The Human Pony: a handbook for owners, trainers and admirers - A Book Review
SynopsisRebecca Wilcox briefly relates her own introduction to the world of pony play before drawing on her equestrian experience to use as a basis for constructing several standalone chapters written in a self-described "textbook style." While the book is image heavy, there is a wealth of valuable textual content making it far more than a picture book.
While there are many anecdotes peppered throughout the book, Wilcox does an otherwise good job of keeping the narrative on track with the promised handbook style. In addition to the 8 chapters, which cover everything from training philosophy and equipment to planning your own pony play event, Wilcox provides 4 wonderful appendices, one of which consists of an illustrated guide to the various gaits of a human pony.
ReviewLet me start out with a brief overview of my thoughts: while anyone interested in pony play would likely find value in this book, I believe the book would be of greatest value to those who are both new to pony play and who do not have much bio-horse experience. Indeed, this is how Rebecca Wilcox herself summarizes the contents at the end of the introduction (emphasis added):
"The ideas, training philosophy and methods described voice one opinion, based on an equestrian background, to bridge the gap for those without biological equine experience."
Moreover, the book is written from the perspective of the trainer, and though there are several accounts from human ponies, I believe that prospective owners and trainers would find the book especially useful.
As mentioned above, The Human Pony is divided into an introduction, eight chapters, a conclusion, and four appendices. I'll give you my thoughts on each of these parts.
The introduction, in which Rebecca Wilcox discusses her background in bio-horse sports and her introduction to pony play, was of particular interest to me. I was able to draw several parallels with my own experience of translating bio-horse experience into pony play. Similar to the author, I too did not make the connection between bio-horse training techniques and ponyplay until after an eureka moment.
I enjoyed the personal touch and relatable experiences in this section. However, I did find the introduction to be a little rushed and somewhat rough around the edges. I would have liked to see the author expand on her personal journey into the world of pony play. Other than that, she did a wonderful job of introducing the subject.
Chapter 1 is titled "What Is Pony Play". This is a very difficult question to adequately answer, and while the author did a good job in conveying the numerous implementations of pony play, comparing and contrasting the mindsets that lead to each form of expression, I still left this chapter wanting a little more clarification. I don't think this was due to lack of detail, but rather it seemed more related to the way in which the information was presented.
This chapter has the information to adequately explain pony play, but you may have to read over it a couple times to put everything into context and create a cohesive answer in your own mind. There is no handholding in this chapter: you get the information you need, but you have to sort it out and make sense of it on your own.
Chapter 2 covers "Pony and Trainer Headspace". It touches on a very important point that is not much discussed elsewhere: the headspace of the trainer. Most discussions on headspace revolve around the pony's headspace with little time devoted to the mindset of the trainer. In my opinion, the trainer's headspace is equally important.
My own experience has been that new trainers can find it difficult to really view their pony as a horse. This key element is often overlooked, but it is an integral element to a successful (i.e. fun) pony play scene. Wilcox does a superb job here, and I would highly recommend that potential trainers, regardless of bio-horse experience, read this chapter.
Chapter 3 is a well-illustrated guide to the most common pieces of equipment used in pony play. Even if you don't have any bio-horse experience, you will likely already be familiar with most of the equipment covered in this chapter (and if you do have bio-horse experience, you will be aware that many items of equipment were not included). As a bit of a gearhead, I did find myself wishing for more comprehensiveness and detail.
Nevertheless, I believe the author was attempting to convey that there is a wide variety of equipment that can be used, and the equipment utilized should suit both the pony's style of play and chosen discipline. When viewed from that perspective (as opposed to a more comprehensive glossary of equipment and application to specific training needs), I believe the chapter served its purpose.
The only factual errors I found in this chapter were related to bits: the author referred to both a straight mouth rubber snaffle and a medium port straight mouth curb as bits made for the human mouth. Really, these are bio-equine bits adapted for use in humans - by adding a leather strap in the case of the rubber snaffle and wrapping the mouthpiece in the case of the curb - and thus should have been included in that section. However, this is a common mistake, even in the bio-horse world (related to the misconception that a "snaffle" refers to the mouthpiece of a bit rather than its action) and not likely to bother any save the most nitpicky of readers.
Chapter 4 introduces you to training of the human pony. The author's bio-horse experience really shines in this chapter. She includes aid/cue escalation as a key training point, which is great advice for trainers (this is true for both bio-horse and human pony trainers). Often trainers will immediately "over ask" a pony to do something (e.g. pulling hard on the reins) instead of slowly escalating the aids until the pony responds properly.
Wilcox covers some basic horsemanship skills and their translation to kink including teaching the pony proper ground manners and reinforcing the trainer's role in setting an example for the pony to follow. Indeed, this is somewhat similar to the natural horsemanship approach of setting up the trainer as an alpha mare.
Chapter 5 covers scene development and serves to fuse and build upon chapters 2 and 4 (pony and trainer headspace and pony training). Although a recurrent theme throughout the book, the author stresses the importance of communication between pony and trainer both before and during a scene to ensure both parties know what to expect during play.
Effective communication is paramount due to the many implementations of pony play, and Wilcox does a good job of explaining how the same word (e.g. training) can mean vastly different things to different ponies and trainers. This chapter would be especially useful to read together with your pony.
Chapter 6 discusses handling and grooming. While I think this chapter might be better positioned earlier in the book, the contents of the chapter itself are first rate. I often recommend grooming as a great way to start out with pony play - you can use anything from soft brushes to shedders with little metal teeth, giving grooming a versatility that makes it fun for nearly every type of pony. Thus, I was pleased to see the author devote a chapter to this topic.
Chapter 7 is titled "The Inspiration - The Horse". An essential chapter for those without bio-horse experience and a nice refresher for those with bio-horse experience who sometimes take for granted the knowledge that can be unconsciously expressed in our pony play scenes; the author mixes personal experience with pony play myth and history and parallels them with humankind's fascination with bio-horses. Furthermore, Wilcox talks about bio-horse behavior and how a human pony can emulate it.
Chapter 8 is titled "Event Planning". I think this section is a wonderful addition to the book. While on the surface, you might consider this to be unnecessary detail in an introductory book, I believe its inclusion might serve to motivate the formation of more local pony play groups. Don't overlook or dismiss this section. It really is a valuable addition to the book.
Even though Wilcox devotes a fair amount of time detailing her experience at one particular event (the fox hunt), it is stylized as a case study, which makes it more practical than had she simply presented it as a story. Moreover, she details the different styles of events (e.g. pony show, fox hunt, etc.) in addition to the organizational structure that each entails (e.g. tips for judges, etc.).
The conclusion, titled "End on a Good Note" is indeed a page exactly out of training bio-equines and the perfect way to conclude the book.
Appendix A is a wonderful reference that describes and illustrates the gaits of the human pony. This appendix could have easily been a chapter unto itself. The illustrated guide of a human pony's gaits is reminiscent of Eadweard Muybridge's "The Horse in Motion" (which was a key work in understanding the leg placement and "beats" of a bio-equine's gaits, some of which were previously misunderstood as is evident in paintings made prior to his work).
Appendix B goes over tying a quick release knot in an illustrated guide. This is useful information for horse owners and trainers (of either the bio or human variety).
Appendix C is a glossary of pony play terms. Given that this book is intended to introduce those without bio-horse experience to the world of human pony play, this appendix is essential to defining the various bio-horse related terms that are carried over into human pony play.
Appendix D gives you a list of related resources. The appendix is a list of web resources ranging from informational site to places to buy tack and equipment all the way to YouTube videos on ponyplay and various Yahoo! groups.
My overall rating is 4 out of 5 stars for "The Human Pony" by Rebecca Wilcox. I would have given it five stars, but the overall flow and organization of the information was not optimal in my opinion.
That being said, I want to offer a little more granularity to my rating. If you are just starting out in pony play and have little or no bio-horse experience, I would recommend reading this book. The information contained within the book offsets any downsides if you have no prior experience with horses or pony play.
Conversely, if you already have extensive bio-horse experience (and especially if you have both bio-horse and pony play experience), this book is probably not a "must read". I'm not saying you will not enjoy the book just because you have bio-horse experience, but rather, I'm saying I would not necessarily make buying it your first priority.
Finally, if you have pony play experience, but no bio-horse experience, I think the scales are tipped in favor of reading this book if only to learn some new training methodologies and their derivation from bio-horse training.
If you are interested in obtaining either a hardcopy (actually a softcover, but it's a physical copy anyway) you can buy it new from Amazon. The price seems to fluctuate (I purchased mine for $18.45) with the current price (as of 2015-01-21) at $25.16. If you prefer an electronic copy (compatible with the Kindle), they sell that as well for $15.49 (I paid $13.98). There are quite a few used copies of this book floating around as well if you want to save a few dollars.
The paper copy of the book is actually well constructed and is printed on full size (8.5" x 11") paper, which is a nice change from some of the smaller, flimsier books often encountered. You very well could use it as coffee table book if you don't mind the sharing your interest in pony play.
Special Note on the Electronic EditionI ended up purchasing both the Kindle version and a paperback copy. Unfortunately, the electronic version has a fair number of formatting issues including missing words, and missing spaces between words (I have added line breaks for web formatting):
wasmadeespecially for human use."
Which should read: On the left is a full biological equine nylon bridle which has been adapted to the human pony, whereas the ProDeviant bridle on the right was made especially for human use.
Also, there are incorrect placements of spaces:
"you can adapt ane quines nafflef or humanu seb yu sing a special wrap"
Which should read: "you can adapt an equine snaffle for human use by using a special wrap".
Most of these formatting issues occur when the text is a figure caption, or when it is enclosed in boxes (such as the "training tip" boxes). Since the issues are mostly localized to figure captions, it is readable, but it is still quite annoying.
Due to the formatting issues of the electronic version, I cannot recommend its purchase unless you have cash to burn and/or it would be impossible or impractical to purchase a paper version. Hopefully these formatting issues will be resolved, but until they are, I would strongly suggest ordering a paper copy if you decide to buy this book.