What Is A Sparkle Pony At Burning Man?
A sparkle pony is a person who comes to Burning Man ill-prepared for basic survival but usually has the most fabulous outfits. They seem to have all they need to look good and have a party but lack simple things like water and sunscreen.
Today’s topic is sparkle ponies:
- What they are (there are different types!?)
- Burners’ opinions on them
- Why they are such an annoyance (What is a serial Sparkler?)
- How we can educate them
Let’s get sparkly! (or preferably learn how to avoid the glitter- that’s MOOP!)
Types of Sparkle Ponies
There are two main types of sparkle pony:
The first, and most annoying type, are sparkle pony moochers. These are people who simply arrive at the event poorly prepared because they plan on ‘living off the playa’.
These people (or ponies) know that they are supposed to bring everything they need to survive but decide not to. Instead, they expect to get everything they need from other burners, mistakenly thinking that the gift economy will work in their favour. Someone who does this habitually is called a serial sparkler (in most burners’ opinions, they are the worst type).
The second type of sparkle pony is the ignoramus (I made up the name of that one). This type is inevitably always brought up when the topic of sparkle ponies arises. They usually consist of first-timers or newbies.
They may have thought that Burning Man was just another festival like Coachella. These are people who don’t know any better. They perhaps didn’t do their research before coming and landed in Black Rock City unprepared.
It might be their first time at Burning Man, or they genuinely didn’t realise that they needed to bring specific supplies. They tend to be guilty of exacerbating MOOP (Matter Out Of Place) and other seemingly apparent no-nos at Burning Man.
Being a sparkle pony is not permanent. Plenty of folks have probably been one at some point during one of their first few Burns or for a few hours when they were drunk.
The term sparkle pony is not meant to be used as a derogatory term but rather as a descriptive term. However, some Burning Man veterans do get really ticked off when it seems like someone is being a sponge or is a serial sparkler.
What do Burners think of sparkle ponies, and why are they a problem?
The Ten Burner Principles were born organically from the growth of the culture at Burning Man. One of these principles is radical self-reliance. After all, the event does take place in the Nevada desert.
A sparkle pony is someone who hasn’t taken this principle very seriously and becomes a burden on their camp-mates, and this can bother other attendees. It is especially a problem because, most of the time, many other guiding principles get disregarded.
These principles include communal effort, civic responsibility, gift-giving (sharing supplies), decommodification and radical inclusion. So it can feel like sparkle ponies are taking advantage of the community culture while simultaneously disrespecting it by not contributing anything themselves.
Black Rock City only exists because of the burners who created it. It is not a festival for consumers to enjoy the product- it’s a community. This is why many burners are not fans of sparkle ponies. Instead, they come across as high maintenance because they arrive with a lot of expectations and not much to offer. Which, of course, not everyone appreciates.
Some frustrated participants actually start to be exclusive and judgemental towards sparkle ponies. Not all do this, though. In 2009/2010, a theme camp called the Sparkle Pony Corral offered a ‘gift’ to the other camps in true Burning Man spirit.
It was a place where you could drop off a camp’s sparkle ponies, and they would be fed, watered and get some much-needed attention. While campmates received a much-needed break. What a perfect way to lead by example. Showing sparkle ponies at the corral how it’s done.
How can we educate Sparkle Ponies?
The best way to transform the Burning Man landscape into the culture it represents is by educating sparkle ponies (no matter which type). If you are a newbie, educate yourself. Make an effort to read the survival guide and the first-timers guide.
Ask others attendees what came as a surprise to them in their first year, and most of all, bring something to contribute to the experience for other burners. Whether it be a physical thing or a value-add like ‘kind words from a stranger’ or ‘a listening ear.’
If you are a veteran burner, be kind. Please have a chat with a sparkle pony next time they need something from you. Give them a survival tip (or two) and discuss what Burning Man is all about. If you had to learn the hard way, that doesn’t mean they have to either.
Maybe then that newbie will go home and tell their other potential ignoramus sparkle pony friends what Burning Man is actually like, and how to be prepared if they decide to go.
You shape the future of Burning Man by passing on the pearls of wisdom you have learnt through experience.
The bottom line is that sparkle ponies (even if sometimes unintentional) do not contribute to building Black Rock City. But instead, arrive thinking that they can get away with sponging what they need from the generosity of those around them.
However, this can be changed, and the true spirit of Burning Man can be shared and cultivated by educating them and having them educate themselves as well.
The Burning Man legacy is sculpted in the many small interactions demonstrating the ten principles. If you’re preparing for Burning Man, or just investigating it, take a look at some of these other Burning Man articles:
Burning Man:  Things You Should Know
How to plan for Burning Man [6 Things To Remember]
Let’s Talk About Burning Man RV Rentals