A man hugging a stuffed animal talks to a pony in a pinstripe suit, a tail protruding from his trouser pants. A herd of equines prances into an auditorium to join a sing-along. Others trot around the lobby of the Loew's Landmark Theater shopping for My Little Pony paraphernalia or indulging in pony makeovers.
Welcome to PonyCon NYC, a two-day event in which men and women, children and adults come together to share in their love of the franchise through art, cosplay, and discussions with My Little Pony designers and animators. The convention in Jersey City was an offshoot of the much larger BronyCon, which will take place in Baltimore this year, so fans in the New York City area could gather to play and talk about the hit cartoon, My Little Pony Friendship is Magic, which debuted in 2010. For readers not steeped in the lore of this fantasy universe of rainbows and bedazzled ponies, the show is just the latest installment in an entertainment franchise founded in the 80s by a single, titular toy.
"I fell in love with the show because it teaches kids and adults about the power of friendship and working together," said Angelina Greene, 18, who was dressed as the pony Derpy Hooves. Greene said that she has been cosplaying for four years and thinks that it is a liberating experience. "It's an outlet for expression," she said. "It's how you can be somebody you're not while being yourself." She held out her paw and we "brohoofed" in agreement.
The convention also drew a number of dads toting behind eager children and families who enjoyed watching the show together. Nathan Pendane, 10, turned watching the cartoon into a family event in his house. "Every Sunday at 10am we're all watching it," his mother Denise said. "He gets mad if we're late and won't even let us get our coffee."
Bonnie Zacherle originally designed the My Little Pony line in 1981 when she was an illustrator at Hasbro. She was inspired to create a toy pony because she said that she always wanted one growing up. "I made the toy because I wanted kids to be able to have what I never had," she said.
Since then, My Little Pony has gone through four generations of toy lines. Zacherle, who attended both days of the convention, said that she is pleased with the resurgence in popularity of My Little Pony, especially since she originally designed the toy for both girls and boys. "I think it's great that it just keeps on growing and changing," she said.
The popularity of the show it inspired and its surprisingly large male fan base is also credited to the show's developer, Lauren Faust, and the creative writers and animators who developed strong characters with themes that are relatable to older audiences.
Keith Butler, a 35-year-old My Little Pony fan who helped to organize the event, said that he first stumbled on the show nearly a year ago and immediately fell in love. "I watched an episode, then another, then another, and before you know it I'm organizing a pony convention," he said.
Butler said that he was ashamed of liking the show at first and kept his interest hidden from his husband. "I would watch episodes on my phone in the middle of the night and then I got caught and had to come to terms with it," Butler said.
Most people might think it's bizarre to see grown men and women sporting My Little Pony tattoos or singing songs about ponies. But bronies are no stranger than the Trekkies, Furries, or Comic Con fans that walk the world. And they're super friendly! In fact, a 2013 psychological study on the brony subculture found that MLP fans were more open to new experiences, tolerant of others, and less neurotic than most other people, which mirrors many of the lessons taught in the show.
"Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Fluttershy are identifiable characters that are all broken in some way," Butler said. "And they grow and change through the show and it gives me a lens to examine myself through."