The owner of the Atlantic City Steel Pier says he's dropping a plan to bring back the Diving Horse to the New Jersey landmark, a legendary attraction featuring a horse and rider plunging into a 12-foot-deep water tank from a platform 40 feet up.
Anthony Catanoso, whose family owns the historic Steel Pier and now acts as its president, insists that the reason he decided not to bring back the controversial attraction was so that Atlantic City could look to the future.
Activists who have been protesting the move for weeks, however, consider the elimination of the Diving Horse attraction a historic victory against animal cruelty.
Steel Pier Renovations
The Diving Horse was a staple attraction at the Steel Pier since the 1920s before animal rights activists pressured the Atlantic City landmark to shut it down. Catanoso tried to revive the act in 1993, but was again rebuffed by animal welfare advocates.
This year, however, the Steel Pier is in the midst of a $100 million renovation. Over the next three and a half years, Catanoso plans to add six new rides, several new games, a few beer gardens, new food and beverage stalls and a completely resurfaced pier floor.
Catanoso had hoped the Diving Horse would become the centerpiece of the refurbished gambling resort, and proposed reviving the act earlier this month.
Within days, however, animal rights activists were rallying an insurmountable opposition.
Opposition To The Diving Horse
Upon hearing that Anthony Catanoso planned to bring the Diving Horse back to Atlantic City, the Humane Society of the United States issues a statement saying its members emphatically oppose equine diving acts, claiming the act had the potential to frighten, harm and even kill the horses involved.
A petition against the act on the website change.org garnered 10,000 signatures in one day. A Facebook group called Horses don't fly in A.C. was formed within the week, and Kathleen Schatzmann, New Jersey's state director for the Humane Society, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that animal rights groups nationwide were mobilizing to protest Steel Pier's plans.
Anthony Catanoso struck back, arguing that no animals had ever been seriously harmed in the Diving Horse act and dismissing the protesters in his presentation to the New Jersey Casino Redevelopment Authority as a small group of people trying to derail the project.
There was no animal cruelty or abuse that occurred in the past, Catanoso said in a press release earlier this month.
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, Catanoso added.
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.
Catanoso Backs Down
Animal welfare advocates were not convinced. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, protesters had been planning a demonstration at the next meeting of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority in order to try and stop the return of the Diving Horse attraction.
Before those plans could go through, however, Catanoso announced that the Steel Pier no longer had plans to bring back horse diving to Atlantic City, N.J., saying that the attraction was too much a relic of the past.
We just felt that since Atlantic City is moving forward, we should move forward with it, he told the AP. We should create new memories for visitors instead of recreating old ones.
Instead of trying to rekindle the past, we're going to preserve history and nostalgia in a new way.
Catanoso downplayed the significance of the recent protests in his decision not to revive the Diving Horse act, but did admit that the near-constant opposition had taken a toll.
That negativity--we didn't want that to interfere with the positive things we're trying to do, he said.
'A merciful end to a colossally stupid idea.'
Steel Pier president Anthony Catanoso may not be willing to admit that animal rights activists pressured him to drop the Diving Horse from his list of new attractions, but advocates are taking the credit nonetheless.
Roseann Trezza said she was ecstatic over the victory.
You have people trying to make a buck off the backs of animals, and it's really cruel exploitation, she said. Everybody worked together against that, and I am so happy to see that happen.
This is a merciful end to a colossally stupid idea, Humane Society president Wayne Pacelle added in a statement to the AP. We are pleased so many citizens spoke up and urged that this spectacle never get off the ground.
Horse diving has the potential to frighten and injure and kill horses, and it rightly belongs in Atlantic City's history books.
Horse diving shows are extremely rare in the U.S. today, though they remain legal.
Catanoso still plans to include daredevils and a high-wire act to the Steel Pier relaunch, even if the Diving Horse will no longer be a featured attraction.