It turns out that Clever Hans wasn’t the only gifted horse. Lady Wonder was a mare that could do arithmetic and also, according to some, had psychic abilities. The police even consulted her on a couple of cases.
We all know that horses and humans can have special bonds, it’s one of the things that attracted most of us to horses and keeps us with the sport during challenging times. Lady Wonder and her abilities benefited from her strong bond with her owner, and she showed the world just how special horses really are.
A Foal Named Lady
Lady was born on February 9, 1924, a Thoroughbred cross foal with a blaze and three white stockings. Claudia Fonda and her husband Clarence of Richmond, Virginia adopted Lady. The foal needed to be bottle-fed because she was only a few weeks old at adoption. She and Claudia formed a strong attachment.
The young foal only socialized with Claudia since the Fondas didn’t have other horses. Claudia had previously trained a Shetland pony to do some tricks, and she could tell Lady was smart. So she used children’s blocks to teach Lady the alphabet. It soon became evident that Lady was smarter than most horses. Lady seemed to know what Claudia wanted. She was so smart, in fact, that neighborhood children would play a game with her where they hid a thimble in a field for her to find. She found it every time!
Claudia first taught Lady to identify each letter. Claudia continued progressing her training and adding in harder questions, such as spelling words, and simple arithmetic.
When Lady outgrew her alphabet blocks, the Fondas built a homemade typewriter for Lady. The keys with the letters were about the same size as Lady’s muzzle, making it easy for her to press them. Claudia moved the keys around and put them in different places each time that Lady answered a question, making it a little harder for the horse, and helping to prove that it was really the horse answering questions.
Then, things got even odder. Lady spelled out the word engine (E-N-G-I-N-E) one day without being prompted by Claudia. A tractor went by a few minutes later. She started answering other questions correctly that she couldn’t possibly know the answer to and gained a reputation as a psychic.
Lady Wonder Horse
Lady’s name expanded to Lady Wonder and she was nationally known by 1927. She answered questions daily from noon to three in the afternoon at her red barn in Richmond, Virginia. Each person paid $1 and was able to ask her three questions. A homemade sign was out in front of the farm. “Lady Wonder Horse” was painted on the barn in big white letters. She answered questions for 150,000 people during her career.
The Richmond city council voted to label her as an intelligent horse instead of a fortune teller to reduce the fees the Fonda’s had to pay. If they had stated that Lady was a fortune-teller it would have cost an extra $1000 per year.
Serving the People
Lady’s knowledge and expertise eventually extended beyond answering simple questions and into psychic abilities. She picked the winners in 28 out of the 28 horse races at the Pimlico track in Baltimore that she was asked about. Police from Massachusetts and Illinois consulted her about missing children. Authorities later recovered the bodies in both cases at the locations Lady responded with.
A New York psychologist came to visit Lady. Fooling him wasn’t easy since he was familiar with mind tricks. Lady told him that the dog he thought had died was alive in Florida. It turns out that the kennel faked his death and sold the dog at a profit.
Lady even got involved in politics. One senator consulted her on international policy questions. When all the polls were declaring Dewey the winner of the 1948 presidential election, Lady predicted that Truman would win. And of course, she was right.
Testing Lady Wonder
Psychologist Joseph Banks Rhine of Duke University heard about Lady and wanted to prove that ESP was real. He conducted over 500 tests on Lady in 1927. It turned out if Claudia knew the answer, Lady easily got questions right, but when Claudia didn’t know the answer, Lady didn’t get any questions right. However, if someone else was asking Lady the question and knew the answer, she could get it right. While these tests did not explain the accuracy of her horse race answers, they begged the question – was Lady Wonder telepathic?
There were still skeptics though. Milbourne Christopher, a nationally recognized illusionist, was one of them. He didn’t believe that Lady was psychic. He went and visited her and lied about his name. His premise was that if she was psychic, she would know that his name was really Milbourne Christopher. Lady spelled the wrong name. She also failed a pencil trick where he made it look like he was writing a 9 but actually wrote a 1.
Despite the failed tests, Lady still predicted racehorse wins and political elections. She made accurate predictions of the stock market too, and we all know how hard that is. People were unsure who to believe, and Lady remained popular.
Lady died on March 19, 1957, and Claudia had her buried in a pet cemetery in Richmond. Lady was 33 when she died and had previously predicted her own death at age 30, so she wasn’t too far off. While we may never really know how Lady Wonder was able to make accurate predictions, there are parts of this story that every equestrian recognizes.
The bond between horse and human is something special and Lady Wonder showed the world that animals and horses, in particular, are smarter than people give them credit for. Lady provided a spark of joy and hope to all those that went to see her and ask questions and for that reason, her legacy lives on.