Clever horses | Part III

Psychic Lady Wonder

Lady Wonder a mare owned by Claudia Fonda of Richmond, Virginia,  allegedly had psychic abilities. When Lady Wonder was two, she astonished everyone by showing how she could count and spell out simple words by moving toy blocks around with her nose and hooves. As they continued to work with her, she progressed in her grasp of both the English language and in her ability to read people’s thoughts. Eventually the wooden blocks were replaced with tin plates with letters, and when people asked Lady Wonder questions, she would respond by using her nose to turn up the letters of a big tin alphabet which hung suspended from an iron bar in the stall. By flipping the letters, she would eventually spell crude simple responses to any questions asked.

Some of Lady Wonders’ alleged abilities:

A spectator took a coin from his pocket. None saw the face of it but he. What was the date on it? The mare nosed over the blocks, “1-9-1-4.” Correct.

“Who in the group has on a pink dress?” the mare was asked.  “As I live!” exclaimed the woman in pink as the mare thrust her head emphatically in the visitor’s direction.

A spectator picked up the clock and turned the dial to ten minutes past six. Nobody saw the figures but he, and he thrust the clock face against his body.

“What time is it by this clock?” the mare was asked. “Six-one-naught,” replied Lady.

Mrs. Fonda stands near the mare, but holds no halter. There is no physical contact. Any how, Mrs. Fonda does not know the answers.  “What is the sum of eight and seven?” asks a spectator. And the mare answers lackadaisically: “Fifteen.”

A visitor holds a pocket knife in his hand. He inquires: “What have I here?” And the mare spells out “K-n-i-f-e.”

“What is the name of this boy at my side?” is the question. And the mare replies: “Leroy.”

When she noses among the blocks, spelling out the answers, she appears to be going to sleep. Her eyelids droop heavily, and her head is sagging indolently. Only when the experiments are over does she resume her character as a tense, nervous offspring of a race horse.


In Dec 1928 parapsychologists Drs. J.B. Rhine, Louisa Rhine, and William McDougall, came to the stable owned by Mrs. Fonda and conducted several hundred tests with Lady Wonder.  For example, Dr Rhine wrote on a paper the words Mesopotamia, Hindustan and Carolina and, keeping the words out of sight, said “What are the words I have written Lady?”  The horse immediately ‘nose-picked’ them with out an error. Several baffled scientists and psychologists of the time studied Lady Wonder, convinced that the whole thing just had to be a hoax. Or if not a deliberate hoax, then surely either Mrs. Fonda or the people who asked the mare to answer questions must be giving her visual cues that she picked up on.

It must be said that Dr. Rhine, a botanist heavily influenced by the  spiritualist  author of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, investigated the abilities of Lady Wonder concluding that there was strong evidence for telepathy between human and horse. Rhine is known fpr founding the Parapsychology Lab at  Duke Univeristy and the Journal of Parapsychology, but is probably best known as the originator of the phenomenon he coined; Extra Sensory Perception (ESP).

Dr. Maclachlan, who had studied psychic phenomena for years, asserted promptly that he considered the mare super-normal, and thought there might be some subconscious connection between the mind of the human being and the mind of the animal.  As he said: “Now, I am no spiritist, mind you,” he suggested, “I am merely interested from a scientific point of view. It seems to me that the mare has super-normal powers. It appears that there may be a subconscious connection between the mind of man and the mind of an animal.”

Dr. Gayle laughed and shook his head when asked what he thought of the mare’s achievements. “I am perfectly willing to admit that I have no idea how she arrives at the correct answers to our questions,” he said. “There is no conscious trickery here, I am convinced. But I am not converted to the mind-reading theory. What’s the solution of the puzzle? I don’t know!” (Richmond Times-Dispatch,  July 18, 1927)

Dr. Johnson talked very fully about his experiments; “”In my opinion, the horse knows the answers by the movements of the questioners or by the inflection of their voices; or she is affected by a purely mental influence,” he asserted. “And we must remember that when the questioner stands where she cannot see him, she replies accurately. What are we to conclude.?”

The prominent illusionist Milbourne Christopher attributed the phenomenon  to ideomotor reactions, which are those motions that are made unconsciously. Christopher’s view was quite contrary to the para-psychological explanation and was able to determine that that Lady Wonder only answered questions correctly when her trainer was aware of the answer, much like in the case of the Clever Hans. Although Christopher had pointed at ideomotor reactions, similar to those which guided Hans to answer his questions, Mrs. Fonda continued charging a dollar for three answers for the abilities of Lady Wonder.

She was also believed to solve some mysteries, and was asked assitance in solving the case of a missing boy named Ronnie in 1955.


Beautiful Jim Key

While Hans, together with Eberfeld horses, caused a sensation in Europe during the turn of the century, with their incredible abilities, across the Atlantic, another sensation was drawing attention. Jim Key, under the direction of Dr. William Key, was known for his abilities in reading, writing spelling, time-telling, simple mathematics, sorting out mail, and even citing passages from the Bible.

Unlike Clever Hans,  or  the Elberfeld horses of Europe, the story of Beautiful Jim Key has gone largely unnoticed through the years, despite the fame of his heydays. His story has recently been revived by author and writer David Hoffman, and retold in  a wonderful book; Beautiful Jim Key  by Mim Eicler Rivas.

You can also read:

Hans the wonderhorse

The other Wundepferdes | Part I


Additional reading and Bibliography:

The unknown Guest by Maurice Maeterlinck
The Mare Solved the Mystery by Frank Edwards
 Lola: The Thought and Speech of Animals By H. Kindermann
The Beautiful Jim Key Collection
Princess Trixie AUTOBIOGRAPHY By George L. Hutchin

Can horses think?

One thought on “Clever horses | Part III

  1. Pingback: Physics of the Impossible – Psychic Animals | Like Bears to Honey

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