“Because the rider will often be in significantly more danger than the flyer, it is imperative that he or she be given control for the entire session.”
As it turned out, the reputation pegasus riding had for migraine-inducing confusion was well-earned, but Twilight Sparkle, fortunately, had always been a fast study.
The reins were the easy part: pull one side to go in that direction, pull both to slow down, lightly slap them against the neck to speed up. What made riding a pegasus complicated was the fact that the rider also needed to indicate the desired degree of pitch to the flyer, and this was done with the rider’s hind legs. The manual called it “applying rotational pressure on the flank with the rear cannons” but Twilight soon figured out that that simply meant that the shifting positions of her rear legs would send Rainbow Dash basic signals for “up” and “down.” This explained why so much effort had been put into making the rider’s cannons secure within the greaves: otherwise, the pegasus might not have been able to tell if her friend was extending her legs (to ascend) or retracting them (to descend).
Of course, none of this pressure had to be particularly hard; as the instruction manual put it, steering was simply a matter of activating instincts that almost every pony appeared to have. Like many instincts, they could be fought off with a little bit of willpower, but then again, anypony who allowed themselves to be ridden by somepony they didn’t trust was more than likely a fool to begin with.
Nonetheless, despite the complexity, the manual gave the impression that there were virtually no problems once the rider became accustomed to maneuvering his or her flyer. And to be fair, Twilight Sparkle’s experience on that first day seemed to bear this out. Once she had learned the basics of riding, it actually felt quite intuitive; Rainbow Dash responded to all her stimuli with no resistance at all, and by the end, the unicorn was comfortable enough to have her friend fly upside down for a few seconds. It seemed that all that was left to do was to gradually increase the pegasus’ flying speed until Twilight had no problems zipping through the air—perhaps even riding along during a Sonic Rainboom if her proficiency levels rose high enough.
Their second practice session, however, revealed that things weren’t quite that simple.
Things were going fairly well in the beginning. Both rider and flyer were much more comfortable with the saddle, and Twilight was confident enough in its safety features to let her friend fly at her usual altitudes. This extra wiggle room allowed Twilight to figure out what the instruction manual meant when it talked about directions being “relative to the flyer.” Basically, going “up” simply meant adjusting the pitch in the direction of the flyer’s head, while “down” was the direction of the flyer’s hooves. In other words, when the pair were upside-down, an “up” signal would send Rainbow Dash closer to the ground, because that was the direction of her head at the moment.
“What the hay are you talking about?” Rainbow Dash asked after hearing Twilight’s explanation. “I don’t have any relatives named ‘Up’ or ‘Down.’”
“That’s not what I... oh, never mind. The point is, I think I’m getting the hang of this.”
“Great! How about some tricks, then?”
“Uh, sure, why not?”
The pegasus smiled. She’d been getting bored with simply hovering while enduring Twilight’s long-winded commentary, and now that she finally had the chance to be impressive, she was determined not to disappoint. “Okay, we’re going to do something relatively simple, since I kind of doubt you’re interested in flying high enough to manipulate the cirrus clouds out today.”
“On that matter, you’d be correct.”
“All right, so here’s what we’ll do. First, we’ll descend at 45 degrees into a nice, wide loop. We’ll go around the full 360, then head into an Immelpferd turn to gain some altitude. Then, we’ll do a barrel roll—not an Aileron roll, but a barrel roll—and finish up with a quadruple corkscrew nosedive before leveling off and gliding to the ground. Got it?”
“Uh, no. You’re using a lot of technical jargon that I’m not familiar with. I mean, what’s an Immelpferd turn?”
“Uh, well, the Immelpferd is... um....” Rainbow Dash wasn’t quite certain how to respond. She’d assumed that Twilight would have already studied aerobatics enough to pick up the basics. “Look, you know what? It’ll be way easier if you just let me do my thing and see for yourself. Hang on!”
But the pegasus was already off like a rocket, streaking towards the ground. She was smiling widely as the air rushed past her and through her prismatic mane. As she began pulling up into the loop, she noted that there seemed to be a lot more difficulty. That was to be expected, since she was carrying Twilight’s weight as well as her own, but she didn’t expect that doing so would produce a strange feeling of compulsion to slow down and level off. Still, she decided to push through the mental obstacle, and was soon inverted, and beginning the downward portion of the loop, increasing her speed for the next maneuver.
As she leveled off in preparation for the Immelpferd’s upward surge, Rainbow Dash could barely make out the sound of her passenger’s voice over the air that was buffeting her ears, but it seemed clear that Twilight Sparkle was enjoying the adrenaline rush as much as she was, if not more so; after all, maneuvers that were comparatively easy to pull off even for average flyers were likely to blow the mind of a pony who could’t fly at all without magical assistance. Grinning, she angled herself upward, making the first half of a second loop; however, this time, when she had fully inverted, she did a half-roll and continued flying straight ahead.
And now for the barrel roll... Rainbow Dash shifted herself up and to the right, moving her legs as though she was running on the inside of an invisible cylinder. She had never quite understood how anypony could mistake the much tighter Aileron roll for this move—after all, there was no aspect of that maneuver that even remotely called to mind the image of a barrel, whereas her current springlike trajectory left no doubt as to the appropriateness of the trick’s name.
After the roll’s fourth inversion, the blue pegasus found herself chuckling with glee—it seemed that Muscle Memory’s advice was spot-on. It had been a long time since she’d had to put this much effort into her practice; she could tell her wings would be a bit sore tomorrow, but it would be the good kind of soreness that let you know that your work out had been thoroughly and undeniably awesome. It was time to wrap things up.
Rainbow Dash shot straight up into the air, and when she’d reached an appropriate altitude, she yawed to the right and sped towards the ground in a nosedive. Now for the corkscrews, the mare thought to herself. And a-one, two, thr—
The graceful-yet-exciting descent was suddenly cut short as the reins violently yanked the pegasus’ head back, causing her to stop abruptly and level out. “Hey, watch it, Twilight,” the flyer said as she rubbed her neck with her hoof. “You could seriously hurt my neck if you aren’t careful.”
“Seriously hurt? Seriously hurt?! Rainbow Dash, you nearly killed us!”
The pegasus turned her head and was shocked to see her rider scowling furiously at her. “Killed? Come on, Twilight, I executed everything perfectly until you went and cut me off.”
“Perfectly, huh? Have you tried looking down?”
Confused, Rainbow Dash did as her friend requested—and discovered that she was hovering mere inches above the grassy field. “What?! Why are we so close to the ground? My timing was dead-on!” The pegasus immediately winced when she realized just how poor her choice of words had been.
The unicorn on her back sighed in obvious annoyance. “It’s called inertia, Rainbow Dash. When you’re carrying me, it not only takes more energy to start moving; it also takes more to stop. I could tell right away that you hadn’t thought to compensate for it, and I’ve been trying to get your attention the whole time.”
“But... you were having fun, right? I could hear you squealing in delight.”
“I wasn’t squealing; I was screaming!”
“Wait a minute. I’m almost certain I heard a ‘whooooaaa’ in there somewhere.”
“You did, but it wasn’t ‘whoa’ as in ‘I’m having a great time,’ it was ‘whoa’ as in ‘Stop right the feather now!’ Didn’t you feel me pulling back on the reins and trying to get you to level off?”
“Oh... so that’s what that was...”
“You’re supposed to pay attention when I do that! I’m not just here to provide extra resistance, I’m here to handle all your timing for you, since my weight is going to throw everything off. If you aren’t going to let me do that, then I’m sure Applejack will let you borrow a bale of hay to haul around the sky to your heart’s content! Thank Celestia I learned that terminal velocity spell, or that last yank probably would have been too late.” Twilight sighed. “Speaking of which, that spell took a lot out of me, so we might as well stop for the day.”
The unicorn wordlessly undid all the bindings and straps holding her to her friend. “Can you get the saddle off yourself?”
“Uh... yeah, I think so.”
“Good. I need to get home.”
“I... I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
The purple unicorn sighed. “I know you didn’t, Dash. But... I’m still angry, and I need to get home and process this when I’ve calmed down, okay?”
Rainbow Dash looked down at the ground for several seconds. Eventually, she answered, “Yeah, okay,” but Twilight was already out of earshot.
The following evening, Rainbow Dash again found herself knocking on Twilight Sparkle’s door. “Who is it?” came the voice of the bookish unicorn.
“Um... it’s me. Can we talk for a minute?”
“Sure thing. Come in.” The pegasus opened the door to find her friend reshelving a large stack of books. “How can I help you?”
“It’s about yesterday...”
“Um, I just wanted to thank you for at least giving it a shot. I’m sorry it didn’t work out the way I planned.”
The unicorn shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. So, same time next week?”
To say that Rainbow Dash was surprised would be like describing Pinkie Pie as “happy” (that is, a massive understatement). “Huh? You still want to help me practice?”
“Of course I do. Aside from what happened at the end, it is a lot of fun. As far as our argument goes, after taking some time to cool down and think about it, I’ve decided that there’s really no need to dwell on it. Sure, you made a mistake, but you’re not likely to make it again, right?”
The pegasus shook her head rapidly. “No! No way. From here on out I’ll be letting you handle all the timing, I promise.”
Twilight smiled. “That’s good to hear. And while we’re on the subject, I feel like I need to apologize for being so snippy with you.”
Rainbow Dash laughed it off. “Hey, it’s totally understandable. I’d probably flip out even worse if I was in your place.”
“I take it that means you forgive me?”
“Absolutely. And as far as the next practice, can we bump it up an hour? There’s going to be some nice cumulus clouds to work with then.”
“I think that’s doable. And in the meantime, I’ll be reading up on aerobatics so we can actually talk about what we’re doing.”
“So, is there anything else?”
“Nah, I think we pretty much covered it. Later, Twi!” The pegasus flew out the door in a much more cheerful mood.
“What was that all about?” came Spike’s voice from upstairs.
Twilight glared at her eavesdropping assistant. “It’s a personal matter, Spike—nothing more. Now, don’t you still have some new acquisitions to sort through?”