They’re the pretty plastic horses aimed at little girls, but Hasbro’s My Little Pony stable has a new breed of fan – namely a growing contingent of teenage and adult males.
Known as “bronies” – a term meaning men who like ponies or “bro” ponies - this emerging movement is seeing more and more men declare their admiration for the sweetly-scented toy horses and their “Friendship Is Magic” ideology.
Although by no means an entirely new concept to those who attend the fan conventions, as The Inquisitr points out, "the phenomenon of Bronies is perhaps a new one to much of society."
Bronies say they are attracted by the show's messages of love, friendship and tolerance
Indeed while the movement is somewhat mocked and eyed with suspicion by some, fans say it is the messages of love, friendship and tolerance preached by Pinkie Pie, Applejack, Cotton Candy et al that are behind this new influx of attention.
Neuropsychologist Dr Marsha Reeden appeared to confirm this after contributing to the brony community’s first professional survey.
“They’re tired of being afraid, tired of angst and animosity. They want to go somewhere a lot more pleasant.”
Travis Tucker is an 18-year-old brony who lives in Las Vegas and runs a Facebook page called Artistic Bronies, which showcases fan art.
He told Huffington Post UK he became a fan of My Little Pony after watching episodes on YouTube.
He said: “I watched the first few episodes and was surprised that it got me to laugh a few times. I also felt surprised when I found the characters being pretty adorable. Being an 18-year-old guy, it's weird to find myself enjoying the cuteness of characters in a TV show.
"I was very surprised that the characters had extremely well-defined personalities. There was also conflict, and fighting scenes as well as references to other shows and sly adult jokes. I found that I really liked the show and watched the whole first season in a short time. And this was before I knew what a Brony was, haha!"
Writing for The Guardian, Rebecca Angel points out bronies are consistently assumed to be homosexual, although the majority of respondents to the survey consider themselves to be heterosexual.
She said: "This doesn't sit well with a culture that has exposed these boys to how they are supposed to act since childhood: Lego, not Barbies! Play ninjas, not fairies! War, not peace! How can we explain the fact of males embracing something so feminine?"
So strong is the fanbase, there are several “BronyCon” events in the US each year and British bronies got in on the act in July, with a further weekend scheduled for August next year.
And bronies are no underground movement either. American satirist Stephen Colbert gave a special shout-out to the group last year during the taping of his show and Andrew W.K - the musician behind "Party Hard" - addressed crowds at the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic convention in Ohio on Friday.
Neuropsychologist Dr Marsha Reeden has claimed bronies are a reaction to American's participation in the war on terror
Describing the convention as “the most intense experience of my life” he added the attendees were “a group of people I can relate to in that they’re like no one else. Congrats on being individuals… and part of a herd.”
W.K told Rolling Stone: “A lot of adults confuse growing up with a sense of seriousness, boringness.
“Whatever you want to play with, it’s OK. It’s not only OK, it’s good. This is a forward-thinking, advanced movement that is ahead of the curve.”
Speaking at this year’s BronyCon in New Jersey, animator Lauren Faust (who works on the current cartoon series) told AP: "There are a lot of people who when they first hear about men watching a show for little girls, they're taken to a creepy place.
"They think there's something wrong with that, something devious about it. I think that's unfortunate.
"I don't think you have to have bad intentions to like little girls or to like the things that they like.”
Zac North, who attended the event dressed as the pony-dragon hybrid Discord, said: "It's colourful and innocent, which is something I don't have in my life."
The 19-year-old added: "I like the community away from the show"
The first My Little Pony toys hit the shelves in 1983, leading to TV specials, a film and a first TV series from 1986 to 1987.
If you would like to contribute to a slideshow of brony pictures and fan art, email email@example.com #brony. Please supply picture credit information.