Lady Wonder, the mind reading mare

17th September 2022. Reading Time: 10 minutes Famous Paranormal Cases, General. 1164 page views. 0 comments.

There is much written about humans who were thought to possess telepathic abilities. There was however a very famous horse who was said to not only possess psychic ability, but she helped the police solve mysteries! Her name was Lady Wonder, the mind reading mare. Was she really psychic or was she picking up on her owner's visual cues?

There is much written about humans who were thought to possess telepathic abilities.  There was however a very famous horse who was said to not only possess psychic ability, she helped the police solve mysteries!  Her name was Lady Wonder, the psychic horse.  Was she really psychic or was she picking up on her owner's visual cues?  

Lady Wonder the mind reading mare

Lady was born on February 9th 1924 and was adopted by Clarence and Claudia Fonda, of Richmond, Virginia when she was 3 weeks old.  Claudia formed a very deep connection with Lady who bottle fed her and had separated her from the other horses. As time passed, Claudia felt there was something extra special about Lady.  She didn't have to call for Lady to come to her, she simply had to think it and Lady would somehow know she was being called.  As time went on Lady seemed to follow many instructions that were not verbally spoken, they were only thought of mentally by Claudia.  She had an inkling and decided to conduct her own experiment to see if her suspicion was true ..... that Lady could read her mind.

Lady and Claudia.  Image Source:

Claudia set up a table consisting of children's toy blocks that had either numbers or letters on them for Lady to nudge a number or letter to communicate.  Over the course of a few months, Lady was able to learn the alphabet and numbers.  She was soon able to spell out words and complete basic maths equations.  As Lady became more and more skilled (far beyond what one would expect from a horse), Claudia devised a large typewriter for Lady to use instead of blocks.  Lady was able to press keys that lifted tin cards that had either a letter or number on them.  Lady was able to answer questions seemingly reading the mind of her trainer Claudia.  Her abilities also seemed to grow with Lady successfully pinpointing the location of items Claudia had lost. 

Image Source: Richmond times

Word spread and Lady soon became Lady Wonder the mind reading mare with visitors coming far and wide to visit her.  Lady predicted winners of boxing matches, the gender of babies, stock tips and more leaving all of her visitors amazed with her accuracy.  She even made the cover of TIME magazine!  Over 150,000 people visited Lady with very few leaving disappointed.  Of course, they had to pay for the privilege to speak to Lady.  $1 would buy them 3 questions with Lady Wonder.  They would ask her questions that she nor her owner could possibly know yet she got them right almost every time!  Lady had the attention of people from all over the world, including those eager to put Lady to the test.  One of those people was famous parapsychologist J B Rhine.


Who was J.B Rhine?

In the 1930's Joseph Banks Rhine adopted the word parapsychology to replace the phrase: physical research. He was thought to have founded parapsychology as we know it today as a branch of psychology. He focused his research on experimenting with test subjects. Rhine himself is well known for establishing Parapsychology institutes. First was the Parapsychology lab at Duke University, founding the Journal of Parapsychology and the Parapsychology Institute and what is now known as today as the Rhine Research Center.  While most well known for his work with Zener Cards, he also conducted dice trials to see if humans could use psychokinesis to change the result of a rolled dice.  Along with his with Louisa Rhine, he also investigated cases of spontaneous phenomena, beyond the typical ghostly experiences.  One such case that caught his attention was Lady Wonder's knack for reading a person's mind.

Image Source: Duke University

In 1927, J B Rhine set up camp in a tent near the barn to spend a week observing Lady and testing her abilities.  He observed that Lady had the uncanny ability to be able to correctly identify things on a telepathic level, which he felt was proven by the fact that Lady could only give information that someone else knew - meaning she was telepathically receiving the information from someone else or as Claudia suspected, reading her mind.

By the use of screens so that the horse and its owner could not see each other, and by the prevention of voice directions, the conscious signal and unconscious guidance theories were disposed of. This 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 proposed seems tenable in view of the results. 

Rhine, J. B., & Rhine, L. E. (1929). An investigation of a "mind reading" horse. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 23(4), 449–466. 

After further testing and investigation, it seemed Lady lost her psychic abilities which in the opinion of J B Rhine further convinced him that the original findings were a result of telepathy.  

The results obtained in the first test, which seemed to indicate a possibility of direction-giving by telepathy, were not given reinforcement in the second series of tests. Body and whip movements were needed a great deal more in the second than in the first series of tests. The earlier conclusion that Lady was then telepathic seems to be supported in a substantial measure by the later negative findings, but only in so far as they constitute a check or comparison

Rhine, J. B., & Rhine, L. E. (1929). Second report on Lady, the "mind-reading" horse. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 24(3), 287–292. 

This seems to be a common theme when it comes to testing supposed psychic abilities.  Subjects (usually human) seem to display signs of possessing psychic abilities, however, as testing progresses, they are unable to replicate the same results.  It is for this reason that many psychics then began engaging in fraudulent activities to save face in a way.  I suppose we have to wonder if the ability does seem to drop off, does it mean that there were psychic abilities on display in the first place or could it be put down to simple chance or is it that the subjects are really good at reading cues?

Was it really telepathy?

While Rhine was quite open to the idea of Lady possessing psychical abilities, magician Milbourne Christopher had another theory and was able to gain access to test Lady himself in 1956.  He gave Claudia the false name of John Banks.  When he began to test Lady, he asked the question "What is my name?".  Sure enough, Lady spelt out the letters B A N K S.  Lady was also able to successfully guess numbers which Christopher had written down on a narrow pad and a long pencil.  Christopher knew this trick well as it was one popular with mentalists called pencil reading.  Mentalists are trained to recognise the number being written by the movements made with the pencil.  To test this, he deceitfully made the motions that he was writing the letter 9 while stealthy writing the letter 1.  While mentally he concentrated on the letter 1 since it was telepathy being tested, it was the letter 9 - the number he pretended to write that Lady guessed.  It was here that concluded Lady was not communicating telepathically but more responding from cues from her trainer Claudia.

Fellow magician John Sharne shared this view concluding that Claudia had been giving visual cues to Lady Wonder with her whip, especially since Claudia insisted on standing close by Lady during all testing.

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.

Lady helps police

Probably the most astonishing part of Lady's story is the time she helped police to locate a missing local boy Danny Matson in the town of Quincy.  When police were unable to locate the missing 4 year old boy, they felt they had nothing to lose and went to Lady.  When asked where the boy was, she spelt out the name Pittsfield Water Wheel.  Even though there was no water wheel in the Pittsfield area, police thought Lady meant the Pit Field Wilde Water Quarry.  It was there they found the missing boy's body.  Lady was also consulted on another missing case in 1955 where she successfully located the body of 3 year old Ronnie Weitcamp from Indiana.  It is this part of the story that becomes a little harder to explain.  If Lady was following cues from her owner using her whip, how did Claudia know this information to relay to Lady in the first place?  Perhaps it was really Claudia that was the psychic here?  Maybe Claudia was not aware that she was giving cues?

Image Source: Pinterest

Whether she truly was capable of psychic abilities or just a very well-trained horse, many horse trainers agree that the level and standard of her ability if it were a result of training was impeccable and not normal for a mare.  Perhaps it was her owner and trainer Claudia who was the real psychic that was able to telepathically communicate with Lady made possible by the deep bond they shared?

Lady passed away on March 19th, 1957 at the age of 33 from a heart attack.  She is still the subject of much debate even today.  You often see news stories about psychic creatures such as Paul the Octopus who seemingly predicted the winner of the World Cup and Harry the Crocodile who successfully predicted the winner of an Australian election.  Maybe the most famous animal of all is that of Punxsutawney Phil who for 135 years has predicted if it is going to be a long winter at the yearly Groundhog festival.  While often discussed as light-hearted entertainment, maybe we need to look into our beloved animals more closely.  We theorise that humans with a bond are capable of telepathic and psychic connection, so we should then also consider that this can extend to our beloved animals who we share a special bond and connection with.  I will share in a future article some of the research of Rupert Sheldrake who has done extensive work in this area which has us asking, are animals psychic?


Rhine, J. B., & Rhine, L. E. (1929). An investigation of a "mind reading" horse. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 23(4), 449–466.

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