This is a story about a very popular horse named Bob. He’s viral now, without having a virus.
Most days, Bob climbs onto a treadmill outside a business west of Shipshewana. He’s a 2,000-pound Belgian draft horse that is used at The Animal Farm at Rise ‘N Shine Marketplace to power a merry-go-round for people, as well as an ice-cream maker.
A few weeks ago, I stopped in to Rise ‘N Shine, an outlet for furniture, overstocks and items returned from online sales. Orvin Bontrager, who with his wife started Rise ‘N Roll Bakery, founded this business in May 2017 after selling the bakery and leaving it.
I heard a treadmill and looked out the window to see a horse walking on it. Not what I was expecting, so I went outside, where Bob and other animals are part of a small animal farm and petting zoo. He was on the treadmill, powering the ice cream maker. I pulled out my iPhone and took a short video and posted it to Facebook, saying I didn’t expect to see a horse making ice cream.
Apparently others didn’t either. The video of Bob on the treadmill started being liked and shared by Instagram and Facebook friends. A few commented.
Joanna King shared it on the Facebook page for the town of Shipshewana and by that afternoon, it had been shared 79 times from that, as well as 100 or so times from my page.
The numbers kept climbing exponentially.
As of late last week, more than 1,100 people had liked or loved the video, but more than 260 had used an emoji showing their displeasure.
The video had been shared more than 15,000 times and viewed more than 861,000 times.
Caters News Agency contacted me to represent the viral video to news outlets and share the profits if they happen.
I got a bunch of friend requests from people who really love horses. I like horses, but I wouldn’t say that we share that common interest.
I got a couple messages from people who feel that Bob was being mistreated. I didn’t see any evidence that he is and in a follow-up interview, I asked Bontrager about the care for the animals. He said, “We promote taking good care of animals.”
Social media is often used to express outrage. Posting this video was the opposite of that. I just thought that a horse who embodies one horsepower was making ice cream and that was surprising and interesting. I also wasn’t trying to exploit the Amish with photos or video, which they try to avoid.
Horses are a passion of Bontragers and part of his Amish heritage. They power transportation and work in farm fields. When he saw horse treadmills in use among Amish in Kentucky and Tennessee, he purchased one for use at his business, which opened in May 2017.
Horses are part of Amish life in northern Indiana, but solar power and generators are more common for businesses and even homes to use for home freezers and water pumps.
The ice cream, by the way, is good and a $2.50 donation will get you all-you-can-eat. It’s ready starting at 11 a.m. or so Monday through Saturday, but only for a few more days.
Bontrager was hoping the animals would attract more customers to his business. He’s a keen marketer and this was a way of drawing in more people to the store. It hasn’t worked as he hoped. There are a few people who visit Bob, Eeyore the donkey, and the others, but Bontrager is planning to discontinue Bob’s work after Labor Day. Bob, the treadmill and other animals are for sale.
The internet is an odd place and many of us spend a lot of time online. It was refreshing that Bontrager and his employees, including the one partially shown in the video, were oblivious to the attention and it’s a good reminder of the difference between life and online life.
My life hasn’t changed the way Ted Yoder’s did when he started playing a Tears for Fears song on Facebook Live two summers ago. His career as a hammered dulcimer player benefited from that immensely.
Social scientists study what makes something go viral. Businesses hope for it. Bob didn’t care and couldn’t check his popularity. He just keeps showing up and keeps moving. That’s a pretty good model for how to live a life.
Marshall V. King is a freelance writer and photographer who has worked in Elkhart County as a journalist for more than 20 years. You can read his Food For Thought each Monday and his Dining a la King column each Friday.