Applejack reached up, pressing her hat farther onto her head. Walking along Ponyville’s roads on her way back to the orchard, the weather wasn’t being too kind that day. It was extremely windy; leaves were flying everywhere, trees swayed back and forth, and her hat was being very uncooperative with her desire to not chase it in the breeze.
Applejack reeled back as something struck her in the face, letting her hat go free. She reached up and removed the ballistic object, looking back and grumbling as her hat sailed away on a gust of wind. Quick to act, she leapt up onto a nearby fence post, using it to propel herself far enough into the air to catch her hat. She landed and stuck it back on her head with one hoof, using her other hoof to hold the object that had almost made her lose her headgear. She inspected it.
“Oh…jus’ a flier. Dang litterers.” She started to crumple it up when the title caught her eye. She took a second look.
The 20th annual Farmer Competition, a long standing tradition amongst the hardworking ponies with a bit of a green-hoof, is almost upon us! With this year’s list of judges including…
“Yak, yak, yak… boring.” Applejack quickly skimmed through the rest of the flier.
Applejack read that again. She’d heard of the farmer’s competition before, but had never paid attention due to how far from home it was. But now… One thousand bits?! That could pay for Granny’s operation! Get us a new barn! Restock our supplies! …Maybe even a new yoke for Big Macintosh, and some extra left over for Apple Bloom to use for her club’s little adventures. She scratched that last idea off the list. Well…maybe she’d settle for some new decorations for their clubhouse.
She noted the date. Two weeks from now, huh? She slipped the flier under her hat. The rest of the way home, she whistled an old tune and thought up ways to prepare for the event.
The day had arrived. The weather had perked up over the last couple weeks, giving Applejack the perfect weather for training. From dawn till dusk, she was either doing her chores or training. She’d herded the cattle until she could have them rounded up in no time, she’d baked all kinds of apple-based goods with the fruit leftover from the harvest, and she’d even let Big Mac take a rest, taking the plow out for a spin herself. It hadn’t been easy, but she had to be at her best for the event.
And here she was. Standing in line with a bunch of other farm ponies from all over Equestria. She looked behind her into the stands, seeking out her friends. Fluttershy caught her eye and waved at her, Pinkie Pie chowing down on all kinds of snacks next to the yellow pegasus. Next to Pinkie was Twilight and Rarity, who gave a large wave before returning to their discussion. At the end of the row was Spike and Rainbow Dash, the dragon scooting as close to Rarity as he could while Rainbow Dash cheered Applejack on.
“Woo! You got this, iron pony! Show these foals how it’s done, before I come down there and do it for ya!” Applejack grinned at her friend’s enthusiasm before a loud crackle boomed over the contest grounds, attracting Applejack’s attention. In front of all the contestants, a chocolate-brown stallion with a green mane had taken the stage, a yellow bandana wrapped around his neck. He was shaking a megaphone over his hoof, clearly frustrated.
“Is this bloomin’ thing on… it was fine a second ag-… ah, there we are.” He gave a warm smile to the crowd and held the megaphone to his mouth. “Welcome, fillies and gentlecolts, to the 20th annual Equestrian Farmer Competition!” A wave of applause came from the audience, ponies stomping their hooves on the stands. “We thank you all for coming, and we hope to have as great a time as every year! Our judges, Frond Leaf… that’s me… Peachy Keen, and Tomato Jack are proud to be the hosts of these fifty ready-lookin’ competitors!
“To start off, I’ll have my fellow judges announce our competitors today. C’mon down!” Two ponies walked onstage; a peach-colored mare sporting a light brown mane walking astride a red-coated and green haired stallion. After Frond handed off the microphone and sat, the new judges took over.
“Let’s get this show on the road! Starting with the A’s…” The farmers all stood up, appearing at their proudest as their names were called off. “Adam, apple farmer of Trottingham, Antsy, grain-grower of Fillydelphia, Applejack, local apple farmer from Ponyville…” Applejack stood tall and waved back at her friends, who burst into a round of cheering as soon as the orange pony’s name was called. The judges went down the row, finally getting to the final contender. “And last but not least, Ziggy, the professional pear-planter of Ponyville!”
That name seems a lil’ familiar... Applejack leaned forward, glancing down to the very end of the row. She noted the unicorn that she assumed was Ziggy, a light purple stallion sporting a pair of crossed pears as his cutie mark. He nervously rubbed his mane, a darker shade of purple, as he grinned at someone in the crowd. Now ah know where I’ve heard of him before! Applejack recalled that Ziggy was a more unique kind of farmer; it was mostly earth ponies who took to tilling the earth, so when a unicorn got into farming they always seemed to stand out. Applejack recalled seeing Ziggy at the market every once in awhile, though she usually paid more attention to making sure her prices undercut everypony elses to notice.
The judges called everypony’s attention back to the stage. “It’s time to get this started! We’d like all our contestants to move to the eastern field for our first event: The Fruit Fling!”
Applejack stretched out her legs, preparing herself for the event. She’d done a good share of apple throwing, hoping an event like this would show up. Looking around, she saw the other contestants looking just as prepared.
The judges stopped chatting amongst themselves and got the megaphone again. “It looks like we’re all ready! For those unaware, the rules are as follows…you’ve each been provided with a pile of produce, and I’m sure you’ve noted the baskets in front of you.” Five wide wooden baskets stretched out in front of each contestant. “Y’all have three minutes to toss as much fruit as you can into them. The closest basket gives 100 points, continuing along until you get 500 for the last basket. Be warned, throwing into another pony’s basket will give THEM the points. First place gets 10 points for their personal score, and the next nine winners after that get points depending on their rank. For example, tenth place gets one point, seventh gets four points…etcetera.
“And with that, let’s begin! On yer mark…” All the contestants grabbed a fruit. “Get set…” Everypony tensed up, ready to let the fruit fly. “…GO!”
Right off the bat, Applejack took the lead. She managed to get three shots into the farthest bucket, and the rest all found their way into buckets as well. A minute passed, Applejack never letting the fruit stop flying. She wiped her brow and looked to the scorekeeper’s area, her eyes quickly scanning the list. She was up at the top, the pony behind her trailing by about 800 points. She scanned farther up, seeing that she had second place. She saw the current first place contestant and gasped.
He’s ahead by HOW MUCH?!
Sitting at the top of the scoreboard was Ziggy, ahead by at least a thousand points. She looked down the row towards the unicorn, seeing that almost every shot he was making was sinking into the last two baskets. He looked so calm doing it, almost as if no effort was needed.
Wait a darn second… Applejack looked closer, noting a faint glow around Ziggy’s horn. She watched as he tossed an apple slightly off course, before the apple somehow bumped something in midair and fell into the five-hundred point basket. He’s CHEATIN’!
Growling, Applejack picked up an apple off the pile and pulled it back, prepared to let it fly in order to throw the unfair unicorn off course. She tensed before dropping her hoof with a sigh. Naw… I can’t stoop to his level. She picked up a few more fruits off the pile. Then I’ll just have ta beat him fair and square!
Applejack worked even harder than before, sinking shot after shot and trying her best to avoid missing. Moments later, an alarm sounded, signaling the end of the event. Every competitor dropped what they were carrying and stretched out their arms, waiting for the results.
“Good job everypony,” Frond Leaf called out. “One moment to tally up the scores…”
The crowd sat in silence as the judges wrote down notes, scoring every contestant. At last, they took their eyes off their papers. “Alright then…first place…” Applejack leaned in close. “…Ziggy, with twelve thousand, eight hundred points!” Applejack groaned as the crowd burst into applause. “Followed by Applejack with ten thousand, seven hundred. Third place goes to Whitevine, scoring nine thousand, five hundred…”
The judges droned on. Applejack paid no attention as she simmered in her unpleasant thoughts. Nopony saw that? At all? It ain’t fair! She sighed. Well… it’ll just be more satisfying when ah win, then.
The judges finished off the results. “Congrats on a great event! Now let’s take a five minute rest while we set up for the next event: Speed Herdin’!”
The contestants all wandered off, planning on enjoying their break to the fullest. Applejack headed into the stands to see her friends, who met her with sympathy and encouragement. Nopony else seemed to have seen the unicorn’s cheating, though. She looked farther down the stand and glared at her magical opponent, Ziggy too busy talking with a green mare to notice.
The contestants converged again, the break having ended. “And we’re back, everypony!” Another round of applause as the judges soaked it in. “Now for our second event, Speed Herdin’. Starting with our first place winner from last round and moving on down to last place, contestants will have to herd a flock of scattered sheep into their pen in as little time as possible.” The red judge extended a hoof, pointing out the roped off area where ten sheep wandered around a pen. “As before, first place gets 10 points, second gets 9, and so on. First up: Ziggy!”
The unicorn stepped up, head held high. The crowd went wild as he took his place in the roped off area. Just keep hammin’ it up, pal, Applejack grumbled. Ziggy grabbed a rope, quickly tying it into a lasso, and braced himself as a countdown timer ticked down.
“Five! Four! Three! Two! One! GO!”
Ziggy quickly got to work. Applejack had to admit, when he wasn’t cheating, he did a fairly good job. In mere moments, he’d roped up three of the ten wandering sheep and gotten them in the pen. But as she expected, a small glow wrapped itself around his horn once more, and she noticed the sheep starting to be gently tugged closer to the pen. Once again, Applejack watched as the cheater received his score: 2 minutes, 17 seconds. She frowned and pushed her hat far up on her head, taking her place in the pen as Ziggy left it.
“Next up, Applejack! Three, two, one, GO!”
Determined to show up the cheater, Applejack worked fast. Using the provided lasso, she flung it towards the closest sheep. The loop fit snuggly around the creature’s fluffy body. Direct hit! She started pulling the sheep around the pen, using the rope between them as a wall that pushed any other sheep forward with it. “Git along, critters! Hee-yah!”
Moments later, with every sheep being led along by the rope, Applejack directed them to the pen’s entrance. The sheep filed in one by one, until the last one remaining was the one she had roped. She let it loose and gently nudged it into the pen, closing the gate behind it. She stood on her hind legs and waved her hat to the crowd, a round of applause shaking the field.
“Applejack, your time: 2 minutes, 3 seconds!”
Ah did it! Applejack left the area, shooting a smile towards Ziggy as she left. The unicorn returned the look, his grin showing that he wasn’t planning on making this easy on her.
Applejack returned to the line of contestants to watch as everypony took their turn. She watched as each pony completed the event until the scores were announced. Applejack had taken first place, making the score tied at nineteen between her and Ziggy. The next event was called and everypony started moving to the next area. Applejack smiled and took her place in line, knowing that she was going to do her best to win the contest…and win it fairly.
The contest dragged on, with Ziggy and Applejack always switching back and forth on the leader board. They kept taking turns switching between first and last place, Ziggy sometimes winning with his unfair tactics, and Applejack sometimes winning through pure will. Right now, they were currently tied at ninety-five points each, having a decent lead over everypony else. The last event was about to be announced and everyone was settling down, ready to hear the event that would end this exciting tie.
The judges took the stage once more. “It’s been a fun day everypony, but it’s about time we find out who the best farmer in Equestria is!” Peachy Keen pointed towards the setting sun. “The day’s about to end, and after this last event, so will the contest! Now, it’s time for our final event!” The judges paused, everypony leaning in to hear the final challenge. “The last event of the day… Plow Pullin’ Triathlon!”
Another round of applause shot across the field as the contestants took their place in front of a large field. The judges explained the rules as assistants came and yoked plows to every competitor. “For our final event, simply get this plow across the field in as short a time as possible. On the other side, you’ll find a bag of seed that needs to be sowed across the plow line you just made. Finally, grabbing a watering can from where you first started, you’ll have to water your freshly planted crops. First one to finish gets top points!”
After the rules were announced, Applejack looked around. To her dismay, she had the displeasure of being placed next to Ziggy for the contest. She glowered at the unicorn, pausing when she noticed something was off.
He looks… nervous. Applejack scratched her head as she saw her fellow competitor staring across the field with wide eyes, trying to keep his composure. He’s been fine up till this point… well, fine as a cheater can be… so what’s eatin’ him?
The sound of the countdown clock starting up helped her regain her focus. She braced herself, ready to charge across the field as fast as the plow would allow her. “Three, two, one, GO!”
Applejack ran forward, feeling the ropes around her go taut as she reached the end of them. She began pulling, slowly getting the plow to pick up speed. Soon enough, she got the plow moving swiftly across the field. She looked back at her unicorn rival and watched as Ziggy shot her a look, the familiar magical glow starting to seep into his horn. Moments later he’d almost caught up to her, his plow moving along behind him as if it was gliding across the field. She picked up the pace, straining against the ropes to make the plow go even faster.
Both made it to the end of the field at about the same time, the rest of the competition still a decent ways back. They unhitched themselves from the plow and picked up a small bag of seeds in each of their mouths. Ready for part two, Applejack and Ziggy started making their way across the field, placing seeds in the plow line and covering them up at appropriate intervals.
About halfway down the line, Applejack looked to her rival. Ziggy was at it again, but he was getting sloppy; the dirt being used to cover up the seeds seemed to fall and cover the hole up on its own, the unicorn making no effort to make it seem natural. Applejack saw her chance. If I can just keep up tha pressure…
The two kept at it, fully planting the entire row before any other competitor had even done theirs halfway. Ziggy finished first, tossing the seeds aside and grabbing a watering pail. Applejack wasn’t far behind, doing the same and quickly turning to begin the third leg of the race.
The two were neck and neck, both getting nervous and keeping an eye on the other. They were approaching the end, and Applejack used one last burst of energy. She shot forward, quickly watering the seeds and getting close to the finish.
“No!” Ziggy cried out, the glow surrounding his horn no longer barely noticeable. The watering can flew out of his mouth and farther down the row, quickly coating the last few plants before being flung aside. Applejack’s heart fell as the audience cheered.
Applejack set the watering can aside, refusing to look up. The other competitors finished at their own pace, seeing the event already being completed. Soon enough, the line had formed up again as everypony awaited the results.
Frond Leaf took the stage. “It’s been a fun event, everypony,” he began, “but it’s time for us to announce our winner!” The audience fell silent, waiting for the announcement. “This year’s winner of the annual equestrian Farmer Competition, the pony who can proudly fill their money bag with a thousand bits, is…ZIGGY!”
The audience went wild, which only served to make Applejack’s heart sink a little more. She looked back into the audience, her friend’s giving her sympathetic looks. She turned and watched Ziggy step forward, ready to claim his prize.
“Hold it right there, pony boy,” Tomato Jack called out. The audience’s cheering stopped as Ziggy froze in his tracks. “You did good, that’s fer sure, but that little bit of unsportsmanlike conduct there at the end has just gotten ya disqualified.”
The audience gave a collective gasp as Ziggy slammed a frustrated hoof onto the ground. “You can’t be serious! I won fair and square!”
“Do ya take us for foals, boy? We saw that little stunt with the floating watering can. And frankly, a lot of your other wins have been suspicious as well.” Tomato Jack took the megaphone from Frond Leaf, stepping up to the front of the stage. “Since our ‘winner’ has been disqualified for unfair conduct, this year’s REAL winner is…APPLEJACK!”
The crowd went wild again, Applejack barely believing what she’d heard. “Get on up there, filly!” Rainbow Dash called out from the audience. Shaking herself from her stupor, Applejack walked past a sad-looking Ziggy and climbed onstage, heading up to the judges. Peachy Keen pulled out a money bag, the sound of many bits jangling within making a symphony to Applejack’s ears.
“For your hard, HONEST work,” Palm Fronds began, shooting a look towards Ziggy, “We’re proud to present you with the grand prize! Congratulations!” Applejack took the bag from Peachy, turning to the audience and waving. The audience went wild, especially her friends.
Tomato Jack got out the megaphone one last time. “And with that, everypony, the 20th annual Farmer’s Competition comes to an end! All those who entered can pick up your complementary bag of seed from the supply tent! Thank you, and GOOD NIGHT!”
The crowd was starting to disperse, and it wasn’t much trouble for Applejack to find her friends… mainly considering they ran to her, first.
“Oh my gosh you did so good Applejack way to go we need to celebrate!” Pinkie blathered, gripping Applejack in a big hug. Pinkie let her go and Rainbow Dash was next, giving the contest winner a high five.
“I knew ya could do it, iron pony. Now if you need any help spendin’ those bits, you know where to find me…” Rainbow Dash joked, grinning at her friend.
“Hay no, this is all goin’ towards the farm,” Applejack stated.
“And that’s good enough reason,” Twilight said. “Congratulations, Applejack! And I think I even got a lesson out of this today… cheaters never win… yes, that will work. Celestia will be happy, I can‘t wait to send it!” Spike agreed, giving the winner a thumbs up from on top of Twilight's back.
Fluttershy spoke up. “Ooo, yes, good work Applejack… but, should we be going now?… If you don’t mind me asking…”
Applejack nodded her head down the road that’d take them back into Ponyville. “I got somethin’ to take care of first. Y’all go on without me, ah’ll catch up.”
“Don’t keep us waiting, darling,” Rarity chided. “Being a champion is no excuse for being tardy. Come along, everypony.” Applejack’s friends said their goodbyes and walked away, waving back at the orange pony. Applejack returned the wave and waited until they’d exited the contest grounds. She turned and headed towards the stands. Now, let’s see what that cheater has ta say…
Applejack crept around, seeking out the unicorn that had been a pain in her flank the entire contest. He wasn’t in the stands, or by the exit, or even by the stage. She had almost decided to give up and go home when she heard chatting coming from behind a large tent, where they’d kept a lot of contest supplies. She pressed herself against the tent and peeked around, keeping herself hidden as much as possible.
“The farm’s done for…” Someone moaned. Applejack saw that it was Ziggy, talking to a green earth pony mare and two young fillies. “I let y’all down…”
“Hush now, darlin’… we’ll find a way to get those parasprites dealt with and get our crop harvested before ya know it.” The mare stepped forward, nuzzling Ziggy. The two fillies came up as well, holding onto the unicorn’s legs.
Ziggy sighed. “What did a cheater like me ever do to deserve a wife and kids as great as you guys.”
Wait… he has a family?!
“But as much as I appreciate your enthusiasm,” Ziggy went on, “The farm’s a lost cause. We can’t afford to hire an exterminator now, nor can we afford to pay the bills. We’ll have to take what we managed to get from the crop and sell it off, and hope we can afford the fare to get to Manehatton. If we’re lucky, my cousins can give us some room and board for the winter.”
Ziggy ruffled the head of one of the fillies, a yellow unicorn with a light blue mane. “Lemon Drop, you might have to drop out of your school and learn at home for awhile…” He turned to the other filly, a lime green earth pony with a dark green mane. “That goes for you too, Bounty.”
The filly’s faces dropped. “Okay, pa,” they muttered in unison. Ziggy gently picked them up and put them on his back.
Applejack was torn inside, actually feeling sorry for the cheater. Ah needed the money, sure… but they needed it just as much. Ah ain’t got any respect for the cheater, but I can’t just let them lose everything they have…
Ziggy sighed. “Sorry girls…but that’s the way it’s gotta be.” The unicorn started heading down the path to the exit, his wife following at his side. “Time to go home… we need to start packing.”
The family paused, turning at the sound of Applejack’s outburst. The orange pony blushed, realizing she’d shouted louder than she should have. “Uhm… sorry ‘bout that… but ah happened to overhear yer troubles.” She eyed Ziggy up and down. “Ah don’t condone what ya did, but if yer sorry, I think ah might know a way to help ya.”
Ziggy raised an eyebrow. “Yes, miss… what was it… Applejack, I’m very sorry for what I did. I don’t see how you could help, though.”
Applejack grinned. “You said you had parasprites, right? And harvestin’ troubles?”
“Then worry no more. Just let me call a few friends of mine…”
Applejack walked across the field, transporting two baskets filled with limes that were slung across her back. The sound of polka music drifted across the farm, and Applejack watched as a baby parasprite bounced past her, heading to catch up with the rest of its family in their pursuit of Pinkie’s Polka.
“Good job, Pinkie!” Applejack called out to her friend, who gave her a wave with both hooves before leading the parasprite procession into the forest. Applejack resumed her walk, passing by Twilight and Rarity. The two unicorns were plucking limes one by one from the orchard’s trees, depositing them into nearby baskets. “Yer doin’ good gals, but let’s pick up the pace a lil‘ bit,” Applejack called out to them.
“Okay, Applejack!” Twilight shouted back. She nodded to Rarity, and they let the magical glow around their horns brighten. Entire bucketfuls of limes started coming down from the trees, filling the baskets to the brim in no time.
“Much better, gals!” Applejack continued on her walk, finally reaching her destination moments later. Outside a bright orange barn sat Ziggy and his family, taking a five minute break from the harvest. Applejack slung the buckets off her back and next to the family, right next to all the other buckets of limes they’d already harvested. “A couple more bushels for y’all. If we keep up the pace, ah think we’ll be done soon.”
Ziggy smiled at Applejack. “Oh, we can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done, especially considering how I acted during the contest. How can we repay you?”
“You don’t owe me nothin’, ah’m happy to help. Mah friends will probably be hungry afterwards though, so get them fed… and just promise me you won’t stoop to dirty tricks again. Aside from that, we’re even, pardner.”
Ziggy nodded, standing up and shaking Applejack‘s hoof. “Understood.” He called for his family to get to their feet and led them towards their farmhouse, ready to make a feast for the generous ponies that’d saved their farm. At that moment, Rainbow Dash flew in, carrying a few baskets of limes with her as well.
“Oof… I don’t see how ya do this stuff every day, Applejack,” the blue pegasus moaned.
Applejack smirked. “Gettin’ tired, sugahcube?”
Rainbow Dash shook her head. “You wish, Applecrack. I’m going to get more limes harvested than you before the day’s done, and that’s a promise!” She placed her buckets with the rest and wiped her brow. “But aside from that, I still don’t see why you decided to help that fink.”
“Don’t you worry yer little head, Dash. He might’ve sunk low, but it was outta desperation.”
“Whatever you say.” Rainbow Dash stretched out her legs, flapping her wings to prepare for her next takeoff. “I gotta admit, Fluttershy’s animal friends are making the harvest on her side of the field really easy. Oh yeah, I’ve been wondering, what are ya gonna do with all those bits you won? I can still help ya spend them…”
Applejack rolled her eyes and ruffled her friend’s mane. “Ah think ah’ll pass. But by all means, don’t let that stop you from coming around and helping me carry some things ah’ll be buyin’ for Sweet Apple Acres.”
“We’ll see about that, Applejack.” Rainbow Dash flapped her wings, bending low. “Now, how about I show you how harvestin’ is really done?”
Applejack smirked, bending low on her haunches as well. “Is that a challenge?”
“You bet it is! ThreetwooneGO!”
The two ponies shot out of the barn and onto the field, enjoying their little contest and getting their work done as well. Ziggy watched from the family’s house, smiling at the generous mare who’d helped them out of their jam, despite the mistakes he’d made. He smiled and went back into the house to continue their work on making dinner, closing the front door behind him.