Monday, February 25, 2008
Bringing New Meaning to the Phrase “Horsing Around”
interview by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
When the San Diego Leather community gave its holiday party at the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest last December, Jim Compton, founder and proprietor of Olde Armoury Leather in La Mesa, brought something that even people who’d been around the Leather/BDSM (bondage & discipline, dominance & submission, sadomasochism) community for quite a while might not have heard of before. It was a flyer advertising “Human Pony Harnesses” he could custom-make for you, along with a magazine called Equus Eroticus — “a publication about the fetish of ponygirls and ponyboys” — showing in both words and pictures how such items could be used.
Compton got into making fetish gear after establishing a livelihood of manufacturing leather goods for more “vanilla” customers — people who wanted leashes, harnesses and restraints for real-life dogs and horses. A published author, amateur composer and man of eclectic tastes, Compton claimed an unusual entrée into the Leather world and praised its nonpolitical character and the wide variety of friends he’s made through his Leather activities. His Leather gear for humans is available through Pleasures & Treasures, 2228 University Avenue in North Park, or directly from him at P. O. Box 1351, La Mesa, CA 91941, phone (619) 698-4237.
Zenger’s: Tell me a little about your background, and how you got involved in the Leather scene.
Compton: I always have been interested in, and had a significant talent for, working with leather. In 1997, after having read too much Anne Rice, I decided to get involved in the current scene, and that was basically through Club X of San Diego. I’ve been active in their activities, and I was on the 2002-2003 board of directors of Club X. And it’s a personal background, in other things, it’s rather eclectic.
Zenger’s: So what got you into the scene in the first place?
Compton: Oh, as I said, it was Anne Rice, particularly the Beauty series. She wrote Exit to Eden under her own name, and that led to the Sleeping Beauty series, which she wrote under a pseudonym. The Sleeping Beauty series is all about erotic bondage, domination and service. It’s actually an allegory on several levels, and on a physical level it’s quite enticing.
Zenger’s: Most people I’ve interviewed in the Leather community said they had these feelings from childhood: they got a whip as a toy, or they got a rope and liked to tie up their dog as a kid. I haven’t meant very many people who got into it as adults, and especially who got into it from a book.
Compton: Right. You give two kids a coil of rope. What are they going to do with it? Their first inclination is to tie each other up and try to escape. It’s an innate part of human psychology.
The Leather community, so to speak, has a number of facets. The Gay male Leather world is sort of a spinoff of the motorcycle culture, even in terms of its artifacts: the cheeks and chaps, athe hanky protocol, and so forth. You meet some delightful people, very interesting people, with a lot of varied backgrounds. And then tend to have their own watering places, which are very good bars.
Also, what I like about the Leather community, as opposed to quite a lot of other “communities,” is it’s politically neutral. Its only source is sort of a disciplined hedonism, which involves basically mutual respect and the ability just to let go and just do your thing.
Zenger’s: What does your business do?
Compton: Basically, I make three separate lines. The primary line is pet leather: dog harnesses, leashes, collars and harnesses. The secondary line is leashes, collars, harnesses and restraints for people, specifically for BDSM use. BDSM, as you know, is bondage/domination/sadomasochism, for the BDSM, which is a rather open pansexual crowd, which suits my particular psyche very well. You meet a lot of very serious people there, and they use it for therapy and diversion.
Zenger’s: What would you say is the point of this? What do the participants, both top and bottom, get out of it?
Compton: Pleasure. That’s it.
Zenger’s: But it’s so alien from what people who aren’t part of the scene would consider pleasure.
Compton: What separates the BDSM community from what we cal the vanilla world is the physical contact. It’s also the use of force applied between one person and another, which is consensual. On a deeper level, it causes an energy flow between top and bottom, and at the same time a direct result of the spanking, paddling or flogging is the creation of endorphins in the bottom. Endorphin is a neurochemical which counteracts the pain, and it somewhat leads to a pleasurable sensation. So much for physiology.
Zenger’s: So you’re saying there’s actually a physical difference between people who would enjoy being BDSM bottoms and people who wouldn’t?
Compton: Oh, yes.
Zenger’s: Whether you generate these endorphins when you’re whipped or flogged or whatever, or whether you just get hurt.
Compton: Right. Actually, if a person knows what they’re doing, nobody gets hurt. The object is not to inflict damage, but to inflict the sensation and the threshold of pain without damage. The human body is a very resilient thing. Also, if you’re expecting something, you react differently to it, psychologically.
And, of course, there’s a very strict protocol as to where force can be applied to another person. The area of the kidneys, the knees, the joints and such, and anywhere on the head are basically off limits. So there’s nothing that could produce what could be medically defined as a physical trauma.
Zenger’s: So the places you would go after if you were trying to hurt somebody, to be aggressive, to subdue them, are the places you avoid if you’re doing BDSM.
Compton: Right. They’re the places which are the no-hit areas. The thighs,, buttocks, back — with the exclusion of the areas of the kidneys — are all safe areas to contact.
Zenger’s: Isn’t it common for a lot of negotiation to go on between the parties as to what’s going to happen, exactly, precisely, so the bottom gets what he or she is bargaining for, and nothing worse?
Compton: Correct. Every scene has to have a negotiation. If a person has a regular play partner, they know what each other’s expectations are. All these things have been covered in basic texts, such as S/M 101 and a number of other ones.
Zenger’s: of the things that fascinated me was when you came to the Leather holiday party with a line of horse gear. That was a new one on me. Puppy fantasies I knew about. Horses, I’d never heard of.
Compton: Horses are originally more of a European thing, though like any sort of fantasy play, it’s a field which extends beyond the S/M community. It overlaps a lot of different things, even the expression between several people, “horsing around.” There are people who like to dress up to be ponies, in costume-party sorts of things. What makes Human Equus different is that the participants actually become horses, in a sense, and do things like wear saddles, wear tack, pull carts, things that in a more mild sense could actually go over into the vanilla community.
Back in the days before computer games, kids liked to play outside. There’d be a wagon, and somebody out of the group would be delegated to pull the wagon, and they’d be designated a horse, you know? In more realistic terms, rickshaw pullers have been doing pony play for thousands of years. They simply don’t dress up with a full bit and bridle, although in China in the old days they did have chest harnesses so that they could pull the trails — the two bars that go out in front, that the rickshaw pullers hold on to. It was often common to have a simple harness, which would hang from eye bolts or such on a certain place on the rickshaw trail, so that stopping didn’t dislocate a rickshaw puller’s shoulders.
The pony harnesses I make are designed as an ergonomic way to pull a cart. At the same time, they also have the head harness and the bridle and such. The owner or driver communicates with the horse through the reins, and through a gentle tap with what’s known as a buggy whip, which is roughly a six-foot-long stick with a little flail at the end. It’s used for tapping the shoulders and such. The bridle commands could be the same as those used with an actual horse: i.e., pull to the right/turn right, pull to the left/turn left. On both, slow/slow down, sharply back on both. Stop. Basic carriage.
Zenger’s: What does the horse person get out of this?
Compton: Lots of healthy exercise. Are you familiar with the idea of “sub space”?
Zenger’s: Well, I’ve certainly heard the phrase “bottom space.” It seems to be one of those concepts that’s inherently difficult to explain.
Compton: Right. It’s something that you have to experience. In a normal S/M scene, the bottom goes off into their own little mind space as a reaction to the stimulus. What the animal play allows the bottom to do is — I think you said you were familiar with puppy play. Well, the puppy just takes a vacation in their mind from being a human and becomes a puppy. And the horse, or the pony, or the filly, or the mare, takes a vacation and they become a horse, generally to the point that if somebody breaks in and breaks the chain of thought, they can find that highly annoying.
Zenger’s: When you design your products, how do you make the decisions as to what is going to work — from your own experience, or from what other people have told you about how these things should be made?
Compton: From my own experience. Specifically with the horse tack, I have a long working experience with real horse harnesses, real animal harness. It’s just a matter of adapting it to the human form. You have to use your creativity and your adaptability. You must be quick of wit, and have sure judgment, and have a general idea of what you’re doing.
My line of work is I make dog collars, harnesses and leashes. For humans, it’s an adaptive technology. My things are found in a number of establishments everywhere between here and Pennsylvania. I like to design the bondage gear so that there’s a wide width of a cup or whatever on the skin, and a lot of suede lining on it, so the lining will overlap so there can never be any discomfort wearing it. I don’t design anything that could cause any possible injury, even inadvertently with someone pulling some sort of muscle or bone out of joint. And I do have a Master’s of Science in occupational health and safety, so I’m a certified safety engineer, which helps when you’re designing things.
And there are various levels. Most people do this thing as sort of one weekend or two a month or so, and there are other people who have this as a lifestyle. What makes the Equus thing so interesting is that most of the people who are into it are either horse owners or they like horses, love horses, and they just wonder, “Wouldn’t it be fun if I could do that?”
Zenger’s: So it’s mostly people who have experiences with real horses.
Compton: They tend to be the ones who get the most out of it. Horses are the most honest creatures out there. If they ever bite you in the butt, it’s because you probably deserved it. Which is another point about pony play: if a top mistreats a pony bottom, the top can expect to get the same reaction from the human pony than he’d get from a four-legged one. So that’s why you must always be nice to your pony, or you’ll get two right hooves right where it hurts.
Zenger’s: What’s it like to be a horse?
Compton: Well, you just sort of let go of your human side, and you try to adapt the mannerisms and responses that you think a horse would have. Here’s where having an affinity for real horses comes in, because if you’re around horses long enough, if you have an idea of what their psychology is. Also, you open a box of Quaker Oats a bit differently from the way you normally would.
The care and feeding of horses, to keep them in the horsy mood: just water, granola bars and such during the play and such. Keep your horse hydrated, so they have some energy. At the same times, feeding a suitable food: granola is generally good for horses. I wouldn’t go so far as the daily ration of 24 pounds of alfalfa and hay plus a quart of oats. That’s overdoing it. The human digestive system isn’t designed for that.