resolution to the problem, Wagner attempted several times to arrange a meeting with Magic Forest owner, Jack Gillette, to discuss retiring the act, but Gillette refused to respond.

To get a horse up a ramp and then to jump into a pool of water …the horses would had to have been subjected to stimuli that they feared more than the ramp and the water, such as electric shock, beatings, or food deprivation.

In comments made to a local paper last fall with regard to the issue, Gillette maintained that the horse acts voluntarily and is not forced to do anything.”Not so,” said Cheever, who has 25 years of veterinary experience. “Horses are prey animals, not predators, and their instinct is to flee rather than face fear,” said Cheever. “There is nothing in their evolution that has prepared them to do this; it is contrary to their nature. To get a horse up a ramp and then to jump into a pool of water requires a lengthy period of conditioning, To overcome their fear, the horses would had to have been subjected to stimuli that they feared more than the ramp and the water, such as electric shock, beatings, or food deprivation.” Cheever concluded by saying, “What I see here is unwavering compliance. The horse does not hesitate which suggests that he is more terrified of the consequences of not jumping than he is of jumping.”

Brida supports Cheever’s position. “I’ve trained horses for over 20 years and this is outrageous,” said Brida. “There is no way the horse can turn around in that narrow chute nor can it back down. It´s a stupid, cruel, and inhumane act.”

Unfortunately, according to McDonough, who has 25 years experience in investigating animal cruelty, the law is lacking. “Sadly, NYS law does not recognize forcing animals to endure mental stress or torment as an act of animal cruelty. Unless such treatment ultimately results in a physical manifestation, inflicting such psychological abuse is not against the law,” said McDonough. “The law needs to be changed to recognize psychological cruelty as well as physical cruelty, but that is going to take a huge effort.”

In the meantime, the ad-hoc coalition wants to stop this particular instance of inhumane treatment. To that end, the group held a press conference in Saratoga Springs. Wagner said, “This is a totally unnatural act for any equine. It is cruel and inhumane. We hope that by bringing this issue to the attention of the public that enough pressure can be generated to convince the owner of Magic Forest to discontinue the act.”

McClanahan echoed that sentiment and said,” In many animal abuse cases, public pressure has worked to put an end to the situation.”

To get the town to act on the issue, several members of the coalition met with Lake George Town Supervisor, Lou Tessier, who said that the town had no power to stop the act. The coalition believes otherwise. They intend to give a presentation to the Board in mid-July to encourage the Board to enact an ordinance that would outlaw horse diving acts in the Town of Lake George. The group also met with the Mayor of Lake George Village, who was sympathetic to the plight of the horse, but felt he had no power to shut the act down.

While they are pursuing these avenues, the coalition wants the public to write letters to both Gillette and the Lake George Town Board and to boycott Magic Forest until the act is retired.

And the issue goes beyond this horse; it also has broader implications for all animals. McDonough made that point when asked by a town board member why NYSHA, Equine Advocates, and the others were expending so much effort on this horse act. McDonough said, “It may be just one horse or two forced to do this, but thousands of children watch this exploitation every year, and exploitation of animals is not a tradition we should be passing on to our kids.”

NYSHA, Equine Advocates, and the other members of the ad hoc coalition are committed to continue this effort until this unfortunate horse can retire to a green field where the only watery sound he hears is a babbling brook.

What you can do to help
  1. Please write to Lou Tessier, Supervisor, Lake George Town Board, 20 Old Post Road, Lake George, NY 12845. Let him know that you believe this act is inhumane and should be banned. It has come to our attention, that since the press conference, the Town Board passed a resolution to support the horse diving act. We would suggest you let Tessier know that you will not be coming to Lake George to visit or patronize the businesses as long as the Town Board condones this inhumane act. Please send copies, separately, of your letter to Town Board members, Vincent Crocitto, Rita Dorman, Frank McCoy, and George McGowan at same address.
  2. Write The Post-Star newspaper: The Post-Star, PO Box 2157, Glens Falls, NY 12801
  3. Write The Saratogian newsletter: The Saratogian, 20 Lake Ave., Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
  4. Support NYSHA so we can continue to produce our animal cruelty investigation workshops and participate in campaigns such as this to end animal exploitation.

New York State Humane Association Humane Review, Vol.XVII, No.2, Summer 2003.