(Some Pony dared me to write a shipping story...)
The rodeo’s come to Ponyville, and Twilight Sparkle recalls a dare given to a certain fashionista…
As the leaves of Apple Acres farm started to change from green to yellow the morning was filled not with the thud of hooves upon apple trees but the frantic thudding of hooves tearing up the field behind the barn. Applejack raced down the field, darting between the flags as close as she dared, zig-zagging back and forth between them. The candy-cane striped poles passed so closely she felt the brush on the tips of her ears. Big Macintosh waited at the finish line, stop watch ticking the seconds. Four poles left. Three. Two…
“Applejack!” Twilight Sparkle called out. The misstep was only an inch or two, but it sent the thin flexible pole smacking right across Applejack’s face! Applejack staggered and collapsed in a heap right at the finish line. Big Macintosh sighed and clicked the stopwatch in his mouth as Twilight Sparkle and Rarity ran up. “Applejack, are you okay?”
“What are you doing?” Rarity asked.
“Oh, this?” Applejack chuckled as she stood and shook off the dust, sending the white unicorn several steps away. “This is pole bending; one of the events at the Equestrian Wide Open Rodeo! It’s being held in Ponyville this year.” She pointed with her hoof at the run. “The idea is to run lickety split between ‘em without knocking over a single pole!”
“Sounds positively… sweaty,” Rarity said distastefully before she turned to dig into her saddle bag and pulled out Applejack’s signature hat. “Well here you are. I sewed the brim back in place.”
“Thank ya kindly, Rarity. When I tore my hat apple-buckin’, it was like I tore my best friend,” she said as she took the hat in her mouth and tossed it back in place atop her head.
“Rodeo. Rodeo,” Twilight Sparkle murmured and scratched her chin as something niggled at her memory. Then her eyes popped wide, “Oh my gosh… Applejack! You can’t enter the rodeo!”
Applejack blinked and then frowned at her friend. “What you talking about, Twilight Sparkle? Why can’t I?”
“Because Rarity has to enter,” Twilight Sparkle answered matter-of-factly, pointing her hoof at the white Unicorn.
Both of them stared at Twilight a moment and then Applejack burst out laughing. She slapped her hoof against the ground. Rarity gave a slightly incensed laugh as well. “Whatever are you talking about, Twilight Sparkle? Why on earth would I ever want to enter a rodeo?” Rarity demanded as if asked to sew stripes and spots on the same garment.
“Because THAT was what Applejack dared you to do back at my slumber party, remember?” Twilight Sparkle said as she gestured to Applejack. “Applejack dared you to enter the rodeo when it came to town, and you dared her not to enter the rodeo.”
Applejack stopped laughing at just stared at Twilight Sparkle. “Well stripe my mane and call me a zebra, that’s right! How in tarnation do you remember all these things?”
“It’s a gift,” Twilight Sparkle said proudly, hoof over her heart.
Rarity shook her head, “Twilight Sparkle, you can’t possibly mean that. It was just a silly argument. Besides, I just know Applejack would be heartbroken if she couldn’t enter.” She glanced at the orange workhorse, “Right, Applejack?” There was no answer; just an almost calculating gaze. Rarity felt her mane start to curl, “Applejack?”
Applejack just looked at Rarity and her lips curled slowly as her gaze flattened smugly and then said dismissively, “Nah, I’m good.” Applejack said with a casual shrug.
“Habazawha?” Rarity stammered.
“The rodeo’s a blast and all, but I’ve competed in it… shoot. How many times, Big Macintosh?”
“Mmm… four now.” The large red pony supplied.
Applejack tapped her hoof. “There ya go, four times! Won last year and the year before that! And you’ve never had the privilege of competing even once.” The orange pony’s expression was of pure satisfaction. “Rarity’s rodeo… the thought of it just gives me goose bumps.” Happy goose bumps from the grin on Applejack’s face.
“I… I simply can’t! I have orders and clients that cannot wait. And there must be deadlines for signing up! Who will feed Opal?” Rarity stammered, trying for any excuse.
“Well, Fluttershy and I can watch your shop,” Twilight Sparkle said with a smile. “I’m sure we can keep you from falling too behind on your orders and take care of your cat.”
“And you can just take my place in the rodeo,” Applejack said with a wave of her hoof. She tossed off her hat, caught the brim in her mouth, and threw it so it settled atop Rarity’s purple curls.
Rarity hung her head with a sigh and gave a petulant, “Yee-haw…” But as she looked away there was no question she was up to her horn in trouble.
* * *
In the pre-dawn twilight, Rarity lay snug in her bed, mane rolled tight and tucked under her nightcap with a lace trimmed blindfold blocking out the morning light. “Rise and shine, cowpony!” shouted Applejack, and Rarity screamed as she jumped clear out of the covers and landed in a heap in the middle of the rumpled sheets. Her bed-rumpled mane exploded in wild curls around her shoulders as she looked at Applejack with one twitching eye. “Time to begin your training,” Applejack said with a grin.
“Training… what training?” Rarity said before cognition set in. “You’re waking me up this early to train for a rodeo I have no chance of winning?”
“Well I wouldn’t say no chance. Slim, maybe, but better that then ending dead last,” Applejack said as she rubbed her chin.
“I am going to end up dead last. I am planning on ending dead last!” Rarity said sourly as she grabbed her sheets and burrowed back into them. “Now let me rest! I need at least two more hours’ beauty sleep or my eyes will be all puffy.”
Applejack just stared at her, “You mean you aren’t even going to try?”
“That’s the general idea.” Rarity said, waving her hoof dismissively out of the sheets at her friend. “The dare was for me to enter, not to try and win.” There was no answer from Applejack and Rarity frowned then turned to peek over her shoulder to look at Applejack’s confused and shocked expression. “What?”
“Landsakes, girl, you know what! How can you enter any competition and not even try? You had no compunctions against enterin the Young Flyer’s Contest with them magicked up wings of yours.”
“That was different,” Rarity said as she sat up in her bed, scowling at Applejack, “That was a contest of speed or grace. I can win at grace, but running around getting all sweaty just to place last anyway? Where is the sense in that?”
Applejack just looked at her with an odd expression. Disappointment. “No sense at all, I reckon,” she said as she rose. “Just that I’d rather see a filly place dead last giving it her all than one who wastes every pony’s time not even bothering.” Applejack turned and walked from the room without another word.
Rarity grabbed her pillow and turned on her tummy, pulling it over her head as she clenched her eyes shut. It was just a stupid rodeo. A competition she could never win no matter how hard she tried. So why should Applejack’s disappointment matter to her? The orange mare was simply doing this to humiliate Rarity; why indulge her?
She’s an equal. That was it. That was the galling truth of it. Despite her crude and filthy manner, Applejack was the closest pony to being Rarity’s equal. Applejack cared about business and her farm with the same diligence that Rarity did her shop. She was mature and down to earth, similar to Rarity’s own sophisticated tastes. She’d even been to Manehattan. Had any of her other friends travelled so far? If the rest of her friends were disappointed with Rarity’s behavior it was simple to dismiss them as immature. If she refused to compete or simply gave up it would be a blow to her pride; something else she had in common with the orange pony. She buried her face in the pillow and gave a scream of frustration, kicking her hooves. Then she went limp.
Rarity didn’t like failure one way or the other, but losing her own self respect? That was something she could never do.
* * *
Applejack reached the farm as the Princess brought the sun up over the horizon. Her shadow stretched along the ground ahead of her to where the practice equipment was set up. Then she saw a second shadow besides hers. She glanced back and stared at Rarity with her hair pulled back and tucked behind a sweat band. Hoof warmers were wrapped around all four of her legs. But besides all that was the look in her eye. Sure. Angry. Maybe even a little bit cocky. “All right Applejack, let’s do this!”
* * *
Applejack nipped around the three barrels in the barrel race and came to a stop at the line. Big Macintosh clicked off the time. Rarity crouched and raced towards the first barrel and around it. She trotted to the second, dripping sweat. Slowly she walked around the third. She almost made it to the finish line before collapsing in a heap.
Applejack crossed out a day on her apple monthly calendar. Six days to go.
Rainbow Dash joined Rarity at the starting line of the sprint. The cyan Pegasus carefully showed Rarity the starting position. Rarity mirrored her form precisely. Twilight Sparkle waved the flag. In a cloud of dust Rainbow Dash zipped across the finish before she glanced back. Rarity stood, choking and gagging on the cloud of dust still on the starting line. Rainbow Dash gave a sheepish grin and shrug in response to Twilight Sparkle’s stern glare.
Another day crossed off the calendar. Five days to go.
Applejack rode the bucking bull with glee, the strap wrapped around her hoof as she waved her free hoof in the air, cheering. When kicked off, she picked herself up and looked back at Rarity clinging to a brown and tan cow placidly chewing her cud. Slowly Rarity started to slide, landing in a heap beneath the cow. Applejack covered her face with a hoof.
Another X. Four days to go.
Spike laid on Rarity’s flank in a daze, staring up at her in adoration as Rarity looked at Applejack. The orange mare mimicked vigorous kicking techniques and then grinned at her in support. Rarity arched a skeptical brow, looked back at Spike, and hunched her hips once or twice. The enthralled baby dragon didn’t budge. Rarity looked at Applejack in consternation. As her head was turned, Pinkie Pie snuck over and placed a hairy fake spider on Rarity’s flank. Rarity glanced back and her eyes shot wide as she kicked the hideous thing off as hard as she could. Spike went sailing over the fence of the corral and into a bale of hay.
Applejack grinned widely. Rarity’s eyes were round with wonder as another day was marked off. Three to go.
Twilight Sparkle calmly diagrammed several different roping techniques, writing out the complex formulas needed to preserve the angular acceleration. Rarity just stared at her blankly, looked at the rope, and used her magic to animate it as a spinning lasso. With a toss the rope pulled Twilight Sparkle off her hooves and looped itself around several times. With a smile Rarity left the corral and an slightly disgruntled Twilight Sparkle in the middle of the pen.
Chuckling at the sight of Twilight hopping out with her hooves tied together, Applejack crossed the day off. Two days to go.
Rarity returned to the barrel race. Big Macintosh kept time. Twilight waved the flag and Rarity raced as hard as she could while her friends kept anxious watch. She ran across the finish line, sweaty and dusty as the stop watch was clicked. Her friends checked the time and let out a cheer. Fluttershy fanned the exhausted Rarity as she sank with a tired smile at the end.
Off went the day. Tomorrow: the rodeo.
* * *
“I sure am proud of all the work you’ve done this week, Rarity,” Applejack said as they trotted out of the practice corral alongside the Unicorn. “I know you didn’t want to do any of this, but you stepped up and made a dandy effort.”
Rarity gave a shaky laugh as she walked out of the paddock and towards the farm house, “Well it’s like you said, Applejack. Better to try and fail than to not try at all,” Rarity replied as they climbed on to the porch where Granny Smith had put out two chilled apple juices. Beads of condensation gleamed on the cool glass as they overlooked the farm. “Ugh, I feel positively grimy. I could do for a three hour soak at the spa.”
Applejack just chuckled and shook her head, “Why do you do that?”
“Do what?” The white unicorn blinked in surprise.
“Well, why do ya spend so much time on that fancy shmanchy stuff? It just don’t make much sense to me that you hate ta get dirty, but you’ll let em slap a layer of imported muck and yer happier than a pig in a sty.” Applejack asked honestly and openly, then blinked and quickly added, “Ah, not that yer a pig or anything…”
Rarity suppressed a giggle behind her hoof and shook her head, “No offense taken.” She looked at the glass between her hooves. “I suppose it depends on the reason for the mud.”
“Huh? Mud is mud, ain’t it?” Applejack said as she scratched the side of her head with a hoof. “You telling me that fancy mud’s… like… magiced up or something?”
“No. It depends on the context. When I get a mud facial, it’s not the mud that different. It’s the circumstances. I’m warm. Comfortable. Safe. I’m being pampered because I chose to go through it. And it positively does wonders for one’s pores.” She looked out towards Ponyville, her azure eyes going distant and sad, “But mud in other contexts…being stuck outside on a rainy night… well… let’s just say that it brings up unpleasant memories.”
Applejack looked a bit intrigued. “You mean ta tell me ya had a traumatic experience with a mud puddle or something?” And Rarity’s smile slipped, and for one moment Applejack saw an expression of solemnity that she’d never seen before. It was a look like when Applejack was looking at Apple Acres and feeling like it was the best place in the world. The look on Rarity’s face right now was the same Applejack wore when she thought about everything that it’d cost her to get. Applejack suddenly stammered, “I… I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright, Applejack,” Rarity said as she rose to her feet and moved towards the porch steps before she froze and then said softly, “Do you really think I’ll do well in the rodeo tomorrow?”
Applejack opened her mouth and closed it. She coughed softly, “Well… um… I’d say… ah…” Then she glanced up and saw Rarity’s deep blue eye looking over her shoulder. The orange pony stammered as she flustered and then admitted, “I’m… pretty sure yer gonna get creamed. But you’ll do yer best, and there won’t be one pony that’ll think less of you.” Applejack swallowed, sure that she was about to get snapped at.
“Thank you, Applejack,” Rarity said softly as she turned to smile at the baffled farm pony. “For not telling me what you think I want to hear, even when I want to hear it. That truly is a precious gift.” Applejack just went stiff as a board, pupils contracting as Rarity stretched forward and gave Applejack’s cheek a little nuzzle before she drew back with an enigmatic smile. “Well, see you tomorrow, Applejack.” And with that she turned once more and walked away from the farm house. Applejack didn’t trust herself to blink.
Then she noticed Apple Bloom, Big Macintosh, and Granny Smith standing at the corner staring with barely repressed giggles, utter stupefaction, and addled confusion respectively. Her orange freckled cheeks turned bright red as she stammered, “I was… she… and… we were talkin about mud! Mud, ya hear!”
Apple Bloom finally couldn’t contain it as she fell back, clutching her sides as she laughed in glee, “Oh mah, wait till I talk ta Sweetie Belle!” Big Macintosh’s jaw looked like it was fit to come undone as it hung open.
“I… you… oooohhh…. I’m gonna go buck some apples!” She said in a huff as she yanked her cowboy hat down atop her blond mane and stalked off towards the apple orchard, fuming in embarrassment.
* * *
The Equestrian Wide Open Rodeo spread out along the grounds used months earlier for Ponyville’s Iron Pony competition. Ponies from all over Equestria came to celebrate earth pony traditions that were still alive for the nostalgic, the macho, and the competitive. Around the dusty arena sprouted a massive collection of booths, game stalls, vendors, and even a large Ferris wheel. The rodeo wasn’t just for pony kind. Cows ambled in their herds discussing milking techniques, the finer points of cud, and their appreciation for the helpful ponies that looked out for them. Chickens moved in more sporadic patterns as they clucked over corn futures and egg laying. Even pigs looked forward to the available garbage when the day was through.
“Mmmmm boy! Nothing quite smells like a rodeo!” Applejack said with relish and she inhaled the pong of sweat, food, rides, animals, and their associated by products. Her friends looked a little less enthusiastic, but with everything going on even Fluttershy seemed excited in her own way. There was just one catch, “Now where is Rarity?” She looked around with a little frown.
“Maybe she’s not gonna show?” Rainbow Dash suggested obnoxiously as she looked at some of the game booths. “I mean, she probably got a pony pedicure and just can’t risk a hoof.”
“Nah, she’s gonna be here. No pony puts herself through that much trouble fer no… n… n…” Applejack’s voice trailed off as the crowd parted before her and her friends for a white unicorn mare. Rarity had arrived, her mane and tail tied in a tight braid to keep her gorgeous curls out of the dirt. A demure light tan vest complemented her embroidered boots. A blue bandanna tied around her neck matched the blue diamond set in the neat little cowboy hat perched atop her head.
“Howdy, ya’ll,” Rarity said in a twang so matching Applejack’s that the orange pony froze in shock, utterly paralyzed. “I have great news. Since we’re going to be out and about, I thought perhaps some fitting attire was in order.” And reaching into her saddlebags, she threw out outfits that seemed to magically cover each and every one of them.
Fluttershy found herself in a southern belle cotton dress and bonnet, lace parasol shading her from the sun. Twilight looked quite sharp in her purple vest, bolo tie with garnet clasp, and cowboy hat decorated with the same pattern as her cutie mark in gemstones, but not as sharp as Rainbow Dash in striking black leather vest, red bandanna, black duster, and lasso. Pinkie Pie giggled as she once more wore a lacy black outfit of a saloon dancer. Spike looked quite exotic as he found himself in mariachi garb. Her friends looked at each other, admiring their outfits.
“How do you do that?” Twilight Sparkle asked in amazement, trying to work out how Rarity could dress them all just by flinging some outfits.
Rarity raised her head proudly, “It’s a gift.”
“Well hurry up, ya’ll! It’s a party! Rodeo style! Yeehaw!” Pinkie Pie cheered as she bounced past Rarity. Twilight Sparkle immediately began to comment on the historical accuracies to Fluttershy as the yellow Pegasus looked over the animals wandering exhibits. Rainbow Dash walked past the still stunned Applejack and smacked her upside the head as the cyan Pegasus hurried to catch up with the others.
“I… um… you look… wow…” Applejack sputtered.
“Surprised?” Rarity asked with an arch little smile.
“A bit, yeah,” Applejack then looked down at herself and saw the clothes she wore weren’t fancy or neat. The vest had been well worn, and the white and red apple print bandana had clearly seen some use. The boots fit snug as a bug and Applejack started. “Wait… Rarity, these are my own duds!”
“I figured you probably wouldn’t want to look all… well… prettified. Big Macintosh got them for me,” Rarity said with a nervous smile. “Was I mistaken?”
Applejack opened her mouth and closed it again. “Well… maybe I wouldn’t mind so much, seeing as how you’re the one competing in the events,” Applejack admitted.
Rarity gave a little squee and at once whipped out an extra outfit, throwing it over Applejack. As quick as magic, Applejack wore the green vest edged in fringe, matching boots, and a bolo tie with an apple slide on the front. Her hat remained the same, but a green ribbon had tied itself around the base. Applejack looked at herself and gave a chuckle of approval, “Well looky there. Ya outdid yerself, Rarity.”
The white unicorn flushed scarlet at the unexpected compliment. “Not too much?”
“Not too much at t’all,” Applejack said with a smile.
“Well that certainly sums you up, Applejack!” a voice jeered from nearby. The tan earth pony with mustard yellow mane wore a sneer almost as big as the duster she wore. Three bucks followed in her wake. “Do you actually plan on competing in that?” On her flank was a cutie mark of a rattlesnake’s rattle.
“Diamondback. I though you got yerself banned last year fer cheatin!” Applejack sneered.
“Made an appeal,” she said with a scowl, “Didn’t mean ta kick ya in the head durin the sprint.”
“Yeah, I believe that like I believe apples just fall from the sky.” The animosity in their glares simmered in the sun as Applejack continued, “I ain’t competing this year, but I just know some pony’ll put ya in yer place,” Though from her glare it was clear that now Applejack certainly wanted to be said pony.
“Hrmph. Doubt that,” Diamond back said as her eyes turned to Rarity. “And yer the idjit that took her place?” She looked Rarity slowly up and down with a look of, disappointment? “To think, yer what they’re callin cow ponies now... yer gonna getcher mane all dirtied up.”
Rarity looked at Diamondback with utter disdain, “Comes with the events.”
“Oh, I say it does. Long with bruises, cuts, contusions, broken bones, and busted necks,” Diamond back said with a malicious grin. “Can’t wait ta see ya in the arena. Come on, boys,” She said with a jerk of her head, scowling as the four of them stalked off.
Rarity deflated a little. “Well, that was quite the disagreeable mare. I assume you two have a history?”
Applejack looked like she’d just eaten her own baked bads. “Yeah. Beat her two years ago. Then last year she tried ta cheat ta win. Got caught. Looks like this time she’ll probably take the rodeo trophy,” Applejack said grimly before she sighed and shrugged. “Ah well. Still makes her a lousy good fer nothing snake. Wanna go catch up with Twilight and the others?”
“Actually, I’d like that very much,” the white unicorn said with a playful smile, “Let’s go partner,” Rarity said as she drawled out her words.
“Ugh, I do not talk like that!” Applejack retorted, receiving a giggle in return.
The seven friends prowled the rodeo grounds drawing every eye, and not just for their stunning appearance. Pinkie Pie discovered the wonders of sugary kettle corn, the huge puffs of blue and pink cotton candy, salty pretzels, and all manner of other pastries. They passed by the Apple Acres booth, where for the second time Big Macintosh’s jaw hit the floor at the sight of Applejack and Rarity strolling along together. Then the pink pony found the chili eat off and was set for the day.
Twilight Sparkle was recounting Equestria history points to any pony in ear shot that’d listen, which proved more than one might expect. There were old hoss’ around that happily jawed about ‘good old days’ where ponies would escort cows and other live stock from one community to the other. A few even took fun with trying to see how closely Twilight could assess the accuracy of their cowboy accoutrement.
With Twilight Sparkle thus occupied, Fluttershy was free to break away and settle herself in with the other animals. She shared their stories of farm life from the cows point of view, and was quite sympathetic with the cows complaint of farmers milking them with cold hooves. She laughed softly and recounted her own experiences with Elizabeak and the cockatrice.
Not having any interest in food, history, or animals; Rainbow Dash found herself in a funk. That is until a games booth barker questioned her ability to knock over a stack of milk bottles with a bean bag. Not one to pass up a challenge, she gave it a shot and watched the bean bag bounce off the bottles. The barker laughed outrageously as the Pegasus narrowed her eyes. She glared at bottles as if they’d killed her father; prepare to die!
Spike was a little put out that all his friends had scattered… again… but that lasted as long as it took for a filly to gush, “Oh my stars and garters, he’s so cute!” Suddenly the miniature mariachi found him surrounded by a gaggle of girls going gaga over his geniality. Spike tried his best to fit the role… even if he didn’t speak a word of Spanish. They didn’t seem to care as they gushed over the baby dragon.
Thus Rarity and Applejack found themselves together on the bleachers overlooking the arena. The buck events were first, and Applejack was amazed at the focus the white unicorn put in on the events. “Yer really serious about doing well in this, aren’t ya?” Applejack observed.
“If I’m going to do something then I want to do it right,” Rarity said firmly as she watched how the bucks handled roping; particularly since she wouldn’t be allowed to use magic as she had on one Unicorn.
“Well, I got to say I appreciate it. I mean, I never reckoned you’d ever be interested in cowponies,” Applejack chuckled softly, “I was half afraid you’d show up in some ridiculous ten gallon hat with a big old belt buckle with yer name on it.”
Rarity looked at her archly, “I almost did,” she confessed with a little blush, “and if I’d gone through with my plan a week ago I’d probably look ridiculous now. All fringe and rhinestones. But this is important to you, Applejack, so I want to look good. I want to do well.” She looked back down into the arena, “I have to do it right. No mistakes.”
Applejack cocked her head in confusion. “Why are ya like that, Rarity? I mean, as long as you do it and do yer best, why try and be perfect all the time?” Applejack asked as she tilted her hat back to look at the solemn white Unicorn. “Uh… was it something I said?”
Rarity looked at her with a soft smile. “No. Nothing you said.” She gave a soft sigh as she looked back down into the arena. “Have you ever failed at something important? Something that really mattered to you?”
“Well… I was pretty sore at myself during that Applebuckin disaster. Not just for not doin it myself but for all the trouble I caused.”
Rarity nodded, “Yes, I saw how busy you were. I had to ask some pony else to help me move some stock rather than impose on you.” Rarity closed her eyes. “I’m not a perfectionist, Applejack. I’m a coward. I’m afraid of failure.”
“You? Well you might have that weird mud phobia but…” Applejack started to joke till she caught the serious look in Rarity’s azure eyes. Her smile faded. “What’s wrong with failing? Every pony messes up some times.”
“Yes, every pony does. But when I was young, I made a mistake. It was stupid and selfish, even if I did it out of love, and it cost me something…” She closed her eyes and took a breath before she finished softly, “something unique.” She opened her eyes, looking into Applejack’s as she continued, “Since then I’ve always tried to play things safe. The only time I ever took a risk was with my fashion, and even those were relatively safe. No one dies from a hideous petticoat or clashing colors.” She looked down at her boots. “If it hadn’t been for Twilight arriving, I doubt that I’d have taken risks even with fashion. I’d be a mediocre mender of other ponies’ designs.”
Applejack looked over where a bucking bull sent a colt flying and winced. “Well, then why are you doing this?” If it was pride, Applejack could understand it.
“Because you think I can,” Rarity replied, looking at her with those deep azure eyes. “Don’t you?”
Applejack swallowed, wanting to look anywhere else. Finally she sighed and smiled, “I think that this is your first rodeo. Somehow it feels like it’s mine too. It’s gonna be tough, but I know if there’s any pony that can do something she really wants to do… well, that pony is you.”
“And I know you’re not just telling me what I want to hear,” Rarity replied with that small sure smile. “Thank you, Applejack.”
Applejack fidgeted a little as she took off her hat, twisting it a little in her hooves as she glanced over at Rarity once… twice… and then leaned over to give her cheek a little nuzzle. Rarity’s eyes went wide in surprise, but as Applejack drew back nervously the orange workhorse saw only amused glee in the Unicorn’s eyes.
Suddenly the announcer blared out, “Attention fillies and gentlecolts! The mare’s events will begin in half an hour. Half an hour till the mare events begin!”
Applejack rose and looked over the fair grounds. “Well, best go round up the gang. You want to come with?”
“No. No I think I’ll wait here,” Rarity said lightly, feeling as if she was about to show her spring wares to the entire fashion society of Canterlot, with the Princess in attendance… both Princesses!
“Be back lickity-split,” Applejack said as she ran off to collect their friends.
Rarity watched her go, and then there was a low hissing chuckle from behind her. The tan mare, Diamondback, from earlier approached with her three posse in tow. Diamondback narrowed her eyes as her lips curled, “Well well. Applejack likes you. I didn’t really think her barn door swung that way.”
Rarity stood and backed up. “What… of course it doesn’t. You don’t know what you’re talking about!” She stammered, her eyes darting from one to the next.
Diamondback just sneered as her brothers laughed darkly. “Oh yeah. That nuzzle? Priceless.” Diamondback slowly started to walk past Rarity, but kept her voice low. “You know, I was really looking forward to stomping Applejack. But you know what… I think stomping you while she’s stuck in the stands watching is gonna be much much better.”
Rarity grit her teeth as she watched the four walking towards the arena, “What is your excuse for this... this... unseemly and rude behavior? Just what is your problem?”
Diamondback stopped in her tracks. “Unseemly?” She glanced back over her shoulder up at Rarity on the stands as her eyes narrowed and her breath hissed out through her teeth, “Do you have a clue what this is?” She yelled as she swept her hoof across the arena and the rodeo. Her yellow eyes seemed to flash as she slowly advanced back up towards the lone white unicorn. “You ever even think about what all this means?”
“Well... I...” Rarity stammered, backing up till her rump hit the rail at the top of the stands. Oh to have wings right now. “It’s a... competition.” She could understand competition, but she didn’t understand the rage and frustration in Diamondback’s face.
“Competition? A hoofrace is a competition! Hoofwrestlin’s a competition! This is a legacy!” Diamond said as she pointed out west. “My daddy was a wrangler. And so was his daddy and his daddy before him! Competition.” She spat at Rarity’s feet. “Ponies like you made it a competition so that ponies like Applejack could play at being real ponies. This was supposed to be a way of life! Living free and surviving and winning however you could. But today...?” She finally let out her breath, and she seemed to sag in resignation. “Today it’s a competition where I got to fight against a lily butt like yerself. My daddy would be sick ta see it.”
“Diamondback... I...” but what could she say? She’d simply joined out of a dare with her friends and a need to prove herself. She’d never imagined it could mean so much to some pony.
“Don’t. I don’t want your pity. I just want to win so that maybe, just a little, this rodeo can be how it was: rough, tough, and free.” She gave Rarity one last look before she walked back down towards her waiting three friends, muttering just loud enough for Rarity to hear, “She’s got a pony pedi... end of the world...”
Rarity watched her go, feeling more confused than ever. Why had everything started going so... strange? She couldn’t simply give up... wouldn’t really even after what Diamondback had said. Diamond had her own reasons to win, and Rarity could respect that. She’d felt it in her own throat. Still... looking at Diamondback’s friends... it was a touch unnerving. When her friends arrived, Rarity put her best smile on. It was time for Rarity’s first rodeo.
* * *
Pole bending was the first event: zig zagging between ten poles six feet apart and then back to where she’d started. It sounded simple enough, but even grazing the poles was enough to knock them over. “I have to hit it just right,” the white pony said as she put herself in Rainbow Dash’s posture, waiting for the unicorn judge to shoot sparks from her horn. She became aware of a niggling touch to her hoof, but before she could look the spark fired with a terrific bang.
Rarity launched herself forward, and landed firmly on her face. A length of rope had conspicuously unwound under her and caught her hoof. The timer was still running! Shoving as hard as she could she rose to her hooves and was darting back and forth between the poles. Her eyes narrowed as she imagined herself as a needle crossing back and forth between two panels of cloth. She went around the last pole so closely it tickled her flank and she raced back, back and forth, grazing each pole before she crossed the finish line panting and gasping for air. The arena burst into cheers as rarity’s time was posted at just two seconds under Diamondback. The tan pony scowled as her surly brother coiled his rope.
The calf haul was next, and calves lined up on one side of the arena while the mares lined up on the other. Each mare had to snag a specific calf and carry it safely back across the line. Rarity kept her eyes open for more tripping ropes. She missed another brother leaning in and whispering into the ear of the calf with Rarity’s number. The calf went ramrod straight.
Bang! Rarity raced for her calf, getting slammed hard by Diamondback as she tore towards her own. The calf with Rarity’s number shrieked, “Ah! She’s gonna eat me!” And turned, running from Rarity!
Rarity gasped, her lungs burning before she said in her most imperious tone, “I am not going to eat you! Where would you get such an idea? Now get back here this instant.” The calf stopped as she realized she was in big trouble, and skulked back. Rarity ducked her head and lifted her like she was a bolt of burlap. Heavy, but manageable. “Hold tight, dear.” And she ran back, cutting around other mares and calves. She arrived only a few seconds after Diamondback, who threw her calf off her shoulders and fixed Rarity with a venomous glare.
Cutting came next, where Rarity had to separate three marked cows from a herd that stood together, chewing their cud placidly. Diamondback charged in, butting and shoving till the three scampered for safety away from the others. “Get movin, steaks!” the tan pony snarled. While her methods were brutal, they were effective. She kicked a faceful of arena dirt in Rarity’s face as she left the arena.
Rarity looked at the disgruntled bovines, now in even less of a mood to move after Diamondback. The spark fired and Rarity walked to the herd, smiled politely, and bobbed in a curtsy. The cows blinked in amazement at the display, “Good evening ladies. You’re looking ravishing today. I simply must commend your coats. Such a delightful wash of browns and tans. Truly, underappreciated colors,” Rarity said, the complements flowing from her like water and drawing the attention of the cattle. “I was wondering if perhaps you three lovely ladies would be willing to come with me over there for just a moment. I’ve been thinking of developing some bovine fashions and I’d adore your input.”
Given that few ponies ever asked cows their opinions on anything, the three marked cattle followed Rarity to the side. Diamondback’s mouth gaped in astonishment as Rarity beat her time by five whole seconds! Of course she still chatted with the three ladies for a bit. After all, one never knew when an opportunity to expand into bovine fashion would present itself.
The barrel race proved much harder for the unicorn. The distance was almost three times that of pole bending, and as she rounded the third barrel she was nearly tripped by a carefully hidden broomstick handle. As graceful as a ballroom dance she recovered, actually pirouetting to keep her hooves underneath her. Her time was still lower, and there were many ponies who closed the gap by a handful of seconds. Rarity panted, catching her breath as she spotted one of the three scruffy ponies tucking a sawed off broom head under their coats.
At the halftime, Diamond back was in the lead; the pony with the lowest total time would win the rodeo. Rarity, however, was only eight seconds behind her; practically snapping at her heels. “I have to say, Rarity, I’m really impressed! I never expected you could be so tough. You’re in the top five!” Twilight Sparkle cheered.
“I’d be doing better if Diamondback stopped cheating!” Rarity said sourly as she looked over at the sinister quartet.
“She’s cheatin again?” Applejacks nostrils flared as she gave the tan mare a green glare of death.
“Well… she might not be, but I’m pretty sure those other three are. I could have broken my leg when I tripped on the barrel race. It was hard enough just running all that way,” Rarity said, enjoying the breeze Fluttershy provided.
“Well if they’re cheating… there’s no reason we can’t make them uncheat, right?” Twilight Sparkle asked as she looked at her friends with a smile.
At the next event, the sprint, one of Diamondback’s posse magically threaded another rope through the hooves of the contenders with his lasso. Suddenly a bright orange hoof stomped down on the glowing length of rope. The bile colored Unicorn colt looked up at Applejack and Fluttershy. Fluttershy’s stare locked with his and his eyes went wide. Slowly the scruffy pony gave a brown smile and withdrew the rope. Rarity ran the length of the track, but her time was horrible. There was simply no getting around the fact that she wasn’t a sprinter.
Calves lined up for the calf roping, each of the young betting who could last longer. The second of Diamondback’s posse poked his head from a gap in the bleachers. “Psst! Hey, kid. Want some candy?” He opened his coat wide and presented them with vision of confectionery delight.
“I’d love some!” Pinkie Pie said right in his ear. He turned, gaping at the pink pony in bafflement. Pinkie Pie then let loose a kettle corn, cotton candy, chili blend belch that made his eyes water. Gagging, he raced away leaving a trail of sweets in the dirt.
“Awwww…” the calves moaned is disappointment. Rarity had much more luck roping than running, even if she couldn’t use her magic. A gentle smile lured them close before she tossed the rope neatly around the calf’s neck. Really, what was a lasso to Rarity but an exceptionally large string?
Getting ready for the bronco buck, Snips and snails stood dressed head to toe as garish clowns. The blue unicorn looked at his mustard coated friend and asked in confusion, “So… uh… how’d we get roped into this again?”
“Duuuh, cause it’s a rodeo?” Snails replied with his content, moronic smile.
“Oh yeah,” Snips nodded, and then seemed to realize this was not a good idea as they sat on Diamondback. She looked over her shoulder at them and gave a venomous hiss, eyes narrowed to slits as she glared at the two unicorns on her back. “Um… hello… please don’t eat me,” Snips plead.
One buck in one second sent both of them into the arena wall. “Dah… at least she didn’t eat us, eh?” Snails groaned.
As they pulled themselves free, the third pony of the posse pulled out a jar of glue and began to drizzle it over the two clueless colts when a magical light illuminated the glue and froze it in place. He gaped in shock before Twilight redirected the sticky sludge to coat the scraggly Pegasus. Then Rainbow Dash upended a pillow and coated him in feathers. “That is one ugly turkey,” Dash cackled as he ran off.
When the pair climbed on to Rarity she gave them both a smile and fluttered her eyes. “Why hello there, boys.” In the stands, Spike bit down on his tail to suppress his growl.
“Yowzers… you’re awfully pretty, lady,” Snips marveled.
“You’re too kind,” Rarity said with a smile. “Would you like an autograph?” She floated a picture out from under her cowboy hat and scribbled a signature, handing it to them.
“Woah…” they marveled, and missed the sound of the spark firing.
“Heee-yah!” Rarity shouted as she bucked hard and sent the two flying just as fast as Diamondback had.
The pair groaned and Snails muttered, “At least we got a picture, eh?” Then a purple hand stretched down from the arena bleachers and snatched the glossy out of Snail’s hoof.
The final event, bull riding, was one of the most heavily anticipated. For eight seconds Rarity would have to hold on to a bull paid to send her flying. Each second on would shave a second from her time. Each kick and buck would take off a half second. Bull riding could make or break a rider at the Equestrian Wide Open.
Diamondback gripped the strap with glee as she sat in the saddle. She rode with skill and glee, lasting her full eight seconds and getting three and a half more shaved off for difficulty. Rarity looked at the score with undisguised nervousness. “You don’t have to,” Applejack said softly as she put a hoof on Rarity’s shoulder.
“You don’t have ta ride. It’s dangerous. Ya put in a fine showing and there’s no pony here that’ll think less of ya for sitting it out,” Applejack said softly.
“One pony will,” Rarity said as she lowered her eyes.
“Who, Diamondback?” Applejack gave a snort. “I reckon that snake in filly clothes thinks less o every pony on general principle.”
“No, not her. Me.” Rarity said softly as she bit her lip, then looked around. “I never imagined I could ever do anything like this, Applejack. And I wouldn’t have tried. I wouldn’t have dared, if you hadn’t been here to help me.” She swallowed as she looked at the massive bull in the pen who gave a sour grunt. “I want to finish this, Applejack. I don’t want another part of my life that I look back on asking myself ‘what if?’.”
Applejack swallowed, “I don’t want you hurt, Rarity.”
“Some hurts are worse than others, Applejack. So tell me what I need to…”
Applejack kissed her. It wasn’t a suave and sophisticated kiss or a smooth kiss or a practiced kiss. It was an honest kiss, and that made it all the more precious. Their friends looked on in shock and amazement. When Applejack finally pulled away, Rarity seemed almost in a daze from it.
Applejack held her in her hooves, talking low and soft, “I’ll tell you what. If the bull goes left, you lean left. If he goes right, you lean right. If his head goes down, you lean back. If his head comes up, sit up. And you hold on. You hold on for eight seconds and you don’t let go for nothin’! You hear me, Rarity Pony?”
Rarity coughed and swallowed, blushing furiously. “I… yes… I hear you.”
“Then go out there and show em what you can do. And then… then I reckon we got a lot of stuff to talk about.” Applejack said, looking at her friends with her own furious blush. “Wut?”
“Nothing!” Twilight said with her own blush.
“Oh…” Fluttershy tapped her hooves together awkwardly.
Pinkie Pie covered her mouth as she giggled in glee.
“Applejack… and Rarity?” Rainbow Dash asked in utter bafflement, wondering what had happened to the universe that would ever make that remotely possible. Then her eyes met Applejack’s stern glare and the cyan Pegasus immediately forced a smile. “Never mind! I’m good.”
Rarity climbed up into the chute and slipped into the saddle on the bull’s back. Any second now the spark would fire. Then she glanced down at the far side of the bull. Diamondback leaned against the rails, scowling up at her with her narrow yellow eyes. “I just wanted to say… good luck.”
“What?” Rarity blinked in shock.
“Wanted to wish ya luck, all right? My posse... seemed to want to give me an edge...” Diamondback looked like she wanted to bite the three shabby (and one feathery) colts. “Wasn’t ever my intention ta win by being sneaky. Wouldn’t be right. So... good luck. Don’t break your neck.”
The spark fired.
The door of the chute opened. The clock started. Time slowed as the world became just her and the bull. For one horrifying instant, Rarity realized this was all a mistake. Everything. She should have stayed in her shop, designing dressing where the only risk she faced was an unhappy customer. The bull’s head dropped slowly and she felt the forces that would fling her from its back.
Then she heard Applejack’s voice calmly in her ear. “Head goes down, lean back.” It was as if Applejack were sitting right behind her, holding her to the saddle and guiding her backwards like a partner in an elegant dance. ‘Badum ba-da-dum-dum…ba-dum-de-dum-dum…’ the music began to play. The bull kicked and then rose, and she leaned forward as it sprang. The timer took forever to get to six.
Turning left. Leaning left. Kicking. Lean back. Spin right, lean right. Each move, she could feel Applejack right behind her, telling her exactly what she needed to do. Right now, she could do anything. I can win at grace.
Then the strap snapped. Rarity felt herself moving further and further away as the saddle pulled free from the back of the bull. She tried to flap wings she hadn’t had in months as she arced over the arena floor. She could see her friends watching, Rainbow Dash trying to lift off and reach her. Applejack… I’m sorry Applejack. I couldn’t hold on.
The impact sent a jarring wave of pain through her body as she hit and rolled across the arena floor. Oh that hurts. Rarity thought as something in her left foreleg throbbed in pain. She curled up, clutching the limb, tears of pain in her eyes. Yet… despite the pain and tears, she found herself laughing too. In all her life, she could never have dreamed she would ever break her leg riding a bull.
Shortly after that she was levitated by Twilight Sparkle and carried to the nurse’s tent where
magic soothed the pain and wrapped it up in a cast. Apparently in the meantime there’d been a near riot when the strap was found undone. The bull pointed a hoof right at Diamondback about being right where the cinch was buckled just before the spark had fired. There’d been a bit of a row as Rainbow Dash, Twilight, and Pinkie Pie had to restrain Applejack from murdering Diamondback.
An hour later, Rarity had a moment to look at herself in the mirror. Her fancy outfit was now filthy and stained with sweat and dirt. Her mane was slowly revolting against the tight braid and the cast would be absolutely hideous for weeks to come. Yet, in spite of all of it, she smiled. She glanced at her flank and the three winking gemstones. Diamonds were beautiful, but they were also tough. They seemed to suit her even more now.
“Hey,” Applejack said as she stepped into the nurse’s tent.
“Oh, ah… hello…,” Rarity said with an embarrassed smile.
“Looks like the cinch on yer saddle wasn’t checked properly after Diamondback’s ride. I reckon she probably cut it or some such.”
“No. She wouldn’t cheat on this.” No more than Rarity would try to win a fashion contest by tearing another designer’s work. “It was just bad luck, I suppose,” and yet she wasn’t feeling disappointed or angry at her loss. How strange that she’d tried so hard and had it come up for naught.
Slowly Applejack walked to her and leaned against her, helping her take the weight off her limb. “Ready?”
Time to go. Ah well, not the way I wanted to end it, Rarity thought, but even this sour note wouldn’t ruin everything she’d learned and discovered. Nodding, she let Applejack support her as they limped out of the nurse’s tent.
There was nothing left to be done but to go to the awards. Sitting with her friends in the stands, resting her head on the side of Applejack’s neck, she watched as they gave out ribbons for the various events. She was a little taken aback when Pinkie Pie’s name was called, and the pink pony whooped as she bounced down to receive first prize for the chili eat off. Thankfully, they managed to get her off the stage before Pinkie Pie could start singing ‘Chili, the musical’.
The awards slowly built up to the final set. Rarity listened in anticipation, despite the fact that she knew she hadn’t won. Third place went to one of Applejack’s Appleloosan cousins. Second place to a broad grinned colt who tripped and fell flat on his face ascending the stairs. Finally it came to the last. “Winner of the Equestian 100th Wide Open Rodeo is... Diamondback!”
There were more mutters than claps as the tan pony climbed up the steps with her jaw clenched and a vinegar glare in her eye. “Thanks,” was all she said to the crowd, gripping it in her teeth before she stalked back off the stage.
“Now that was awkward,” Spike muttered as he crossed his arms.
“And finally! The prize that goes to the best new competitor each year for the pony that has shown the most courage and drive to win!” The silence built as hundreds of ponies held their breath in anticipation; Rarity included. “Rarity!” Called the announcer. The stands erupted in whoops and cheers, perhaps the loudest being Fluttershy, hopping like a mad pony as she congratulated her friend.
“I won?” Rarity blinked in shock.
“You had a doubt?” Applejack replied with a laugh. “Come on, let’s get you up there, girl. Never knew you to turn down a prize.” With Applejack supporting her on one side and Twilight Sparkle on the other, she made her way on stage and took the admittedly smaller silver trophy in her magic. Her azure eyes slowly read each word.
‘Equestrian 100th Wide Open Rodeo: Best Amateur Competitor. Rarity.’ “This is your rodeo, Rarity,” Applejack said over the din. Rarity laughed and cried as her magic lifted the trophy with the unicorn cow pony high above her head and the crowd went ballistic.
* * *
“Congratulations,” Rarity said as she found Diamondback sitting on the edge of the Rodeo staring at the silver and wood trophy. The tan filly looked up in shock at seeing Rarity standing there in her cast and immediately scowled.
“Come for a laugh?” Diamondback spit again as she clenched her jaw.
Rarity ignored the display; gross but not nearly so shocking when repeated. “No, I came to offer you congratulations.” Instead she limped over to sit next to her holding her small silver trophy between her hooves. “Yours is bigger than mine...”
“You won,” Diamondback muttered. “You won the rodeo. This might say first place, but it don’t matter none. Every pony here loved the prissy pretty pony.”
“I’m sorry, Diamondback.” She said as she dropped her voice. “I know this meant a lot to you.”
“Ugh! Don’t you pity me!” She said as she stood and pointed at her with a scowl. “Rodeo ain’t what it was. Awards. Trophies.” She knocked hers away with a kick. “I wanted folks ta see being a wrangler is tough! That being a cow pony is a challenge! Not some competition.” She took a few steps away as she lowered her head, “I wanted ta feel like how my daddy musta felt... and grand daddy before him. But this ain’t it. Ain’t it at all.”
What could Rarity say? She felt sorry for the cantankerous filly, but there was nothing she could do to change the world so she could be happy. “What will you do now?”
“Go back out west I reckon. Look for jobs... must be some ranch somewhere that still needs some pony to ride herd and get the critters where they need to be.” She replied as she looked back at Rarity. “What about yerself?”
“Oh, back to dressmaking and designing, I’m sure. There’s never a lack for that,” and yet their eyes met with a strange understanding. Rarity had, for a few seconds, tasted the freedom and thrill that Diamondback craved like water in the desert. She loved her shop and home and friends and designed, but now knew the thrill of something... more.
“Not that,” Diamondback said crossly. “I meant you and that orange mule you were nuzzling! What about that?”
“Oh! I... don’t know?” Rarity admitted, tapping her chipped hooves together. “It’s all terribly awkward right now.”
“Heh...” Diamondback smirked and shook her head. “She don’t deserve ya.” Yellow eyes looked at the trophy as she sighed, “Ain’t sure what to do with this hunk o junk. Be a pain to haul it on the range.”
“Perhaps I can hold on to it for you. Just in case you ever want it again.” Rarity offered and then quickly added at Diamondback’s sour scowl, “It’ll be a reminder of what a real rodeo rider is really like.”
That made her chuckle as she stood. “Take care o yerself, Rarity.” And with that Diamondback turned and rode off into the sunset.
* * *
It was starting to get dark and Applejack and Rarity sat together on the Ferris wheel, looking out at all the cowponies below as they rose slowly above it all. Diamondback and Rarity’s trophies sat beside them; she felt like if she let it out of her sight it’d evaporate. Below them they could see Rainbow Dash with a wagon and a veritable army of stuffed toys won from the games booth. Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy talked together. Pinkie Pie munched down on chili peppers as by-standards gave the pink filly a wide berth. Nothing good could come from that much beans.
“It about stopped my heart when I saw you thrown,” Applejack said quietly as Rarity rest her head on Applejack’s shoulder.
“Mine too,” Rarity murmured softly. Then she looked up at her with her soft deep blue eyes. “You kept me on that bull you know. It was like we were together, dancing. You were showing me all the moves I needed to stay on.”
“I ain’t much of a dancer,” Applejack confessed.
“I think you’re better than you realize,” Rarity countered, and then took a deep breath as she asked the dreaded question. “So, what now?”
“Well we go home and you get ta rest up…” Applejack began till she saw the serious look in Rarity’s eyes and her feigned joviality faded. “I dunno… I always figgered there’d be some pony special in my life someday. Didn’t see much point in getting fussed over it. Never imagined in a thousand years it’d be a filly… and never could imagine it would be one Rarity.”
“Because I’m such a prissy fuss-bucket?” Rarity asked with an arch little smile.
“That… and because you’re better than me,” Applejack admitted softly. Rarity’s eyes opened wide in shock. Applejack sighed, looking away. “I know yer something special Rarity. Yer stronger than any pony knows. Yer graceful and sophisticated. You can do anything, Rarity. Anything if you really want to. But I know what I am, and it ain’t even close to you. That’s the simple truth.”
“I know what I am, Rarity. I’m a farm pony. All I am. All I want to be. But you can go see the whole world if you want. One day you’ll make it big and you’ll move to Canterlot or Manehattan. Probably making clothes for the Princesses. And I’ll still be a farm pony when you’re a world famous designer.”
“So… best to nip this in the bud now, cause it’ll never work out.” Applejack said with a sniff. Then Rarity reached over, covering Applejack’s mouth with her hoof.
“Applejack… being a world famous designer in a big city would be excellent… but there is something I can think of being that would be even better.” Rarity said as she sat up and lowered her hoof.
Applejack just blinked in stupefaction, “Wut?”
“Having a friend who truly cares for me; who is honest and pure, and who will help me open my life to new, exciting and wondrous things.” Things just like this, Rarity thought as she rest her head against Applejack’s shoulder and looked out at a life she could only imagine. And as the Ferris wheel lifted the pair high into the night sky, Rarity could only marvel at the rises and falls her life had taken. This is my life, she thought to herself as her eyes closed and she melted against Applejack.