Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Horse Sense

Beginning in 1927, thousands of curious people traveled to Stop 10, Petersburg Turnpike, Richmond, Virginia to visit Lady Wonder. Despite that she was unable to speak, Lady Wonder obediently provided answers to the astounded onlookers at the bargain price of fifty cents per question. But Lady Wonder was no mute gypsy mystic or mentalist act. She was a mare, descended from some prominent thoroughbred race-horses.

Owned and raised by one Mrs. C.D. Fonda, Lady Wonder communicated by manipulating alphabet blocks with her nose and stomping her hooves. She could seemingly identify distinct members of the crowd, do arithmetic, spell, and identify objects. No small achievement for a beast of burden, but Lady Wonder also went one step further with acts of clairvoyance.

She reportedly predicted Franklin Roosevelt's presidential victory, along with the correct outcomes of numerous races and boxing matches. On two occasions, the horse's advice was sought out for cases of missing children. One spectator described the show as nothing less than the "subconscious connection between the mind of man and the mind of an animal."

Many, however, were less credulous. One such person was professional magician Milbourne Christopher. Christopher had written several books on the subject of Extra-Sensory Perception and the occult, and had made it his mission to expose fraud and trickery. Milbourne studied Lady Wonder and found that the mare's miraculous abilities simply did not hold up to scrutiny. The horse was observing the unconscious body language of those in the crowd (especially the body language of her trainer Mrs. Fonda) and had no genuine comprehension of the questions asked of her. The predictions could easily be written off as mere coincidences.

As Lady Wonder's reputation was by this point firmly established, Christopher's conclusions had minimal impact on the horse's fame. Thanks to the endless novelty of a psychic horse, Lady Wonder continued to receive questions until 1955, finally dying two years afterwards.

Would you like to know more?
Read some old newspaper articles about Lady Wonder here
Or you can read about in a book!


  1. Interestingly enough, there was another horse named "clever hans" that was also well known for his ability to solve math problems. This ability was similarly debunked by proving that he was watching his trainer to determine the answer. Finally, about a decade ago a golden retriever named "Isaac" was discovered who could do basic math problems. As far as I know, the dog's ability was actually not gleaned from watching body language... he was just an incredibly smart dog.


  2. Yeah! I heard about Clever Hans on the radio a while back (I think it was on Talk of the Nation's Science Friday). A few days ago, reading about ol' Hans lead me to Lady Wonder and I liked the whole psychic angle. I've never heard of Isaac, but the image of a golden retriever doing math problems is absolutely adorable. I wonder how they initially found out that he was good at simple math?