The Pre-Evolution Of My Little Pony

The Huffington Post have a  great slideshow showing the evolution of MLP from the babyish but still equine Cotton Candies of the early 1980s to the bizarre-o “Equestria Girl” of 2013, a new model that’s an even stranger mutant than the hideous “Struts, fashion-forward ponies” that were unveiled and then disappeared a few years ago. Equestria Girl is a kind of anime-goth human–horse hybrid whose designers must have had at least one knowing eye on the pony girl fetish scene, which also draws on Japanese comic book and goth influences. The mini skirts, the brightly coloured hair, the stacked boots… It’s a direct appeal to the much-trumpeted “Brony” craze that’s seen young men adopt a girl’s toy and cue up an avalanche of press interest and pseudo-analysis. How did we get here?

I wrote a bit about the history of the toy in If Wishes Were Horses, and the still earlier stage of evolution that predates the transition from tchotchke to dolly bird. The proto MLP was dreamt up by a woman and former little girl called Bonnie Zacherle. This is an extract from an interview she gave that was originally published on Fauquier.com (accessible on this MLP forum):

I got the idea for My Little Pony because a pony or horse was the only thing I ever wanted.

I came up with drawings of miniature, realistic horses like a Pinto, Paint, or Appaloosa, but my vice president of R&D told me little girls liked to cook, clean and iron. I knew he was just killing my idea. Later he got his own group that came up with another idea, and it was nothing like a horse – it was a pony. …

It was [aggravating]. This toy was hard, had an ear that wiggled, an eye that blinked. They thought that little girls would like to sleep with it. They called it My Pretty Pony, and it sold a couple million units. The VP of marketing took this thing home, and his wife said, “You know, this is nice, but it should be soft, simple, and have a combable mane.” …

They asked me to miniaturize what I had already designed – I did original design work on all of them – and make it soft with rooted hair. And the first ones, believe it or not, were Palominos, Pintos, and one was black. My marketing director asked what I thought of making them pink and purple. Though I was a purist, we tested it and it tested great. …

The sellers, all men of course, said they couldn’t sell it. But the VP of marketing said he was going to stick with it. He thought it was his wife’s idea, which if she hadn’t had it, my idea wouldn’t have seen the light of day. I was the inventor of My Little Pony, though several people claim that. I am the undisputed designer, along with the original sculptor.

So there you have it: marketing has taken a girl’s love of horses from realism to kitsch to sexualisation, keeping MLP at the forefront of a long-running Western tendancy to anthropomorphise animals and sexualise children. Will the Equestria Girls be a hit with real little girls, or are they solely for the cosplay-attending Bronies and Pegasisters? Which is the better source of cash and brand loyalty for Hasbro? What do little girls really want?

* The all-new Equestria Girls are in fact a reworking of an earlier attempt to create a “My Little Pony goes to High School” scenario, called My Little Pony Tales, in 1992. It didn’t really take off, despite the jocks, rollerskating and dating. The ponies were anthropomorphic, but still resembled equines. Perhaps the world wasn’t ready for ponies with lockers in the early ’90s, but apparently we’ve evolved too…

** Excuse choppiness and scant blogging. I’m hard at work on plans for book two, and it’s making coverage here skimpy.

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

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  • Artist Mark Wallinger has made a 3D scan of a racehorse, produced it in marble dust and resin and set it outside the British Council building in London. Wallinger’s work frequently features horses, and he’s even a racehorse owner himself. The piece will tour internationally, and the artist hopes it will revive interest in his project to built a giant grey horse at Ebbsfleet, Kent, which appears to have stalled. (De Zeen)
  • A man declares himself the fiancé of a My Little Pony (AV Club, thanks to Anne Billson)
  • A poodle rides a pony (Komo News)
  • From a care home to a dressage team at Rio 2016? Here’s hoping. Sam Martin on his journey from London gangland to the dressage ring (Get Surrey)
  • Cedar Lane Stables in Queens has been shut down after concerns over the welfare of horses on livery on the property – six deaths were too many for local authorities. The Federation of Black Cowboys, who run the city-owned yard, have protested that the fault lies with individual owners, and that others will be unfairly punished by the closure. (New York Times)
  • Yosemite National Park is considering banning horses (as well as ice rinks, rafting, bikes and swimming pools) in its bid to return Yosemite Valley to its most “natural” state (Mercury News)
  • An Icelandic horse learns to count (HorseTalk)
  • Beautiful bird’s eye view by Brad Styron of the feral horses of Shackleford Banks (Tumblr, thanks to KK)

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

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  • The US Equestrian Federation has finally – yes, FINALLY – banned the chains, weighted shoes, pads, collars and rollers used to produce the monstruous “big lick gait. Good news for the beleagered Tennessee Walking Horse. (The Horse)
  • This week was, mercifully, a week in which images of Shetland ponies wearing woolly jumpers flooded the internet. This is my favourite account of the story, thanks to the clash  between the chirpy CNN reporter and the indignant Scotswomen she interviews. Don’t tell a Scotswoman that her jumper makes a pony look fat. Just don’t do it. (CNN)
  • The UK Food Standards Agency has issued an update about findings of bute in horse meat. (FSA)
  • Brony fan art. Including porny My Little Pony graphic novels. I remember that there was joke slash fic on the subject years ago, but now it seems to have crossed a line. More fascinating developments in our everchanging weirdness about horses. (Cracked)
  • A horse in Norwich City scarf turned up at Carrow Road to watch a game, sadly on the wrong day. (SB Nation)
  • The Pony Racing Authority has a new fearless leader: ex-Cheltenham racecourse MD, Edward Gillespie. Chief exec Clarissa Daly commented: “The PRA is committed to increase the numbers from non-racing and non-horsey backgrounds and to make racing more accessible to children and young people from all walks of life.  With Edward as our new Chairman we are better placed than ever to achieve this.” (Horse Talk)
  • HSUS is forming a Responsible Horse Breeders’ Council in the USA. Hopefully they will be able to reach irresponsible horse breeders too. (The Horse)
  • Here’s my Telegraph piece on the history of hippophagy, taboo, rite and rational consumption. (Telegraph)

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

eBay, I don’t believe you. That never happened in my daydreams.

Right, on with a long overdue HHLHL! I’ve been busy organising a research trip for book two but the horse world went on turning, and lovely people have been sending me links, so enjoy this extra special post whose diversity reminds me why I’m writing that second book in the first place.

  • A zebra pulling a trap in Brixton, circa 1915. (Urban75)
  • Look at this beautifully carved golden horse head discovered in a Thracian tomb in Bulgaria. It dates from the third century BC. (Guardian)
  • If Radio 4 ever gets rid of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time I’ll know Britain is over. Here Melvyn and guests discuss the Upanishads – some of the sacred texts of Hinduism. Horse sacrifice is mentioned (maybe with a connection to the Steppes folk who first domesticated horses?) Thanks to Mum for sending this. (Radio 4)
  • The “Pony” chair of Eero Aarnio, the brilliant Finnish designer who came up with the Sixties icon, the Bubble Chair. (Eero Aarnio)
  • Francis Robinson send me this cute piece on a police horse who likes to rearrange cones at Buckingham Palace (Daily Mail)
  • Wired on the astonishing solidification of the Brony movement, with military personnel confessing their love for My Little Pony in front of the camera. Thanks to my brother for this one (Wired)
  • A clean drug-test sheet for all competitors at this year’s Breeders’ Cup. Some of the races were even lasix-free. (ESPN)
  • Mega race mare and US Horse of the Year Havre de Grace sells for $10,000,000 (Blood Horse)
  • The feral Chicoteague ponies survived Sandy just fine (Daily Press) Speaking of the hurricane, this crazy hoss was just fine too. (Washington Post)
  • Horses in today’s US military (CS Monitor)
  • A disaster for a herd of Brumbies in Western Australia (ABC)

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

– the march of the Bronies continues apace – literally. We now have a thriving “military bronies” community, dedicated to adult My Little Pony fans, and a full range of customised guns to accessorise. (Military Times)

– a two-year-old cob in West Yorkshire managed to trap himself in an underground pump chamber for five whole days. Thankfully he’s now been liberated. The BBC has a video of the rescue. (Horse Talk, BBC)

– ‘”Think about it: They spend most of their lives with the world looking down on them,” Murray said. “Now they are up on top and above everybody. It is very empowering.”‘ Equine therapy in Houston. (Chron.com)

– A horse festival in Tajikistan. (Huffington Post)

– Zippy Chippy, a racehorse who couldn’t win a race to save his life is now saving lives by being a loser. (Washington Post)

– Kathleen Stiles on “How to Survive a European Horse Shopping Trip”. “Meals are all taken and enjoyed. However, some are at “tank stops,” or gas stations as they’re known in the United States. They are everywhere since one blows through expensive fuel at an alarming rate. But I am horrified. I am spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on horses and am lunching where I would not normally visit a restroom?” It’s another world… (Chronicle of the Horse)

– Paralympic dressage rider Lee Pearon’s kit in detail. (Guardian)

– Thank you to Anne Billson for a link to Amazon’s sale page for those rubbery horsehead masks. Happy purchasers have sent in an entire album of images of themselves making use of them. Have fun. (Amazon)

– in a year in which horses have unexpectedly taken centre stage in politics, from David Cameron’s rides on Rebekah Wade’s old police horse to Rafalca Romney, we have the first dressage-based political broadcast:

If Wishes Were Horses: March of the Pink Hooves

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Pink pink pink at Olympia in 2006, although I was too mesmerised to get any good shots of the showjumping. The NYT piece by Peggy Orenstein that I mentioned in the chapter is here, and you can see photos of the horrible, “sexy” Struts pony toys on Princess Sparkle Pony’s blog. Thank you to Dominique for the photo of her Christmas pony who, disappointingly, turned out not to be a My Little Pony but a real pony after all.

This post relates to a chapter of the book If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of an Equine Obsession. If you have any questions to ask about the content, please fire away in the comments. The main online index for the book is here.

Brony Heaven: Skyrim

YouTuber and Brony XtremeScope has posted some modified versions of the game Skyrim, keeping in line with the current My Little Pony fetish. Which would you rather, a giant Sparkle Pony Pops…

… or one in which the game’s dragons have been transformed into fire-breathing dragons tht attack a  village?