In Excess

Gambling, Gaming and Extreme Behavior

Horse Code

A beginner’s guide to the psychology of pony-play

In a previous blog I examined the Furry Fandom (FF) and the people who like to dress up as animals and have sex dressed as animals. One particular subset of the FF is a group of people who engage in 'pony-play' (PP). PP is overtly more sexualized than FF and is a form of bondage that involves a person dressed as a “pony” and a rider. The human pony (the submissive partner) can comprise ‘ponyboys’ or ‘ponygirls’ typically wears stylized horse adornments including riding straps, a leather saddle, reins, and a bit in the mouth. The human rider (the dominant) also wears stylized riding accessories such as a riding crop or a horse-whip. The riders may sit on the human pony and/or get the pony to cart them around. In his 2010 book, Pony Training: Five Case Studies on Pony Play, Ownership and Kinky Submission, Dr. Garth Mundinger-Klow notes that “Ponygirl, Ponyboy” was:

“A classic [sadomasochistic] fantasy immortalized in the drawings of of John Willie and used in the Sleeping Beauty Triology by Anne Rice. Typical pony garb includes a horsehair tail attached to a butt plug, a bit gag and/or bridle head harness, and reins. Often very high heels, a corset, and feather plumes in the hair are added. The arms are typically bound behind the back”.

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However, many people’s views of PP (if they even have them) may have come from the documentary film Born In A Barn. This film was:

“An intimate and occasionally humorous look into the extraordinary erotic lives of four seemingly ordinary people. Born In A Barn takes us deep into the world of pony play, a fetish in which enthusiasts role-play as human ponies and handlers. Revealing the complex motives that drive each character to pursue this unusual passion and following them as they each confront the questions that being an erotic equine present, Born In A Barn is a film about finding an identity in the pursuit of an unconventional desire”.

Role-play is nothing new and the Greek philosopher and polymath Aristotle is alleged to have loved being ridden like a horse. In fact, PP is (in some circles) referred to as ‘The Aristotelian Perversion’. In her 2000 book Deviant Desires, Katharine Gates makes reference to the fact that ponyplay was depicted in Assyrian art dating back to 2000 B.C. More recently Gates notes that in the 19th century human ponyplay existed as an erotic amusement for the upper classes in British colonies.

As mentioned in my previous blog on the FF, the primary theme of such animal role-play is often the voluntary (and sometimes) involuntary reduction (or transformation) of human beings to animals, and a subsequent focus on the altered mind-space created by the transformation.

The ponies in PP comprise three different groups although the activities are not mutually exclusive for the participants.

• Cart ponies: These are human ponies that pull a sulky with their rider (A sulky is a lightweight two-wheeled cart with a seat for the rider). These ponies wear bit-bridles and harnesses, blinkers, walk standing up, and have their hands secured behind their backs.

• Riding ponies: These are human ponies that are ridden on while they are on all fours or partly standing up on two legs by their rider (custom made saddle or bareback). Some (usually male) ponies prefer their riders to be on their shoulders. Riding ponies are harnessed, bridled and may wear blinkers.

• Show ponies: These are human ponies that show off their skills in dressage (e.g., choreographed pony-dance, cantering, etc.), can walk standing up or on their hands and knees, and typically wearing ornate and elaborate harnesses, plumes, etc.).

For the human pony, the sexual thrill rarely involves normal sexual contact. The sexual thrill is the fantasy of actually being a horse under the control of their dominant rider. The only time that actual sex takes place in PP is when the human ponies are engaged in a ‘stud service’ and one pony is bred to another. This requires explicit permission from the human pony’s “owner”. The practice of stud farming may also be role-played and fantasy-based (i.e., no real sexual intercourse taking place). It is believed that many submissive human ponies and their dominant riders are in a romantic, emotional and/or sexual relationship outside of PP although some only know each other in the context of PP.

In an online essay on PP, Malfouka makes the point that this particular fetish is “not for the lazy” as the preparation involved for all PP participants (i.e., trainers, owners, groomers and riders) is time intensive. Malfouka gives a detailed description of the main PP protagonists. 

• Trainers: These are the people who actually train the human pony (and may train many such people). The trainer is responsible for turning those who wish to be pony into an actual pony. Malfouka says “this distinction is important in that in the world of ponyplay, there is protocol to follow”. The most important thing to take on board is that no-one is a pony simply because they pretend to be one. It takes a long time of training for the human pony be taught the appropriate stance, demeanour, behaviour, showmanship and submission. Trainers can also be owners, riders, and/or groomers.

• Owners: These are the people who "own" the human pony and are typically the riders too (i.e., the masters or mistresses). Owners plan the pony's schedule, dress, and all associated activities (including which other riders can access the pony). Owners can also be trainers, riders, and/or groomers.

• Groomers: These are the people (often trainers and/or owners) who take charge of pony care (washing, bathing, petting, massaging, brushing hair), bathing.

• Riders: These are the people who ride the pony. Riders can comprise anyone that the owner and/or trainer have given permission to ride.

To date, there has been little empirical research on the topic of pony-play. An anthropological paper by Margot Weiss (Wesleyan University, US) in a 2006 issue of Anthropologica, examined the BDSM community in the San Francisco Bay Area (US). Her interviewees included people who identified themselves primarily as a pony (within a BDSM context). She argued that BDSM sexuality (including those who self-identified as a pony) should be conceptualized as a form of ‘working at play’ (WAP). WAP recognizes the ways that BDSM practitioners move between registers of work (productive labour) and play (creative recombination). Weiss’ analysis situates BDSM (and other sexualities) within “the shifting cultural geography of U.S. late-modernity, drawing attention to the ways sexuality blurs boundaries between individual-social, real-pretend and leisure-labour)”.

At the end of 2011, Dr Anil Aggrawal published an interesting paper on zoophilia in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine and categorized those into pony-play as Class I zoosexuals (i.e., human-animal role-players). According to Aggrawal, Class 1 zoosexuals never have sex with actual animals but become sexually aroused through wanting to have sex with humans who pretend to be animals and who engage in pseudo-zoophilic acts (e.g., pet play, pony play, ponyism or pup-play). Personally, I don’t class this as a type of zoophilia at all but I can see Aggrawal’s logic in including the Furry Fandom and PP communities.

References and further reading

Aggrawal, A. (2011). A new classification of zoophilia. Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, 18, 73-78. 

Gates, K. (2000). Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex. New York: RE/Search Publications.

Love, B. (1992). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books.

Malfouka (undated). My Little Pony: The Aristotelian Perversion. Maximum Awesome. Located at: http://www.maximumawesome.com/pervfriday/ponypeople.htm

Mundinger-Klow, G. (2010). Pony training: Five case studies on pony play, ownership and kinky submission. Olympia Press.

Weiss, M.D. (2006). Working at Play: BDSM Sexuality in the San Francisco Bay Area. Anthropologica, 48, 229-245.

Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit in the Psychology Division at Nottingham Trent University (UK).

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