A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from April 21, 2008
Johnny-on-a-Pony (Johnny-Ride-a-Pony)

Entry in progress—B.P.
Wikipedia: Buck buck
Buck Buck (also known as “Johnny on a Pony”, “Matupaki or Chinchilagua”) is a popular team game that has been played for many years, particularly at large social gatherings (such as concerts), fraternity events where many willing players of different sizes can be found, or at band camps.
The group divides into two teams. One member of the first team bends over and wraps his/her arms around a tree or similar object (like a very big person in body mass), the next member bends over and hugs the first one around the waist, and the remaining members do the same one after the other to form a “horse”. The other team takes turns shouting “buck buck number 1 (2, 3,...) coming!”, then with a running start, jumping onto the back of the “horse”. Each team member stays on the horse while subsequent jumpers accumulate.
Rules may vary, but generally the objective of the jumping team is to collapse or “break” the horse, and the objective of the horse team is to get a member of the jumping team to touch the ground without breaking the horse. The winning team gets to jump in the next round. Collapses can be especially stressful for the horse team because the jumpers keep their feet away from the ground, thus doing nothing to ease the impact.
Dictionary of American Regional English
Johnny-on-the-pony n Also Johnny on a pony, Johnny-ride-a (or the) pony chiefly NYC CF bumbay
=buck buck
1953 Brewster Amer. Nonsinging Games 116 NY, Johnny-on-the-Pony.
1957 Sat. Eve. Post Letters cCT (as of c 1880), [In a list of games:] Johnny ride a pony.
1968-70 DARE (Qu. EE33,..Outdoor games..that children play) Inf NY51, Johnny-ride-a-pony—one boy starts with hands on wall, others jump on him; NY235, Johnny-ride-a-pony—made up of teams; five to six people line up, the last one tries to get on; the others try to shake him off; NY119, Johnny-on-the-pony—two teams; one guy starts againstthe wall—he’s the pillow—and his team faces him one behind each other; they all bend over with hands on each other’s waists; the other team jumps on them and tries to break them; NY44, Johnny-ride-the-pony—leap onto a team to knock it down. [All Infs from NYC]
1975 Ferretti Gt. Amer. Book Sidewalk Games 156 NYC, Johnny on a pony...There are two teams, usually of five or six boys each. The first team is the Pony, and the second is Johnny. The Pony team lines up this way: One member stands upright with his back braced against a tree; then the second player bends down, thrusts his head into the first person’s stomach, and grabs him tightly around the waist. The next bends down, placing his head between the legs of player 2 and grabbing him tightly around the thighs. Players 4, 5, and 6 repeat what number 3 did. The whole team then braces. The Johnny team..races at them, one at a time, and vaults atop the row of backs as far forward as he can, shouting, “Johnny on a Pony, one, two, three!” The..object is to cave in the backs of the Pony team.. If the jumping team can do that, the others must brace themselves again for the onslaught. If they hold and support all six members of the other team, then that team becomes the Pony and the jumpers have to bend over.
1986 DARE File NYC (as of 1930s), Johnny on a pony—a boys’ game. One player bends over, supporting himself by holding on to a wall, etc.; others leap straddling on to his back and try to weigh him down until he loses his grip and falls.
1990 Ibid Bronx NYC (as of c1955), In the Bronx this game was known as Johnny on a pony…We played it bracing ourselves against a wall and the first member of the pony team was called the “pillow.” before we leaped we called out “Johnny on a pony one two three!” Sometimes we’d have 10 or more kids on a side. If the pony team was able to support all the Johnny team, the latter would then all start swaying back and forth on the backs of the ponies to bring them down, which it always did.
1991 Ibid Brooklyn NYC (as of 1940s), You had to be older to play Johnny on the pony. There were two teams, equal numbers…One team made a train out into the gutter, an L.-shaped train. The other team ran and jumped on the backs of the first team. If the first team couldn’t hold them, the second got to run and jump on again. if they could hold them, then the first team had to guess how many fingers the leader of the second team was holding up. if they guessed correctly, they got to be the jumpers.
1 June 1947, New York (NY) Herald Tribune, “On the Sidewalks of New York,” This Week magazine:
Pg. 6 Captions:
SUBWAY STRAPS make wonderful trapeze rings.
ROLLER SKATE HOCKEY is safe—at a distance.
Pg. 7 Captions:
STOOP BALL: An invention born from necessity.
BUCK, BUCK is a carry-over from the athletes of Sparta.
POTSY, alias “Hopscotch,” is strictly for the ladies.
Pg. 36, col. 2:
Then there’s Buck-Buck, or Johnny on a Pony.  Here’s the way Brooklyn Bill Maguire explains it:
“Well, the kids in one team line up and bend over.  Each puts his hands on the back of the boy ahead. The other guys come along one at a time and take a good run and jump on their backs as hard as they can—try to break ‘em down, so they’ll all fall down onto the sidewalk.
“How Many Horns?”
“IF THEY can’t do it, the leader on top holds up two or three fingers and says, ‘Buck-buck, how many horns are up?’ The boy below can’t see, so he guesses. If he’s right, the teams change ‘round. If he’s wrong, they get jumped on again.”
13 August 1950, New York (NY) Times, pg. SM11:
BUCK-BUCK—Or Johnny-on-the-Pony. In the first century Petronius described this game exactly as it is played today.
(OCLC WorldCat record)
Title: It really looks like Coney
Publication: [Brooklyn Eagle],
Year: 1953
Description: 1 photographic print :; b & w, gelatin silver ;; 8 x 10 in.
Language: English
Abstract: Crowd on beach and many beach umbrellas. Caption: “It really looks like Coney—Group of youths, among the 1,300,000 persons who flocked to Coney Island yesterday, line up for game of ‘Johnny-on-the-Pony’.”
7 July 1955, El Paso (TX) Herald-Post, “Kids of the 30s Seem to Have Had More Fun in Sports” by Charles Sutton, pg. 16, col. 1:
I played so many games as a kid in Brooklyn that it’s hard to make an accounting of them now, what with 20 full years to bridge.
In a rougher mood, we chose sides for a game called Johnny on the Pony, a form of play calculated to break the back of anyone over 25.
To play it, five or six kids lined up so that one boy’s head fitted between the legs of the youngster in front of him. The first boy had his head dug into the stomach of a teammate who stood back up against the wall.
One by one, the kids on the other team leap-frogged onto the pony’s back, using the last man in the pony as a prop. When the final jump was made, one of the kids on top held so many fingers in the air. The leader of the team below—if the pony hadn’t collapsed by then—tried to guess how many fingers were up. This went on until one team scored the 10 points needed to win.
Google Books
The Golden Ham:
A Candid Biography of Jackie Gleason

by Jim Bishop
New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
Pg. 60:
They played Johnny-on-a-Pony (a back-breaking version of leapfrog, in which the weight of all is placed on one) against the wall of the candy store.
Google Books
Everything But Money
by Sam Levenson
New York, NY: Simon and Schuster
Pg. 98:
Johnny on a Pony: One kid bent over and held his head against the fire hydrant while others took a flying leap onto his back. 
Google Books
To Brooklyn with Love
by Gerald Green
New York, NY: Trident Press
Pg. 194:
He wasn’t much at punchball, but by God, he could hold his own at Johnny-on-the-pony.
Google Books
The Right Time
an autobiography by Harry Golden
New York, NY: Putnam
Pg. 51:
Our street games were puss-n-cat, Johnny on the Pony, and box ball.
29 August 1972, New York (NY) Times, “Spaldeen Olympiad Is Proclaimed—and Anyone Can Play” by Michael T. Kaufman, pg. 35:
The events include stickball, stoopball, Chinese handball, boxball and Johnny on a Pony. All but the last are played with a pink rubber ball, known as a Spaldeen.
JOHNNY ON A PONY. Five players on a side. One side takes position as pony. One player serves as pillow, putting his back against a wall. A teammate bends over, placing his head against the pillow’s stomach. Other teammates then bend over and grasp each other around the waist, forming a human chain looking something like a multilegged animal with a common back. The other team’s players then take running leaps, in turn, onto their opponents’ backs. If they manage to break the chain, they get a score. If any of the jumpers touch the ground before all of their teammates have leaped, the ponies get a score. A match consists of the two teams alternating as ponies and Johnnies, five times. It is less complicated than it sounds.

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New York CitySports/Games • Monday, April 21, 2008 • Permalink

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