ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — The Diving Horse has finally been put out to pasture for good.
The owner of Atlantic City's Steel Pier says he's dropping a plan to bring back the legendary Diving Horse after animal rights activists lodged fierce criticism. The act, which ran on the pier from the 1920s to the 1970s, featured a horse and a rider plunging into a 12-foot-deep tank from a platform 40 feet in the air.
Anthony Catanoso, whose family owns the historic pier, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that he's no longer interested in reviving an attraction that helped make the pier world famous last century.
"We just felt that since Atlantic City is moving forward, we should move forward with it," he said. "We should create new memories for visitors instead of recreating old ones."
Catanoso revived the act once before, in 1993, but shut it down after two months following similar protests from animal rights activists.
He had envisioned the Diving Horse as the centerpiece of a refurbished Steel Pier, part of an overall makeover of the gambling resort being planned by local and state officials.
He downplayed the significance of public opposition in the latest decision to pull the plug on the Diving Horse but acknowledged that the protests did take their toll.
"That negativity — we didn't want that to interfere with the positive things we're trying to do," he said.
Harmful to horses?
Catanoso proposed reviving the act earlier this month when a massive redevelopment plan for Atlantic City's Boardwalk, casino district and shopping areas was unveiled. But within days, animal rights activists were voicing opposition.
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The Humane Society of the United States said its members "emphatically oppose equine diving acts, which subject the animals to inhumane and potentially abusive situations in the course of their training, transport and performance. The stress and trauma endured by these animals, in addition to the risk of injury to them, make these acts unacceptable."
A petition against the act on the website charge.org garnered 10,000 signatures in one day.
Catanoso said he extensively researched the act, including speaking with past performers. In a press release announcing his intention to bring back the act earlier this month, he determined that no horse was ever harmed in the act.
"Through this research, we determined there was no animal cruelty or abuse that occurred in the past," he wrote. "The new act will be humane, provide the horses first class care, operate under modern safety standards to protect both the riders and the horses and will not subject the horses to cruelty. We understand and share the community's concern regarding the inhumane treatment of animals. For the past 20 years, we have been dedicated to providing wholesome family entertainment in Atlantic City. We are committed to that goal and would never feature any act that would mistreat an animal."
Protesters had been trying to organize a demonstration at the next meeting of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to protest the inclusion of the Diving Horse in an Atlantic City redevelopment plan.
Although the Diving Horse was the most attention-getting aspect, the Steel Pier is undergoing a $100 million renovation that will take 3 ½ years and will make it a year-round attraction. Some work is already under way. This summer, there will be six new rides, several new games, beer gardens, new food and beverage kiosks and a resurfacing of the pier floor.
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