The beauty of Elden Ring is that you can play it any way you want. A fighting game? No problem. Just get one of those fingers and invade away. A role-playing game? Sure. There’s plenty of lore to excavate in the main quest line and NPC side quests. Perhaps even a wife or two to put a ring on. (Ranni, if you’re reading this, know I’m on my way to you soon.)
In between getting slaughtered in hilarious level 15 PVP fights and facing constant death, I’ve recently taken to playing Elden Ring like a horse girl game. Think Barbie Horse Adventures Riding Camp, but instead it’s Elden Ring Riding Horse Camp: Tarnished Edition. Just me and my horse, Torrent; Torrent and me. I give full credit to Katie Chironis’ viral meme comparing Elden Ring and the various Barbie Horse games for opening my third eye and giving me the language for how I’ve been taking Torrent on walks.
But first, what is a horse girl game? Once upon a time, horse girl games were limited to the slew of Barbie-themed horse games on the Nintendo DS and mobile games like My Little Pony: Magic Princess. Broadly speaking, the term “horse girl” itself emerged into cultural consciousness in the 2000s. Horse girls didn’t necessarily need to own a horse — otherwise, this would shrink the horse girl citizenship quite a bit due to the prohibitively expensive costs of raising one — but they likely owned a Lisa Frank journal with lots of equestrian-themed art on it, possessed strong feelings about the movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, and collected the entire Little House on the Prairie book series.
Being a horse girl was often tied to nostalgia, a symbol of girlhood that rarely carried over into adulthood. In Sailor Moon, Chibiusa — Usagi Tsukino and Mamoru Chiba’s future kid — is attached to Pegasus, a guy who can take on the form of a winged horse (technically a unicorn). Pegasus visits Chibiusa in her dreams: an in-between state metaphorically parallel to Chibiusa’s suspension between childhood and pubescence. In a more esoteric example, Lynn’s beloved horse in 90s manga Hello Lady Lynn, Andrews, functions as an integral part of her coming-of-age narrative. As Lynn transitions into a “Lady,” Andrews is her crucial companion.
But over the years, there have been creative subversions of the horse girl adolescence. Celty from Durarara! — an Irish fairy that’s as adult as you can get (and perhaps even immortal) — rides an equally immortal horse called Shooter disguised as a motorbike, proving you can still have a horse even when you’re old as hell and living in the city rather than the countryside. The horse girl membership itself also started extending to unexpected communities, like the well-documented obsession of My Little Ponies by Bronies, dudes who are really into the toys and characters from the animated show My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.
In tandem with the evolving ironic evolutions of horse girls, the horse girl game genre expanded as well. My Horse Prince, a 2016 Japanese mobile game, brought the horse girl genre into otome game land and allowed you to romance horses with the face of hot anime guys. Red Dead Redemption, ostensibly a gritty open-world Western about doing bad things as a bad cowboy, became a horse girl game for many players as well.
It follows that Elden Ring, which is also meant to be a gritty, dark open-world RPG about doing bad things to get wifed up to Ranni, can be played like a horse girl game too. In Barbie Horse Adventures: Riding Camp, you can take your horse on trails and get rewarded for collecting stars, proving the accuracy and control you have over the horse. In Elden Ring, I’ve substituted collecting sparkly stars for collecting the heads of enemies. It’s basically the same thing.
And just like the scenic beach or forest route Riding Camp takes you through, Elden Ring offers pretty trails too. And it’s much more DIY in Elden Ring since you can plan your own paths in the open-world map to ride Torrent through. With his double jump, any trail is doable. Personally, my favorite trail is the path around Limgrave’s lake with the giant dragon. It adds a spice of danger, and I like to think that slaying the giant crab in the middle of the route is a nice intermission.
While Elden Ring doesn’t let you wash and take care of Torrent as you can in Riding Camp, it does allow you to feed Torrent with Rowa Raisins. In practical gameplay terms, Torrent only needs them to replenish health, though I just feed them whenever I feel like it. Riding Camp also gives you a rotating selection of riding outfits, which still hold up as great clothes even today. I mean, who would’ve known the famous Bottega green was already present in Barbie’s riding glam back in 2008? I, too, am basically putting together pretty great outfits when taking Torrent on a walk in Elden Ring. Farming mobs so they’ll drop their outfits is basically the equivalent of checking out the new outfits in Barbie’s closets every different morning in Riding Camp.
However, modders have already taken the opportunity to create the interactions with Torrent that Elden Ring doesn’t provide. For example, the Tekken Elden Ring mod replaces Kazumi’s tiger and lets you pet Torrent, which is a mechanic I would have loved to see in the game itself. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the mod that replaces Torrent with the Kaiden Warriors’ steed. It feels a bit sacrilegious since I’m quite attached to Torrent, but the Kaiden steed design is indeed very cool. I expect we’ll see more horse mod reskins and customizations in the future.
It’s not a surprise to see such mods already appear, for at the core of any horse girl game, ironic or not, is the bond with the horse.
To be honest, when I was first given Torrent, I was ambivalent about our partnership. However, due to my character’s build, I quickly changed my mind. I stacked Intelligence and Dexterity points, making me a delicate glass cannon. I chose this build because I wasn’t confident in close combat mechanics — although in a twist of irony, a glass cannon build forced me to learn the basics of close combat. That’s a story for another day, but before I picked up how to roll and maintain proper spacing, Torrent was always my getaway ride. Without Torrent, not investing into Vigor points wouldn’t have worked at all in the beginning.
Over time, it became kind of funny to have Torrent as my only friend in the Lands Between. Everything in Elden Ring wants to kill me, but not Torrent! Torrent tolerates my sub-par lunges towards larger-than-life giants that hurl gigantic arrows and witness my cowardly poke-and-run tests towards enemies of all sizes and shapes. Torrent sticks around even though we got barbecued alive together after I ill-advisedly tested out what destroying a dragon egg would do. Torrent patiently waits for me to figure out how to strike enemies on either side of them (hint: you’ve got to two-hand the weapon), leading to our joint increased survival rate — something I’m sure they’re glad for.
Ultimately, Torrent is one of the most important NPCs in Elden Ring. You spend the most time with them, forming a bond that endures no matter how many “you died” screens pop up. It’s embarrassing, but I am being more sincere than cheeky when I say, “I love Torrent.”
If you’re not into Elden Ring’s combat and claustrophobic dungeons, I highly recommend just planning ride routes in the open world and farming random enemies for stellar riding outfits. Yes, you do occasionally have to venture into these dungeons for great outfits. Just think of it as a necessary evil to look really good while going on a walk with the best partner in crime ever.