Monday, January 14, 2008

Human Ponies and Tied-Up Mermaids

Teresa Noelle Roberts
Roving (or is that Raving?) Reporter

During the 12 Days of Christmas madness here on Lust Bites, Deanna posted six lovely pictures of pony girls. Inspired by the discussion the pictures provoked, I bravely volunteered to attend a workshop on pony play at a local fetish event where I was doing a reading.

Okay, I’ll be honest. I was already planning on going to the workshop out of curiosity. I had no experience with pony play, but several things about it intrigued me: the ritual aspects for both sub and dom; the playfulness underlying the ritual (it’s Let’s Pretend for grown-ups!); the baroque and bizarre costuming (hoof-shaped shoes! tails! intricate leather harnesses!); the idea of being groomed and trained. Even the wordlessness is curiously appealing to someone who spends so much time immersed in language. And besides, you never know when some editor might decide she wants a pony play story to round out an anthology and that yours truly is just the person to write it. (I’ve had equally weird things happen in my writing career.)

So this past weekend I boldly ventured to “Pony Play 101,” taught by La Dresseuse Maureen. A dresseuse is to dressage as a masseuse is to massage, and this particular one is apparently well-known in the close-knit world of pony play. (If, like myself, you missed the horse stage growing up, the dictionary definition of dressage is “the art or method of training a horse in obedience and in precision of movement,” which only takes one word change to sound pretty damn hot to anyone fond of BDSM erotica.)

I figured I’d observe, ask a few questions, gain a better understanding of this kink and what it means to the people who do it, and then come home and write something on the theme of “Isn’t the variety of ways people can get turned on fascinating?”

But I found myself more intrigued than I expected.

There were three “demo ponies,” two men that Maureen is training and one woman. The woman caught my eye immediately because of her costume. She had intricate tack, with designs embossed in her leather harness, leather roses on her bit so she looked like she was clamping a rose between her teeth, a plume on her head, and a glorious tail. (Contrary to the impression you might get from looking at fetish photography, the tails are rarely in the form of a butt-plug, because butt-plugs and running around aren’t the best combination. The people who actually play at being ponies, rather than just enjoying dressing up, have tails attached to their tack.) And best of all, from a costume-buff’s standpoint, she had fascinating carved wooden hooves—not just on her feet, but hoof-mitts on her hands as well. She was obviously proud of herself and her beautiful gear and pleased as could be to be shown off in public.

But one of the men really captured my attention. His gear wasn’t as impressive as the woman’s or the other man’s, and while he had a pleasant face, he wasn’t some well-muscled stud you’d yearn to see in an outfit that consisted of a wide belt, three leather straps, and a loincloth. But once Maureen slipped the bridle on his head and took his reins, he glowed. He trotted and cantered about the room, responding to her commands. (Commands given in French, by the way. She often speaks French to her human ponies because, as she puts it, real horses don’t understand English: it helps the would-be equines get into a horselike frame of mind where they follow body language and tone more than actual words). At rest, he nuzzled his head against her like an affectionate horse would to “his human,” ate treats from her hand. And while he did all this, this ordinary-looking man was transformed into something other than his mundane self. As a pony, he carried himself with pride and grace. And there was such affection and trust between him and his trainer that it was beautiful to see. It wasn’t overtly sexual, but it was wonderfully intimate and sensual—which I hadn’t expected.

Hrrm, thought I, I’m starting to get this. Let’s listen and watch a little more.

Maureen explained and demonstrated how she trained her “ponies” to work blindfolded, so as to develop complete trust in her control. She talked about the different ways to play, how it could be quite athletic (“the fetish fitness program” was how she described) if you wanted it to be, and how many pony and trainer pairs enjoyed entering competitions at large fetish events, so there were elements of exhibitionism and playful rivalry. She stressed that the BDSM aspect, for her and her ponies, was about surrender and control, but that some trainers liked to apply the riding crop or dressage whip liberally and some ponies found that an important part of the experience. She talked about how, with special shoulder saddles that distributed weight like a good backpack, even a fairly small human pony could give rides. (I looked over at my beloved, a good eight inches taller than me and roughly twice my weight, and mouthed, “No way!”) She talked about training them to pull light carts, and where to find or how to build the carts. And all the while the ponies waited patiently, nickering and shivering with pleasure when she scritched or groomed them.

And when she put them through their paces, you could practically taste how much fun both pony and trainer were having.

After seeing that, I had to try it. For Lust Bites. For science. And because I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t satisfy my curiosity.

It was only for about five minutes—I’d gone to the class from my reading, wearing a slinky dress that didn’t lend itself to cantering and prancing about.

But I learned a lot in that short time.

I learned that when you feel that leather harness on your head—it’s modified pony tack and is quite heavy—you’re either going to immediately say “Get that thing off me!” or find yourself slipping into a different mindset, not dissimilar to the way a bondage-lover feels when the cuffs or ropes go on. I learned that when you have a bridle in your mouth, you’re effectively gagged—and that once I fought through my initial panic at being forced to shut up, that was pretty hot. I learned that taking directions from the way my beloved manipulated the reins attached to my head harness wasn’t easy at first, but it was a great exercise in trust and in taking and yielding control. This was hours ago and I swear I can still feel the connection between us, that we’re moving in sync like we did when he held my reins.

Would I do it again? I’m not ready to invest hundreds of dollars in fancy tack and custom-made hooves, however sexy they look—but a nice bit and bridle might be a good addition to the toy collection.

* * *
While we’re on the subject of fantasies you might not have thought of, let me bring up two words that don’t seem to go together: underwater bondage.

Yes, you read that right.

I imagine many of us have messed around in the pool, gotten friendly in the Jacuzzi, enjoyed a secluded stretch of shore with a special someone, or acquired bruises while trying to fit two writhing bodies into one standard bathtub. It’s something a little different, but not scarily so. A little naughty, especially if you do it somewhere you might get caught, yet somehow wholesome. Playing in the water is freeing, sensual, a back-to-nature thing even if you’re a pool. Even if everyone isn’t getting it on in the water, it’s obvious from reading erotica and watching mainstream porn that it’s a pretty common variation. There’s a lot of gently erotic underwater photography as well—it makes for pretty pictures.

And then there’s bondage…We get bondage here at Lust Bites. (Personally, I get it every chance I can.) Even if we’re not interested ourselves, we understand the appeal of being confined, constricted, restricted, unable to resist all the horrible (i.e., wonderful) torments that some handsome leather-clad brute wants to inflict upon you…

Sorry, got a bit distracted here. What I meant to say was playing in the water is about freedom, while bondage is about constriction, restriction, stretching one’s limits.

Underwater bondage stretches limits in an even more extreme way. It’s not something most of us are prepared to try at home, lacking a large and very private pool, a scuba tank or two, and a few safety spotters, not to mention a top who really knows his or her stuff (experienced lifeguards preferred). But like most edgy kinks, it’s found a home on the Internet.

Websites such as and cater to this fascination. Some of the sites feature models in rubber or latex, combining two kinks, or playing with scuba gear and buddy-breathing devices, Some involve dunking intricately bound models—holding them in the water just long enough to give the effect of risk without any real risk—or hosing them down with cold water so they’re soaked and shivering as well as tied up. (Maybe on a really hot, humid summer day. Otherwise, no thanks.) Many, though, are just tied-up women (and sometimes men) bobbing in a swimming pool, or anchored to the bottom of a pool, apparently holding their breath for a really long time.

Okay, attractive naked person+water+bondage=pretty photo opportunities. But to the person who’s seeing this as more than just another sexy picture, who’s seriously kinked this way, what’s the lure?

In a 2004 interview at, erotic photographer and bondage aficionado Stephen Speliotis said, “To me, it is a natural progression of where I want to go with bondage: it's a challenge, it's dangerous and yet when we can master all of the elements, it's beautiful. […] I see being underwater wrapped in rope as metaphorically going back to the womb, being attached to mother's umbilical cord, a life line that can feed and nourish life in one moment and wrap around our neck and take a life in the next.”

Very poetic and I can follow the logic. But I didn’t want some stranger to have the last word on this issue. So I turned to my friend A. (short for AquaMan and not short for anything related to his actual name), who gets pleasantly distracted by the sound of an aquarium pump and has been known to walk into a hotel lobby, sniff the air and say, in a dreamy tone I usually reserve for bookstores and excellent chocolate, “I smell a pool.” A.’s one of the smartest people I know, and I figured I could trust him to give me the goods.

His answer was similar to that of Mr. Speliotis. “You know the turn-ons about bondage: the surrender, the trust, putting yourself in someone’s hands? This magnifies those elements. It requires several people to ‘spot.’ The dom has to be absolutely there, absolutely focused. And the sub has to surrender completely and have complete trust in the top and helpers, because there’s real risk involved.”

And suddenly I got a little shivery and pretended to be distracted by the cat. (Neither A. nor the cat bought my pretense, by the way.) I got it. If you like being controlled, having even the power to breathe for yourself taken away is the ultimate state.

Mind you, I don’t see myself offering to be anchored to the bottom of a swimming pool any time soon—but now I understand why some people do.


Sacchi Green said...

I happened to see you prancing down the home stretch, and the slinky dress really looked quite elegantly appropriate. I wish I'd had time to stay longer in the paddock area--especially when I discovered that the woman whose whip work I had been admiring last night in a somewhat different context was, in fact, the horsemistress.

Janine Ashbless said...

Wow Teresa - what a great post! Loved this! Thanks for doing the reportage from the fair(as well as the dressage). You totally made it come alive for me.

I get the pony play (though I fear I'm too lazy and tightfisted to commit to something like that). I once went to a LARP event as a Girl Who Had Been Raised by Wolves. I didn't speak all weekend. I wore a collar and lead, but the rest of the costume wasn't particularly revealing or anything. I enjoyed the straightforward innocence of being an animal's headspace, the chance to do some pretty silly roleplaying (I think I chased a ball for a while)and the fact I could poke round anywhere and ignore the social interaction of the serious fantasy players because I didn't understand a word they said. I certainly didn't see it as BDSM.

But the person running the event freaked. She saw it as degrading to women etc etc. Not that she told me. I only found that out years later.

Madelynne Ellis said...

Aren't you kind, doing all this research for us. Bravo, Teresa! Very informative.

Anonymous said...

Would it be too lame to link to Jonathan Goodwin here? Escaping from a tank of water, upside down, tied up with barbed wire?

I like escapology. You knew that, right?

Amanda said...

this is a fascinating post. thanks for writing it and sharing it. what i adore about erotica is that we can be exposed to all kinds of things that we might never try ourselves (or we might!), but they are so exciting to read about as fantasies. i had never heard of underwater bondage. thanks for opening my eyes and mind to something that hadn't occurred to me.

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

Sacchi, thank you! Blush!

Janine, your Girl Who'd Been Raised by Wolves is far too cool. Thank you! I imagine LARPers find it easier to get certain aspects of pony play and pet play than peiople who've never been someone else for the weekend do.

And Mathilde, no I didn't know you like escapology but it kind of makes sense....

t'Sade said...

Oh, and absolutely lovely topic. I've seen a few pony shows here and there (among other things) and I find them to be fascinating. Sadly, I haven't really joined either one of them, but I do like writing about it. Mostly commissions though, a lot of other people like it too. :) I have one, but it is a gay romance, so its a little different.

But, there is something about a tack and harness that really makes me smile. I'll have to go start going to these types of conventions one of these days.

As for underwater bondage, very cool. Something I never really thought of.

(P.S. my word verification code for this post is "pimpen" :P)

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

Okay, I just checked out the Jonathan Goodwin link.

Let's see...not half bad looking, tied up in perilous positions...Yeah, even if he is fully dressed, I imagine his site gets a lot of traffic from people who then say "I'll be in my bunk."

Olivia Knight said...

~~ just waving ~~

I can't contribute much besides wide-eyed astonishment - reading about these two fetishes, I've just made the all-important discovery that I don't have a dom or sub bone in my body. I love dressing up (being entirely contained in a bear-suit is one of my funniest and most liberating memories) and if I were reincarnated I'd want to be a mermaid, but add the dom-sub vibe... and I step back. That said, reading about it is absolutely fascinating!

t'Sade said...

olivia: Have you seen the Titty Bear skit? I saw it on a queer comedy show (forgot the name already), but it was a woman dressed up as a bear talking about "when someone says titties, I say where!? because I'm the titty bear!" It was pretty funny. :)

But, dressing up as fun, even if you don't do the sub/dom bits.

Deanna Ashford said...

Thanks for doing that research, Theresa, in the interests of science and Lust Bites. When I decided to do that post it never struck me that so many people would be that interested.

Confession time here - I knew absolutely nothing about pony play, other than being aware it existed. But eleven ponies prancing had such a nice ring to it that I thought I'd look for some pony people pictures.

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

I'd say "I'll always be glad to do some first-hand research," but I'm afraid to find out what someone might suggest next.

Kate Pearce said...

What a fascinating post and so brave of you to step up there and give your all for Lust Bites :)
I was one of those girls who loved to play with horses and grew up to ride them and respect them enormously-but that's as far as it goes for me.
You can never quite be in charge of a real horse, its more of a partnership and trust thing, so I suppose there are some common elements-still not going to try it out though :)

Ally said...

Between work and this horrible illness that is currently gripping my throat, I've had little time for all my favorite Lusties. So I am popping in for a feverish hello and to say I miss you. It was my birthday yesterday and I spent it under a mountain of quilts.

The topic today kind of intrigued me. I had never before heard or seen such a thing until I was on IMVU. One of my subs there loves to dress like a horse and he pulls me around in his horse carrage. It's not my most favorite way to spend my time with him, but I do indulge my pets with each of their own distincts flights of fancy.

Water bondage scares the bejezzus out of me, a slight mishap and the a person drowns.

Ally said...

My eyes must be too glazed over I can't spell worst a shite either.

Anne Tourney said...

Teresa, I love this post. I've always been fascinated by pony play (who could ever forget Carrie's Story?). Your insights, and your personal "research," give me a glimpse into the depth of this fetish. That's what I always look for in a fetish -- the impulses at the core of it.

And I love the mermaids, too! Fascinating and beautiful hybrids. Your article reminds me that bondage can be a way to open up the imagination. Thank you for such an in-depth, informative, and beautifully written post.

Janine Ashbless said...

Poor Ally! Happy Birthday though!

And I agree with Anne - awesome post.

Madeline Moore said...

Well done Teresa. A great combination of facts and info with personal commentary. Very interesting indeed. I hadn't heard of water bondage and I really doubt I'd be willing - I can't even snorkel for long because it makes me nervous. I've been interested in ponyplay, from a writerly pov, for some time, and wrote a proposal for a novel about it for Nexus (rejected.) I think if offered the chance to give it a try, as you were, I'd go for it. In fact I think most of your responses (who me? Pull Mr. Man around in a cart? I think not.) mirrored what mine would likely be. An excellent LB post, and one we should consider when the 'best of our posts' time comes around this year.

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

Ooh, thank you Madeline!

Ponyboy Rusty said...

I was one of the ponyboys at that demo. Thank you so much for the wonderful account and for taking part when you had the chance. It sounds as though you got a good taste of pony head space. Maureen is a wonderful owner and trainer. It is nice to know that the relationship she has with each of us comes across. It is truly heartfelt.

As far as we know, the paddock will be back at the next Winter Flea. I hope this post encourages others to come and visit.

cindy said...

I was the grey pony in the blue bridle working blindfolded at the back of the room. My Owner and I are totally new to this, and it was my first time in tack.
Wow! What a trip! It's about total trust, not second-guessing, accepting the gentle tug at my mouth to guide me around obstacles, doing my best to understand what She wants and respond with style and energy. I LOVED it when I/we were praised; just wanted to toss my mane and prance!

Theresa, I really think you saw the magic in the relationship between handler and pony.

Tack can be inexpensive! Mine is grosgrain ribbon and discount store leashes. The bit is a bit of rod from an old tent and drinking-water-safe poly tubing from the hardware store; I drilled holes in the ends and threaded big key rings through. Sigh; just too broke for leather...


BitNBridle said...

Wow, I'm surprised I didn't find this earlier in the year. You image, pony+boy+and+friend.jpg is of myself and my Daddi at Folsom 2007. And you're certainly right about the not so physically cut men still making outstanding ponies. I look at it thusly, as a pony, I don't care what I look like. So as long as my trainer/handler is pleased with me - nothing else matters. As a pony, I have no ego because just as long as I get my sugar cubes, nothing else matters. :D