The high-diving feats of Sonora Carver

Retinal detachment usually occurs due to changes in the vitreous, which is the clear, jelly-like substance that fills the cavity within the eyeball.

The vitreous naturally shrinks and pulls away from the retina with age, and this process will occasionally cause a retinal tear which allows fluid within the vitreous to seep under the retina, detaching it from the wall of the eye. A significant injury to the eye can also cause a retinal detachment as the trauma can lead the vitreous to suddenly pull away from the retina creating a tear, and this can happen at any age.

When it comes to injuries, activities like weightlifting or undertaking high speed or high-pressure activities without good eye protection can result in retinal detachment. Often, with modern equipment and expertise, we can reattach the retina using a surgical procedure.

Back in the 1930s however, it wasn’t so easy. The technology wasn’t available – and there were also many eccentric pastimes that compounded the chances of injury and subsequent blindness. Such was the case with Sonara Carver.

Sonora was one of the world’s first female horse divers. Yes, you read that right. Horse divers. This unusual activity involved mounting a horse as it ran at a high speed towards a diving platform, sometimes at a height of around 18 metres, then joining the animal on its descent into a pool of water below.

Sonora was performing at Atlantic City’s Steel Pier in 1931 with her horse Red Lips, when she hit the water off-balance with her eyes open. This caused her retinas to detach and resulted in blindness. Despite this accident she continued to dive horses for another eleven years.

When asked how Sonora could continue after her injury, her sister, who was also a horse diver, remarked that the activity was “the most fun you could have”. Clearly this must have been true for the humans involved. However, when it comes to the horses, we have some questions.