Erotic Equine Play: A Review of ‘Born in a Barn’
A horse is a horse is a horse, of course, unless that horse is…
A human? When my editor asked me to review Born in a Barn, the somewhat overlooked but stellar documentary representing a small segment of the Human Equine or Pony Play community I was thrilled. You see, I have a passion for role play, and animal play is a particular pleasure. In fact, I have ridden one of the subjects of Born in a Barn, Trigger; have taught numerous classes on animal play; and am presenting a new class in 2010 called “Straight From the Horse’s Ass: Veterinary Play for Human Animals.” In a word, what may seem silly to some people can evoke intense emotions and self awareness in others. I feel as though director Elizabeth Elson and editor Samra Smith captured the beauty—and the “humanity,” if you will—of human pony play in this film, and it deserves another look.
Produced in 2004, Born in a Barn features the lives of three human ponies in the Maryland area: an unowned horse named “Trigger,” an owned horse named “Goody,” and finally, an unowned and new-to-play horsie girl named Michelle—possibly soon to be named “Mischief.” The film interweaves their lives in classic triptych fashion, opening with an Equine gathering where they are introduced to us, followed by snippets of their daily lives throughout the rest of the film. Samra Smith’s editing skills are tight, controlled, and innovative. The intro is snappy and fresh and draws the audience in with bizarrely Fellini-a esque music overlaying simple images of a tail wagging or hand caressing the head of the horse interspersed with our gang preparing themselves and getting themselves off to the gathering.
In fact, the entire film is rather sweet, savoring little moments of love and longing more than presenting these people as the freak shows they may appear to some. On the other hand, I would not say the filmmakers are particularly adoring or sentimental—they basically let these people speak for themselves. Although a documentary, Born in a Barn does not have the clunkiness of some docus that insist on speaking over the camera to ask banal questions to the subjects; instead, it opts to have them speak, and yes, show, who they are, what they are doing, and why. Additionally, although there are many more Equine players throughout the world who deserve recognition, (locally Madame Wilcox and Empress Rhea come to mind), I am pleased that the filmmakers decided to take a closer look at real-time players instead of focusing on the fetishistic/voyeuristic people who “model” equestrian play, but do not necessarily live it.
Speaking of living it, Born in a Barn offers a little taste of the depth of intensity that transpires for each of the subjects. Trigger’s obvious loneliness and desire to be owned is palpable, (good news though: last I heard he was actually owned full time), and the moments of him gazing longingly at the owned ponies being trained is touching without being sappy. The dream sequence the filmmaker offers Trigger is a beautiful realized filmic fantasy. Further, the loving interaction between Goody and Andrea appears genuinely warm. The closing sequence where he is leading her carriage up the boardwalk is remarkable. One can almost imagine banners and confetti cascading around them wherein love, joy, and bizarreness abounds. Further, Michelle’s training session with Emily Reed is nothing short of brilliant, even if it is simple. Her unexpected pleasure when she learns how one could fantasize about being owned full time is an epiphany to be shared. Finally, when Michelle realizes that her larger body is actually an asset in the human equine world because she will have the strength to train better and harder, we are firmly placed into a post-feminist, pro-sex moment. Women can have larger bodies and seek out their own desires, hooray!
No film goes without criticism however, and Born in a Barn is no exception. The main question that I felt was only marginally addressed, was how deep some folks might go with erotic animal play. As a woman who unabashedly enjoys kinkier types of play as much as I do general animal play, I wanted questions of “faux bestiality” (does the “stallion” ever mount the Mistress?) and even real bestiality to be addressed. Trigger mentions offhandedly that some people find pony play erotic and need that form of play to have sexual interactions, but he seems a bit dismissive. Andrea and Goody are clear that it is a form of “foreplay,” but they never get into details, such as whether he plays the stud or she the vet coming in for a rectal. In fact, they make it sound like pony play is simply foreplay for very human sex, which is fine, but this could be discussed more clearly by the participants in the film. Perhaps Elson did not wish to make such a taboo topic (to the mainstream) any more marginalized, but for those of us with experience, it would’ve been a nice change of pace.
Regardless of the cursory look at the more erotic aspects of pony play, I found the film warm, funny, and sincere—in a word, an entertaining documentary. Pony play may not be to your taste, but if you’ve ever wondered how or why people do some of the things they do in this world, Born in a Barn is a fine example of pleasant and informative documentation that definitely deserves a gander, and I don’t mean goose.
Born In A Barn
Director: Elizabeth Elson
Editor: Samra Smith