For Leanne, a 40-year-old website designer from Australia’s Gold Coast, kicking back is a matter of saddling up.
But her hobby isn’t riding horses. Instead, it’s becoming a replica of one, complete with a saddle, bridle and bit.
Leanne, who goes by the name of Shyanne when in her pony get-up, also likes to trot about pulling her friend Grace behind her in a custom-made trap.
But while it might sound bizarre, Leanne is adamant that not only is it just a bit of fun, it takes her to a ‘wonderful place’ where she can relax and truly be herself.
When I’m in the pony gear, I feel freer,’ she explains. ‘It’s about who you are, it’s about expressing yourself. I become me,’ writes Ruth Styles for the UKs Daily Mail.
Leanne, who has always been an animal lover, owns several real horses, as well as a cat named Ember, and says she sees her horses as equals.
But when she becomes a horse herself, it is her friend Grace who takes the reins, leading her about and ‘driving’ the trap just as she would with a real pony.
‘I steer by giving her commands via turns of the reins,’ she explains. ‘That’s a good method and she can respond to pressure on either side of her mouth, same as you would with a horse.’
Grace also has an insight into why Leanne loves becoming a pony so much, arguing that it is partly a way for her to overcome her crippling shyness.
‘She is a very introverted person,’ she explains. ‘But when she’s in that zone, she’s another person. I think it’s a way of expressing another large part 0f her personality. That’s very much her identity.’
‘It is very understandable that a shy person might love animal play,’ comments sexologist and sociologist, Dr Carol Queen.
‘Taking on a new identity or even just new garments can take you out of the cage of your own shyness.
‘There’s something about the way she must feel in her pony finery with her mane and her tail and her ears and her beautiful bridle, the whole nine yards, that liberates her and gives her a more fabulous field in which to gallop.’
And Leanne certainly isn’t shy about getting out and about in her pony ensemble, despite the full look including a rather revealing rubber jumpsuit.
From a trip to the shops, a gallop around the yard or even a day out at the races, nowhere is off limits for Leanne’s pony persona.
But although she does get the odd strange look, Leanne says the overwhelming reaction to her unusual look is a positive one.
‘I think when the world looks at me as a pony, they see something that makes them think “Oh my God, that’s amazing”,’ she says.
But regardless of what people think of her look, the real attraction for Leanne is the sense of peace she gets from her pony alter-ego.
For me, it’s spiritual,’ she says. ‘It’s a different realm. You’re not worried about bills, you’re not worried about going to work.
‘I become freer, I’m me. I’m very introverted and I do express through being a pony girl. And that’s a wonderful place to be for somebody. That’s a great place to be.’
Unfortunately, however, transforming into a pony doesn’t come cheap with each of Leanne’s ensembles costing between £5,000 and £10,000.
Also expensive is the makeover currently underway in her back garden, which will eventually boast a set of human-sized stables and a sand-floored school. ‘It’s something to spend my money on,’ she shrugs.
Expensive though it might be, Leanne hopes that more people will give pony play a try – even if it means wearing an uncomfortable-looking bit.
‘Once the bit’s in, the tongue is out so you’re not speaking,’ she explains. ‘If you drool while wearing a bit, you’ve got to be wearing the wrong-size bit.’
Nevertheless, she adds, being in pony mode can take you to some ‘wonderful places’. ‘I get up, go to work but I just choose to escape sometimes,’ she adds.
‘I think more people should experience it. And if it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right!’