More than 1,000 Bronies and Pegasisters — that is, male and female fans of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic — galloped into Garden Grove over the weekend for Equestria L.A. Billed as “Southern California's premier My Little Pony fan convention,” Equestria is one of innumerable Pony fan cons all over the United States and beyond, and it caters to fans with extremely specific interests.
One hourlong panel was devoted to dissecting the meaning of a single minute of the Disney film Zootopia. Another panel, “Railroad Bronies,” targeted people interested in both My Little Pony and trains. The titular Railroad Bronies spent most of the hour describing how they became friends and sharing jokes and photos of themselves at train yards in Pomona, Fullerton and other locales throughout California. One Brony informed me later that groups of Railroad Bronies exist on the East Coast as well. Locomotives aside, they also informally explained why others should join them — their favorite show's tagline is “Friendship Is Magic,” after all.
At these get-togethers, Bronies often seem more interested in talking about feelings and relationships than simply disseminating facts. At the “How to Draw Ponies” panel, artists from the My Little Pony comic discussed paneling techniques, but they also took time to explain how they overcame moments of disappointment and emotional roadblocks to continue to create.
With My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic heading into its eighth season and with a feature film recently released in theaters, Bronies seem as ardent as ever.
One Brony I spoke with, Dusty Kat, found My Little Pony during hard times. Once an out-of-work Harley-Davidson technician, Kat was squatting in a house in Nevada and struggling with depression when friends in San Jose invited him to play Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and introduced him to My Little Pony late one night after a long gaming session. Kat, who is 50 years old and has an imposing 6-foot-4 frame, was initially hesitant to watch a show starring magical talking horses. But soon he was performing in My Little Pony YouTube videos, which earned him the distinction of being “the manliest Brony.” He now thrives as a professional voice actor while repairing bikes and pinball machines on the side. Kat is often the charity auctioneer for the fan con's fundraising efforts; at Equestria L.A., he spearheaded a fundraiser for the Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar that raised $11,400. Actual animals appeared onstage throughout the auction, including a lizard, a turtle and a two-toed sloth.
My Little Pony is well known for its extensive male fanbase, which has become the subject of clickbait think pieces and psychological studies. But men didn’t hog the spotlight at Equestria L.A. — all but one of the convention leaders I spoke with were female. At the “Women in Animation” panel, Friendship Is Magic show creator Lauren Faust talked about what motivates her cartooning work.
“I have always driven my career toward trying to do things that are positive for girls,” Faust explained. “And that’s because I felt shortchanged as a girl.”
In the children’s area, little girls (the most numerous demographic of Pony fans) drew ponies and workshopped ideas with some of the show’s talent. Tara Strong, who voices lead pony Twilight Sparkle, crafted tiaras with the youngsters while occasionally dropping into her Twilight voice. Later in the day, My Little Pony scribes Kristine Songco and Joanna Lewis taught kids what it's like to be a writer for cartoons and encouraged them to pursue their dreams. Audrey Cordero, a 9-year-old My Little Pony fan, told me she’s been watching the cartoon since she was 6 and found out about the convention on YouTube. “I like to dress up as my favorite pony, DJ Pon-3, and play around,” Audrey explained. “DJ Pon-3 has cool hair.”
With so many in attendance, I was surprised to hear that 2017 will be the last year for Equestria L.A. According to longtime organizer Regan Torres, this is not a result of waning fandom but more a matter of timing for the people who run the convention. “We just had a baby!” explains Torres, standing alongside her husband. “Running this convention is a full-time job but we don’t get paid for it. It’s volunteer work — an act of love.”
Unlike other fan conventions that have their own paid administrators, everyone who runs Equestria L.A. is a volunteer. Instances of commitment to the con and the Pony brand surprised me throughout the day. I spent a few of my last minutes trying out Igor Bass’ fan-made My Little Pony VR, a multiyear labor of love that allows you to don a 3-D headset and explore the town of Ponyville as a pegasus. Igor’s game, much like the rest of the weekend, was a dream come true for any Brony.