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The Story of Lady Wonder, the Psychic Horse

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In the early 1920s, a Richmond, Virginia woman named Claudia Fonda started noticing something unusual about her horse, Lady Wonder. The animal would often come to her without being beckoned, as if she knew, telepathically, that Fonda was looking for her.

Believing that she had an exceptional animal in her care, Fonda started to train Lady to move lettered and numbered children's blocks with her nose, eventually even designing a piano-sized contraption with a double row of keys. A touch of her snout on a lever would cause a tin card with a letter or number to pop up, and through that system, Lady was purportedly able to solve math problems and spell words. It was the gateway to a phenomenon, because Lady was not merely smart, she was also supposedly psychic.

An estimated 150,000 people would eventually seek counsel from Lady Wonder, each paying $1 to ask three questions. Her achievements reportedly included telling married women their maiden names, guessing the sex of unborn children, predicting oncoming tractors, knowing the date on a coin hidden from view, discovering oil, and calling elections, horse races, ball games, and boxing matches—most famously, Gene Tunney’s defeat of Jack Dempsey in 1927 for the world heavyweight championship.

After hearing about the boxing prediction, researchers from Duke University including Dr. J.B. Rhine visited the farm to test Lady. Rhine’s simple exam involved writing words on pieces of paper and, while still hidden, asking the horse to spell them out. Lady largely succeeded, even with longer words like "Mesopotamia" and "Carolina."

The future-telling, mind-reading mare’s best-known feat didn’t come until more than two decades later. In 1952, Lady was called upon as a sort of last-ditch effort in the search for a missing Massachusetts boy. She spelled out "Pittsfield Water Wheel” when asked for his whereabouts, and after some initial confusion (“Pittsfield Water Wheel” didn’t exist), authorities wondered if the letters were instead supposed to be Field and Wilde Water Pit—a nearby abandoned quarry. They took the search there, and found the missing boy’s body.

Lady Wonder wasn’t always correct with her answers—in fact, she was often wrong—and she garnered as many skeptics as believers. A professional horse trainer named Edward Staib checked out the horse and called the results "not conclusive.” While psychologist Thomas L. Garrett believed there was "no trickery involved,” New Jersey professor John Scarne believed Fonda was cueing the animal. Magician Milbourne Christopher agreed, determining that Lady Wonder was very well-trained, but not telepathic or clairvoyant.

Others still simply didn’t know what to make of the so-called psychic horse. A researcher named Dr. Gayle told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "I am perfectly willing to admit that I have no idea how she arrives at the correct answers to our questions. 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!"

Lady Wonder died in 1957, and Fonda followed two years later. We’ll never know if the animal had otherworldly abilities, or a very keen mind and obedient tendencies, but we do know that Fonda also had a piano-playing Pomeranian named Pudgy, so you can draw your conclusions from that.

For photos of Lady Wonder click here; if you want to read a slew of archived stories from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, they do require a small fee, but you can get them here.

[h/t Strange Company]

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holidays
Bleat Along to Classic Holiday Tunes With This Goat Christmas Album
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Feeling a little Grinchy this month? The Sweden branch of ActionAid, an international charity dedicated to fighting global poverty, wants to goat—errr ... goad—you into the Christmas spirit with their animal-focused holiday album: All I Want for Christmas is a Goat.

Fittingly, it features the shriek-filled vocal stylings of a group of festive farm animals bleating out classics like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.” The recording may sound like a silly novelty release, but there's a serious cause behind it: It’s intended to remind listeners how the animals benefit impoverished communities. Goats can live in arid nations that are too dry for farming, and they provide their owners with milk and wool. In fact, the only thing they can't seem to do is, well, sing. 

You can purchase All I Want for Christmas is a Goat on iTunes and Spotify, or listen to a few songs from its eight-track selection below.

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Animals
If You Want Your Cat to Poop Out More Hairballs, Try Feeding It Beets
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Have you ever wondered if there’s a way to get your cat to poop out its hairballs instead of hacking them up? If so, you’re likely a seasoned cat owner whose tolerance for gross stuff has reached the point of no return. Luckily, there may be an easy way to get your cat to dispose of hairballs in the litter box instead of on your carpet, according to one study.

The paper, published in the Journal of Physiology and Animal Nutrition, followed the diets of 18 mixed-breed short-haired cats over a month. Some cats were fed straight kibble, while others were given helpings of beet pulp along with their regular meals. The researchers suspected that beets, a good source of fiber, would help move any ingested hair through the cats’ digestive systems, thus preventing it from coming back up the way it went in. Following the experiment, they found that the cats with the beet diet did indeed poop more.

The scientists didn’t measure how many hairballs the cats were coughing up during this period, so it's possible that pooping out more of them didn’t stop cats from puking them up at the same rate. But considering hairballs are a matter of digestive health, more regular bowel movements likely reduced the chance that cats would barf them up. The cat body is equipped to process large amounts of hair: According to experts, healthy cats should only be hacking hairballs once or twice a year.

If you find them around your home more frequently than that, it's a good idea to up your cat's fiber intake. Raw beet pulp is just one way to introduce fiber into your pet's diet; certain supplements for cats work just as well and actually contain beet pulp as a fiber source. Stephanie Liff, a veterinarian at Pure Paws Veterinary Care in New York, recommends psyllium powder to her patients. Another option for dealing with hairballs is the vegetable-oil based digestive lubricant Laxatone: According to Dr. Liff, this can "help to move hairballs in the correct direction."

[h/t Discover]

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