Chris Bachelder II always dreamed of becoming a professional wrestler.
His ring persona, Christopher Lust, would sport tuxedo trunks and try to seduce the audience. He would be a heartthrob.
But after four years of training, a knee injury forced Bachelder, 23, to walk away in 2011.
He had put all his energy into wrestling, but now he needed a new passion, a new way of life.
That's when he found “My Little Pony.”
“I just felt a new kind of happiness and purpose about me,” said Bachelder, an Omahan who started a podcast called BroNEcast in April 2012. Nearly a year later, he feels like his shows, which have gotten as many as 7,000 views in one day, have given him a solid ground and direction.
“Considering the show helped pull me out of a depression, I think it's worth it to give back to the show and the fandom that has sparked from it,” Bachelder said.
He is one of a group of adult men and some women who watch “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,” a show on Hasbro's TV station, The Hub (Channel 100 on Cox Cable in Omaha). They chat about it on social media, form clubs of like-minded people and buy show-related memorabilia.
They call themselves Bronies — bro ponies.
The show, which premiered in October 2010, details the adventures of a unicorn pony named Twilight Sparkle and her best friends Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash and Rarity in the town of Ponyville. Created by Lauren Faust, who worked on other successful children's shows like “The Powerpuff Girls,” “Dexter's Laboratory” and “Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends,” this iteration of “My Little Pony” was intended to be a girl-targeted cartoon that broke the mold with adventurous plotlines and adult humor.
Adults say they've gravitated toward it for a variety of reasons.
“It's definitely not what you expect when you hear 'My Little Pony,'” said Jessica Payton, head of Lincoln's Bronies group and one of many female Bronies. “It's got adventure; it hasn't got rainbows and magic. It's got a touch of that, sure, but it's got story and action and bad guys.”
University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Kyle Sass says he watched the show for the first time as a joke. But the more he watched, the more he was genuinely entertained. It was funny, engaging and addicting. He recruited others to watch, too: “It's ridiculous and awesome at the same time.”
Many male bronies, including Bachelder, say they are challenging gender stereotypes with their open support of a girls TV show.
That gives the movement a cool factor, says Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University professor who studies television and pop culture.
“It's so totally uncool that I think it comes clear around the other end of the spectrum and makes it cool,” Thompson said in a phone interview. “It's one thing for guys to like motorcycles and muscle cars and soccer. For a guy to like 'My Little Pony,' it's so out there that it becomes almost avant garde. It has a hip quality to it.”
Whatever the appeal, the show's popularity has grown and so has the Bronie phenomenon. The series is the highest-rated original production in the history of the Hub network. And the Brony page on Facebook has more than 70,000 fans.
Shortly after the show debuted, word spread on YouTube and other social media sites, and adults — especially men — were fans from day one. Adults started to form Brony groups and have regular meetings.
A convention, BroNYCon, grew out of Brony meetups in New York City in June 2011. That convention, the first, drew 100 people. A year later, the fourth time the event was held, 4,000 people attended, including guests and voice actors from the show and even Faust, the show's creator.
Nebraska Bronies has been meeting since November 2011, when five people brought a TV to the Scooter's Coffeehouse inside Westroads Mall to watch episodes. Now with more than 400 members on Facebook, the group meets monthly at a Gretna church. About 70 Bronies attend each time.
“I'm very surprised by the Brony community around here,” said Jared Sloger, an artist and a Nebraska Bronies member. “It's something that has just exploded.”
In fact, Omaha had its own Brony convention last year. Pon3 Con, a one-day event at the Sheraton Hotel near 108th Street and West Dodge Road, drew more than 350 Bronies from as far away as Tennessee.
Shawn Mitten, Pon3 Con co-chairman and co-founder of Nebraska Bronies, said this year's convention has been expanded into two three-day conventions, one May 10 through 12 and the other sometime in October. Planners are preparing for 1,000 participants and expect no fewer than 500.
Conventions mostly consist of panels with local and national Brony celebrities, booths for groups and artists, games, costume contests and giveaways.
From the outside looking in, the Brony movement can seem hard to explain — is it born out of irony or sincerity?
“If one is seriously beginning to celebrate and collect and examine that type of thing without irony, I think that's interesting; a lot more interesting than listening to another college student make a Papa Smurf reference,” said Thompson, the Syracuse professor.
The Facebook fan page says the group's purpose is to “forgive and forget, with tolerance and love for everyone ... (and) spread the power of friendship to the far reaches of the universe.”
Some have wondered if sexual orientation plays a role in the show's popularity with adult men.
The movement so intrigued two researchers — Patrick Edwards of Georgia and Marsha H. Redden of Louisiana — that they conducted an online study of Bronies and their motivation.
About 24,000 responded to their survey, and the breakdown of sexual preference among males who completed the questionnaire was approximately the same as in the general population.
The survey did indicate, however, that approximately 36 percent of Bronies don't talk about their alliance with the movement.
In his case, Bachelder said, open support of “My Little Pony” may have cost him a friendship.
“(My friend is) always going to have a lesser opinion of me because of it,” Bachelder said.
Sass, a senior business management and anthropology major at UNL, tells some of his friends about the show, but he doesn't have collectables and doesn't attend meetings or conventions. In fact, his parents don't even know that he's a Brony.
“It's not that I'm ashamed and that I won't tell my parents. It's that I don't care to tell them,” Sass said.
Indeed, say fans, there's nothing to be ashamed of.
Mitten, who co-founded Nebraska Bronies with a woman fan in November 2011, said the Brony movement goes a long way in redefining what is manly.
“If you asked me three years ago if I would be running pony stuff and watching 'My Little Pony,' I would be like 'What? No, that's girl stuff,'” Mitten said. “But now that I think about it, in today's society, it's OK for girls to like things like football and baseball and things that are generally stereotyped for guys.
“A lot of people have said that they think Bronies are going to play a huge part in how the world views things. I don't know if we'll go that far, because every fandom has its limitation. ... But I have definitely seen changes.”
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Correction: Marsha H. Redden's named was incorrect in a previous version of this story.