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An Assyrian frieze from 2000 B.C. depicts human ponies pulling chariots. The Metropolitan Museum of Art houses a 1510 woodcut of a whip-wielding woman, Phyllis, riding a bridled Aristotle around the garden. Both are nude. In her book Deviant Desires: Incredibly Strange Sex, Katherine Gates describes the peculiar ponyplay fetish of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century upper-class British colonials.
Ponyplayers have thrived in the theater: Jean Genet's The Balcony has a "pony girl" to satisfy the lewd desires of the rich and powerful, and Peter Shaffer's Equus involves a disturbed main character who often rides bareback, naked, and attempts intercourse (with a woman) in a barn. The intimate relationship between horse and child, particularly when it's a girl involved, has long been a staple of children's literature. Books like Black Beauty, National Velvet, and My Friend Flicka, all of which have been turned into popular movies, describe the instinctive, subtly erotic connection between horses and kids.
It's all about primitive autoerotic desires or maybe penis envy (a desire to master the horse), psychologist Anna Freud once contended.
But horseplay can also be as innocent as a father bouncing his daughter on his knee or children jumping on each other's backs and shouting "Giddyup."
As a BDSM fetish, organized into chapters with rules and catalogues of paraphernalia, ponyplay traces back to the early 1990s. It began as an underground fetish among those who owned or grew up around horses, but in recent years many ponies have come out of the barn, so to speak. The fetish has become increasingly popular on the Internet and at BDSM conventions among people who have never interacted with real horses.
The rise of ponyplay prompted the 2005 documentary Born in a Barn, which explored the lives of a few human ponies, and an episode of the HBO series Real Sex featuring ponyplay. It has also seeped into pop culture; Foxy and Sherifox credit Madonna and her 2006 Confessions Tour (with dancers in pony gear) with catapulting it into the mainstream. They're eager to show video evidence.
The couple lives in Ocklawaha, a Central Florida farm town, population: 9250, where they own six bio horses. ("Bio horse" is the community's name for real horses, as opposed to the two-legged kind.) That's where they've been hand-making human tack for two years and have started a company, Native American Exotics. They lug their product all over the nation, holding workshops on how to look, behave, and feel like a horse. They've got trainees (referred to as pony boys and pony girls) from Miami to France who can't get enough of the reverse anthropomorphism.
The ponies aren't all in it for the same thing. Some like to pull carts. Some give rides. Some are just for show. Some jump. Some whinny. Some stomp and rebel at every opportunity. Some wear saddles with stirrups over their clothes. Some put on leather boots, headstalls, corsets, and thongs with ponytails. Some prefer butt-plug ponytails (which, unfortunately, have a habit of falling out). Some say they go into a trance as soon as the bit enters the mouth.
"Whatever trips your trigger," Foxy likes to say.
Foxy is dressed in a brown cowboy hat, brown leather boots with spurs, Wrangler jeans, and a gray Henley-style T-shirt that reads "Pony Oats." That's the name of Florida's Yahoo! ponyplay group. Foxy and Sherifox each had one of these shirts made, because they like to look coordinated and professional. He explains this on a walk across the six acres he and Sherifox share with horses, goats, turkeys, chickens, and hogs, as well as Foxy's nine-year-old son, Colt Lee. The cowboy has big plans for the property. He carries a brown plastic mug big enough for a giant and filled with his favorite drink -- unsweetened tea. Curled around the enormous handle, his fingers and nails are deeply caked with dirt that won't wash off, even if Foxy wanted it to, which he doesn't.
He has spent his life intentionally getting his hands dirty. Over the past ten years, he built his family a house. He erected all the fences on the property. And now he's going to build a barn with stalls and a bunkhouse. Also a dungeon.
Currently the dungeon is merely a ten-foot hole, but Foxy has begun laying the concrete floor. What will happen in there?
"Whatever we want to have happen in there," he says. "Safe, sane, and consensual. Other than that, no rules."
Foxy plans to rent out the barn to people vacationing with horses, and the bunkhouse to hunters in the summer. "They don't have to know about the hidden dungeon," he says.
No, the dungeon will be reserved for Sherifox and her good friend Belle, a fleshy, redheaded corrections officer who at this moment is draping herself in pony gear; and Fayth, a 26-year-old fetish model who is smoking a Marlboro Lights cigarette. Fayth is the cover model on the most recent issue of Equus Eroticus, a bimonthly magazine dedicated solely to ponyplay and based near Dallas.
M.J., Mickey, and Renegade (all bio horses belonging to an out-of-town neighbor whose barn Foxy and Sherifox are borrowing for a good photo background) poke their heads out of their stalls to watch as Sherifox and Belle strip naked and then slip their red toenails into black knee-high boots. They fasten their matching metallic purple and black deerskin thongs at either hip and then lace up each other's corsets. Finally Foxy arrives and helps the women into their identical headstalls. Their red Mohawks resemble those of Roman warhorses. As the bits enter their mouths, the women become Firefox and Vinefox. Their mission: to pull the cart.