We hear a lot about the annals of psychics and their amazing feats. History is littered with supposed great psychics with fantastic powers of the mind, but the one thing they usually share in common is that they are all human beings. But have you ever wondered if an animal could be psychic? If so, what animal do you think it would be? A monkey, chimpanzee, or gorilla? Something like that? Well, it might come as a surprise that there have not only been animal psychics, but one of the most well-known of these in her day, indeed one of the most well-known psychics of her entire era, was a horse.
The horse called Lady came into the world normally on February 9, 1924, a black foal with white feet, who at the age of 3 weeks was taken into the care of Clarence and Claudia Fonda, of Richmond, Virginia. Claudia fed the young horse by hand and raised her almost as if she were her own daughter, keeping her separated from other horses, and the two formed a deep bond. As Lady grew, Claudia began to notice something odd about the mare. Whenever she wanted Lady to come, the horse would do so without being told, as if she somehow knew she was being beckoned. If this had only happened a few times it might have been written off as just coincidence, but it got to the point where it was uncanny, happening every time without fail, and with various other different commands as well, making Claudia suspect that Lady was somehow reading her mind. At the same time, Lady began to display feats of intelligence and problem solving that were beyond what she would expect from a horse, and so Claudia decided to try an experiment.
Claudia devised a system by which she arranged a series of simple lettered and numbered children’s wood blocks for the horse to nudge or otherwise point out, and was shocked to see that within just a few months Lady was able to learn the alphabet and recognize all of the letters and numbers. After some training, Lady was allegedly able to not only spell out words on command, but also do simple arithmetic, which was far beyond the cognitive abilities of a typical horse. As their training continued, Claudia ditched the blocks and began using a sort of large, modified typewriter, with which Lady could use to press keys that lifted little tin cards with the corresponding letter or numbers on them. Before long, Lady was able to answer simple questions by spelling out the answers, and it was then that she showed off yet another mysterious skill.
It would come to pass that Claudia one day misplaced something and Lady typed out the location of it, despite the fact that the horse had not left her stable. Claudia tested this out with a thimble, which she would hide in various places, and every time Lady was able to guess where it was. Claudia sought to hone this mysterious skill, and allegedly was stunned when the horse was able to do things such as read the face of a clock that was hidden from her, guess if a coin was heads or tails every time, and she began making predictions of events in the world. For instance, she reportedly successfully divined the results of a 1927 boxing match, correctly naming Gene Tunney the victor over Jack Dempsey. This was so amazing that Claudia decided to display Lady to the public and let her interact with visitors, and from there this horse would be propelled to stardom.
Droves of visitors arrived from all over seeking to test out “Lady Wonder” the psychic horse, and most did not go away disappointed. Lady would predict the gender of babies, give stock outcomes, correctly guess names and dates of all manner of things, and perform various arithmetic and spelling tests for amazed audiences, which propelled her fame to the point that she was becoming a sensation. Over the years Lady purportedly predicted earthquakes and other natural disasters, stock exchange shifts, sport winners, and presidential elections, most notably the 1948 United States presidential election between Truman and Dewey, correctly calling Truman the winner even though the press had erroneously jumped the gun to announce Dewey as the victor. She also was known for finding lost or stolen objects, as well as lost pets, famously finding the missing dog of New York psychologist, Thomas L. Garrett, who called her “a genuine phenomenon.” Lady even supposedly turned up oil wells. She was attracting so much attention that she was on the cover of Time Magazine, and it was rumored that politicians consulted her for advice. Reporters came in droves, often reporting of how amazed they had been, with one journalist famously stating:
As a prophet, this horse seems to be about as faithful a replica of Nostradamus as the twentieth century has produced. If there was a trick in the uncanny behavior of the animal, the mantle of Houdini had fallen on competent shoulders.
Of course, considering this was basically a talking psychic horse, she was bound to attract skeptics and more scientifically minded folk. The highest profile controlled test of Lady’s purported abilities was carried out by the parapsychologist Professor Joseph Banks Rhine, of Duke University. Rhine arrived at the farm with his team in 1927 and spent a full week testing Lady’s reported powers with an array of hundreds of different tests. He would come to the conclusion that Lady was not being signaled in any way consciously or unconsciously, and that she was “responsive to telepathy and possessed a degree of psychic power,” although they did stipulate that the horse only seemed to be able to divine the answers to their tests when someone else knew the answers, as if mind reading. Rhine would say:
There is left only the telepathic explanation, the transference of mental influence by an unknown process. Nothing was discovered that failed to accord with it, and no other hypothesis seems tenable in view of the results.
Although Rhine’s conclusion was that the horse had real psychic abilities, not every one else was so convinced. The famous illusionist and magician Milbourne Christopher also tested Lady, and concluded that Fonda was using mentalist tricks and subtle cues to give the answers to her very well-trained horse. This conclusion would be shared by the magician John Scarne, who was convinced that Claudia Fonda was perpetrating an elaborate illusion. Scarne would say of this:
Mrs. Fonda carried a small whip in her right hand, and she cued the horse by waving It. I detected Mrs. Fonda doing it every time the horse moved the lettered blocks with the nose. This method of doing the trick might have puzzled me if I hadn’t known that the placement of horse’s eyes on ‘either side of the head gave them wide backward range of peripheral vision. Therefore, it offered no problem for me to detect. Mrs. Fonda, when cueing Lady Wonder, stood about two-and-a-half feet behind, and approximately at a 60-degree angle to Lady’s head. The shaking of the whip first time was the signal for Lady to bend her head within a couple of inches to the blocks. A second shake of the whip was the cue for Lady to continuously move her head in a bent position back and forth over the blocks. When Lady Wonder’s head was just above the desired block Mrs. Fonda made the horse touch the block with her nose by shaking the whip a third time. It was as simple as that.
However, none of this explained why the horse seemed to be so uncanny at predicting the outcomes of future events, and in the meantime she continued to baffle and amaze. Perhaps Lady Wonder’s most impressive feat happened in 1951, when a 4-year-old boy named Danny Matson went missing in Quincy, Massachusetts. When massive searches turned up nothing, the police figured they had nothing to lose and sought advice from Lady Wonder. The horse told them that the boy’s body was at a place she called the “Pittsfield Water Wheel,” which at first made no sense, as Pittsfield didn’t have a water wheel, but police ascertained that she actually likely meant a water-filled quarry called the Field and Wilde Water Pit. The police had already searched it, but just in case they looked again, and found Matson’s body. This tip was considered to be so eerily uncanny and accurate that the following year Lady was consulted again by the mother of a boy named Ronnie Weitcamp, who had gone missing in Naperville, Illinois. Lady told her that her son had died of exposure, and to look at the DuPage River a mile from where he had last been seen, where he could be found near an elm tree on sand. Once again the area was searched and the boy’s body was found.
It was amazing cases like these that kept Lady Wonder’s legend alive for decades, as well as debate and discussion on how real her abilities were right up to the present. Some of what this horse was pulling off was beyond anything that the handler could have known or cued to her, Claudia herself always denied any trickery, and when Lady died on March 19, 1957 at the age of thirty-three, she left quite a puzzling mystery behind. There have been discussions on Lady Wonder’s powers ever since, with no real clear-cut answer and those who examined her all coming to wildly different conclusions. In the end we are left to ask just how real any of these claims were. Was this just an exceptionally well-trained horse? How could she make the predictions she did? Is this all explainable or are we dealing with something more bizarre? Whatever the case may be, the story of Lady Wonder is truly odd, and she manages to earn her rank above the numerous other famous alleged human psychics throughout history.