• Published 21st Aug 2021
  • 774 Views, 99 Comments

Letting Go Of The Reins - applebatofalltrades



Applejack's rodeo career takes a turn. She must learn to adapt to her new life and the challenges that come with it.

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Big Brother

The truck smelled like leather.

It was a smell that was once so familiar to Applejack but now seemed like an old memory. Like the way that walking back inside your old elementary school must have felt, not that she knew about that. She decided it was more like going back in the ring for your first barrel race of the season. The smell of the dirt, the buzz of the crowd so eager to get back into the rodeo action, the anticipation for those next fifteen or so seconds.

It was more like that.

Applejack leaned her head on the window and felt how the car rumbled and shook slightly as it drove along the road. Her vision blurred as her mind began to wander, letting the music become background noise. Guitar and country twang blended into white noise, failing to be specific in its subject.

She missed that feeling. The anticipation. The crowd cheering. If she hadn’t… Well, she’d probably be further along the circuit, racking up more points. Barley would have loved it. She wondered if he missed it, too. It wasn’t fair for him to lose what he loved because of her.

She didn’t notice the music fade away.

“So how have you really been doin’?” Big Mac asked, cutting into her thoughts and turning down the country radio station that had filled the car for the past half hour or so.

Applejack kept her eyes fixed on the scenery flying by through the window. Her eyes, barely even focused on the world, blinked for the first time in what seemed like too long and focused back on her reflection. Her hand kept her cheek propped up. “Fine.”

From her peripherals, she could see Big Mac turning to look at her briefly. Even without seeing his actual face, she could just imagine his expression. “Really?” it seemed to say without saying anything at all.

She groaned and leaned back in the seat. “I’m angry.”

“Angry?” Big Mac prodded, keeping one hand on the wheel and the other folded out the window in the cool wind.

“Yeah, I’m angry. Maybe upset. Frustrated.” She scoffed. “I dunno. I just feel useless.”

He snorted and gave her a lopsided smirk. “Ya weren’t very good at hidin’ that.”

“I know.” Applejack rubbed the bridge of her nose and shut her eyes tightly. “I just… I can’t believe I didn’t even win.”

Big Mac let out a questioning grunt.

“The event, I mean.” Applejack bit her lip as she remembered finding out her score as soon as she could after waking up in the hospital. A 74.5. Definitely wasn’t enough. Not even close. “It woulda been the same if I hadn’t lasted the eight seconds. Or if I had just sat out.”

“That mare’s a rough ride,” Big Mac reminded her.

“Yeah,” Applejack scoffed, “I know. Clearly.”

“I didn’t mean it that way,” Big Mac responded with a sigh. “I just mean… It’s okay ya didn’t win. You weren’t exactly… err…”

“What? I wasn’t exactly fit for it?” Applejack turned to her brother and scowled. “I know, I was a darn fool. I get it. And look where that’s landed me.”

“That ain’t what I said.”

“It’s what you’re thinkin’, though, ain’t it?” She clenched her jaw and looked back down at her lap. “If I had just been smarter, I coulda avoided this. If I hadn’t run away from the med staff, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have ended up at the bar, I wouldn’t have been hung over, I wouldn’t have been hurt, and I wouldn’t have drawn that stupid horse.”

Applejack rubbed her face with aggressive palms. “But I’m so damn stupid I did all that anyway. And I got on that horse knowin’ I wasn’t feeling great, and now I—I can’t feel anythin’ at all!”

“That ain’t true,” Big Mac argued, glancing at the mirrors before switching lanes. “Well, not entirely.”

“Sure it is,” Applejack retorted, looking back at him with a grimace. “I’m never gonna be like I was before. I wanted to get out so bad. Prove that I can do more than just sit around, but I can’t. All I can do is literally just sit around. I won’t be able to pull my weight anymore, Mac. What’s that gonna do for us? I’m just another expense. I don’t wanna be a burden.”

Big Mac stayed silent, his brow furrowed and his gaze concentrated on the road ahead of him. Applejack gritted her teeth, wishing he would say something for once. “I… I’m just makin’ everything worse on us. I can’t bring in money from the rodeo anymore. Hell, I couldn’t even get in the damn truck on my own. I’m never even gonna be able to ride again! I wish I had just…”

Her voice cracked, though there was no built-up sob in her throat, no tears waiting to come out. She breathed heavily, letting the silence ring in the car. Her own words caught up to her slowly, each unsaid syllable dragging on her heart. “I’m never gonna ride again, Mac. That’s all I do. That’s who I am.” She heaved a breath and dropped her hands on her lap.

It felt like nothing.

“What am I gonna do?”

Big Mac sighed and pulled over to the shoulder, turning on his hazards. The truck came to a stop, though the engine rumbled softly beneath them. He turned to Applejack, who was red in the face and on the verge of hyperventilating, and held out his hand to place on her shoulder. “Ridin’s your life. I get it,” he started, rubbing her shoulder slightly. “But who said ya can’t ride?”

Applejack let out an incredulous laugh. “Look at me, Mac. I’m in a damn wheelchair. I couldn’t feel my legs if you dropped a calf on ‘em.”

“You’re strong,” Big Mac pointed out. “And you’re a hardass.”

“High praise,” she snorted.

And that means ya don’t give up,” he continued. “Now, I could lie to ya and tell ya that it’ll be fine, that you’ll get it no problem. But I know you ain’t much for lyin’, and neither am I. It’ll be hard. Real hard, and you’ll feel frustrated and make mistakes and get stuck, but you’ll damn well get it done.”

Applejack stared into her brother’s eyes. They burned like a green fire. He meant every word he said, she knew it. She just didn’t know if she could believe it.

Big Mac raised an eyebrow. “What’s the first rule of ridin’?”

“Oh, c’mon, this is way different,” Applejack grunted, wishing she could just get out of the truck and leave.

“What is the first rule of ridin’?” he repeated. “The first thing Ma and Pa taught us?”

“Big Mac,” Applejack warned.

“When you fall, ya get right back up,” he continued sternly.

“This is different.”

“No it ain’t,” Big Mac argued. “You fall, and ya get back up, right? Well, ya fell. It was a nasty fall. But now ya need to get up, ya need to get back up on that horse.”

“I can’t,” Applejack grumbled.

“Sure ya can. Maybe not now, maybe not any time soon, but you can.” Big Mac patted her shoulder. “Ya can’t give up on yourself, AJ. Not when you’ve only just sat up.”

“Big Macintosh, I’d advise that you drop it,” Applejack ordered. She crossed her arms and shrugged Big Mac’s hand off her shoulder, but couldn’t help the tiny smile that worked itself onto her face. She couldn’t stay mad at her brother, not when he had something good to say. “And shut up, I liked ya better when ya weren’t talkin’.”

He chuckled a bit and nodded. “Think about it, okay?”

“Okay,” Applejack responded with an exaggerated eyeroll. She glanced over to her brother, who had somehow in the span of what was at most five seconds pulled out a cigarette and stuck it in his mouth. She groaned and punched him in the arm. “Blow it out the window.”

“Yup,” he responded, looking over his shoulder before pulling back onto the highway.

“Ya really gotta quit it,” Applejack told him. “Pa wouldn’t like it.”

“He smoked more than me,” Big Mac pointed out.

“Yeah, and he still wouldn’ta liked it.” Applejack sighed. “Look, I get it. Shit was tough after… what happened. I know, I had my own problems, and maybe I still do. But… I dunno, Mac, you and Brae… I just worry ‘bout y’all.”

Big Mac flicked the residue out the window and held the cigarette there for a moment. “I know, I’m sorry.”

“Ya don’t gotta apologize to me.” Applejack looked out the window at the dry landscape. “Just be careful.”

“Yup.”

Applejack shook her head and took out her phone, glancing down at it. The screen was depressingly blank. She had no new notifications apart from her FarmLife game. She should really delete that.

“Somethin’ wrong?”

“I dunno,” Applejack admitted. “I did somethin’ dumb the other day.”

Big Mac threw the butt out the window. “What’d ya do?”

Applejack nearly slapped her face at her own stupidity. “I mighta texted Sunrise and told her to call me. Said we had to talk.”

She really had to admit it. Big Mac had a really good poker face. “Oh? Did she?”

“Naw. I don’t think she even saw the darn text.” Applejack turned the phone over and shook her head. “I dunno what I was thinkin’, talkin’ to her. She’s the last person I wanna talk to. And it seems like she doesn’t even have the time.”

Big Mac shrugged. “She didn’t see it ‘cause she broke her phone. I guess she hasn’t gotten a new one just yet.”

Applejack furrowed her eyebrows and turned to Big Mac. “And how do you know that?”

His poker face fell apart. “Uh, well, ya see…”

“Big Macintosh.”

“She dropped it in the barn and didn’t notice ‘til she rolled a wheelbarrow over it,” Big Mac admitted, though just barely.

In the barn. “The barn? As in our barn?” Applejack’s nose turned upward in a half snarl. “What the hell is she doin’ in our barn?”

“Her horse—”

“That damn horse,” she grumbled. “I mean, Whippy’s fine, but that damn girl just doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone, does she? Why’s she gotta keep her horse at our ranch, there are plenty of other boarders she could go to! Hell, she should just keep him at home! I know she’s got the money for it.”

“Applejack—”

“I swear to God, if I ever see her in our ranch ever again I’m gonna…” Applejack clenched her fists and gesticulated wildly. “I dunno what I’m gonna do! I can’t exactly kick her ass anymore!”

Applejack!” Big Mac yelled.

He never yelled.

Applejack shot her gaze toward Big Mac, who sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Applejack,” he repeated, though much quieter, “she’s gonna be at the ranch a lot. And before ya get a chance to blow up at me, it’s cause she’s helpin’ out with the work. Don’t argue over it, we need the extra set of hands.”

Applejack huffed and crossed her arms. That was a topic to be discussed later. “Don’t you let her touch Barley.”

“I wouldn’t dare,” he promised with a laugh. “And why are you so mad at her? I thought ya wanted to talk to her.”

“Damn stupid thing I did,” Applejack reminded him. “I don’t even know what I’d say to her. She seems so keen on… I dunno, pretendin’ like nothin’ ever happened between us.”

“Why’s that such a bad thing?”

“‘Cause I hate her,” Applejack pointed out simply. Big Mac snorted in amusement. “Why’s it funny?”

“C’mon, ya can’t hate her for somethin’ that happened while y’all were kids.”

“It was more than just somethin’,” Applejack huffed. “It wasn’t right what she said. Or what she did.”

“No, it wasn’t,” Big Mac agreed, “but she was a stupid kid. We all were. You said and did some bad things after Ma and Pa died, too. Not just to her, but to me, to Granny. Hell, ya barely kept Bloom out of it.”

“I know that!” Applejack shot back. “I know, but I… I made my amends.”

“So did she,” Big Mac reminded her. “Or, she’s tryin’. You won’t let her.”

“I can’t just let it go.” Applejack rubbed her hands together. “She was my best friend.”

“I know, AJ,” Big Mac responded, “but no one’s askin’ ya to just let it go. But she was your best friend. You owe it to her to at least talk to her like a normal person.”

The sun burned bright in the sky, coming out of hiding from its place behind the clouds. Wind roared in through the open windows, jostling Applejack’s hair. She squinted and dropped the visor, blocking most of the blinding light.

“Apple Bloom told me ‘bout that day.”

Applejack cocked her head. “Huh? What day?”

“When you ‘n Strawb finally seemed to be friends again. Or somethin’ like it.” Big Mac smiled faintly. “Said she saw y’all racin’ horseback. Somethin’ bout lassoing?”

"Beat ya."

"Ugh, well, you've always been better at roping than me. Besides, you can practice whenever you want."

"Hey now, don't be a sore loser."

"I'm not. But, I bet I can beat you at a race."

"Oh really? Let's see about that. Here to the stables. First one past the fence wins."

"Deal."

Applejack remembered that day. She grinned a bit at the memory. It felt like old times, like being a kid again. She and Strawberry racing on their horses, arguing over who won. She chuckled a bit. It felt like forever ago. “Huh, yeah, I forgot about that.”

“You asked me what you should do,” Big Mac reminded her. “I said you should talk to her, stop holdin’ a grudge. I assume that’s what ya did?”

“Kinda, yeah,” Applejack admitted. “I think I told her I couldn’t be her friend, but I didn’t wanna be mad at her anymore.” She frowned and placed her head in her palm. “But I think I’m still mad.”

“Are ya mad at her?” Big Mac asked, glancing to his side.

“I dunno.”

“Who are ya mad at, then?”

Applejack shook her head. “I dunno!”

“I thought y’all were on better terms,” Big Mac kept on. “Y’all seemed friendly at the bar, well, ‘til y’all attacked each other.”

Her eyes widened at the revelation of what actually happened that day. “What? I don’t remember that!”

“What? You bein’ nice to her or her pushing you into the street?”

“Neither of those things!” Applejack exclaimed. “Nobody ever told me anythin’ ‘bout that night.”

“Well ya were really plastered.” Big Mac laughed. “Threw up into the road if I remember right.”

Applejack shut her eyes and smiled in defeat. “I’m so stupid, Big Mac.”

“Eeyup.”

Strawberry had been nice to her. She’d been nice even when Applejack wasn’t. And she all but begged for forgiveness, even just to clear things up. Sure, she’d pushed Applejack into the road, but she probably had a reason to do it. Strawberry was a decent person. Applejack… was an idiot. An idiot who sat in the passenger seat of a truck headed to a rehab clinic. She sighed. “What do I do?”

Big Mac locked eyes with Applejack for a moment. “You talk to her.”

As if on command, her phone buzzed. She didn’t feel it as much as she heard it buzz, but it was definitely ringing. She turned it over and saw the most perfectly convenient inconvenient name it could have been. Applejack let it ring for another moment as she contemplated her options. She could let it go to voicemail and deal with it later, but then she’d have to think about it for longer. And she’d feel like a liar because technically, it was her own idea in the first place. Plus, Big Mac was right there.

Begrudgingly, Applejack clicked the green button on the screen and put the phone up to her ear. “Strawberry Sunrise.”

A breath. “Applejack. You actually picked up.”

“Must be a miracle,” Applejack responded. “After all, I said that a week ago.”

“Right…” Strawberry trailed off for a second before adding, “Sorry, I would have called sooner but I just saw your text. Besides, you said you’d pick up when I called.”

She did not say such a thing, but she might as well have. “Yeah.”

… Um. So, how are you?”

“Fine. What do you think?”

“I… That’s good? I’m sorry, I’m not really sure what to say.”

You don’t have to say anything, Applejack thought bitterly. I’d prefer if ya didn’t, she thought about saying. “It’s alright,” she said instead. She should at least try to be nice, especially with Big Mac sitting right next to her. Apple Bloom would want her to be nice. If Apple Bloom was in the truck, she would be actively shooting daggers at Applejack. ‘Be nice’ daggers. “I’m doing better. I should be gettin’ back home in like a month and a half.”

“Oh!” Strawberry exclaimed, sounding almost… happy. Or surprised, or both. “That’s good. I’m glad. Really, I am.”

“Yeah, thanks.”

“Sure thing.”

….

“Am I allowed to say I’m happy you’re coming back home soon?”

Applejack snorted a laugh. “Oh yeah, I bet you are. I heard you’ve been helpin’ around the ranch recently, are ya just waitin’ for me to come back and pick up the slack?”

“No! I like working here. I get to see Whippy all the time.”

“Is that all? Ya wanted to see your horse, so ya decided to up and replace me?”

“Well… I dunno, I just… I wanted to help. Least I could do. And I’m not replacing you.”

“Yeah, well…” Applejack frowned. “Don’t get too comfortable. I’ll be back soon enough.”

“Right.” Strawberry paused for a moment. “Why’d you even want to talk? I figured you’d never want to talk to me again, more than usual I mean.”

“ I dunno,” Applejack admitted, a bit taken aback at Strawberry’s harsh tone. “I dunno what I wanted to say. I guess I was just thinkin’ about everything. “

“What do you mean by that?”

Applejack bit her lip. She could just hang up.

Big Mac seemed to read her mind and stared directly into her soul. She rolled her eyes. “You… wanted to be friends still.”

The line went quiet enough that Applejack almost thought she’d been hung up on. “Is that what you wanted to talk about?”

“Just answer.”

“Well, yeah. I’ve been saying this forever.”

“But I don’t like you. Or didn’t. I’m still on the fence.”

“I know.”

She still couldn’t understand. How could anyone be like that? “So then why are you nice to me?”

“Are we actually having this conversation again?”

“Considerin’ I just found out we attacked each other in a bar and I can’t even remember it,” Applejack started, “yes. We are. I don’t get it.”

“Well, golly, Applejack, I just like being friends with people who can put up a good fight,” she answered with sarcasm positively dripping from every word. She even added a snort. “Why wouldn’t I be nice to you? Your family is really cool, and we, well, used to be friends. We still have fun sometimes.”

“But I treat you like shit,” Applejack pointed out remorsefully. She glanced up at the sunny sky and furrowed her eyebrows. She still couldn’t think of a proper reason for even bringing it up.

“Yeah,” Strawberry agreed, “but so did I. I guess… fair’s fair. Why isn’t that enough?”

Her damn positivity. Where was the sarcastically cynical Strawberry that Applejack knew? Applejack half-smiled. “C’mon, that darn head of yours is just filled with fantasies, ain’t it?”

“What’s so fantastical about us being friends? It already happened once.”

Applejack glanced back down at her free hand. Maybe Strawberry was too nice. “And you’re hopin’ for another go at it?”

“I don’t know anymore. Maybe not with me, but with someone else.”

A very confusing frown rested on her face at that answer. “Whaddya mean by that?”

“I mean after… you know, you kinda isolated yourself. I really can’t blame you, I can’t imagine…” Strawberry cleared her throat awkwardly. “I guess I thought… If not me, you’d find a new best friend. But you didn’t.”

“And what, havin’ a bunch of friends is supposed to be… better?” Applejack huffed, though she wasn’t really quite upset at Strawberry for saying something like that. “Supposed to have helped me feel better?”

“I don’t know! Maybe? Come on, I’m not trying to push your buttons, I’m just trying to explain why I kept trying with you, AJ.”

She sighed and eased her cross expression after Big Mac shot her with his own. At least there was some normalcy, Strawberry never failed to rile her up. But she didn’t deserve that. Not right now, she’s actually tryna be nice. “I have people around me. It ain’t like I’m a loner, Strawb.”

The line was silent as Strawberry seemed to think. The only noise coming through was what sounded like wind.“You might be surrounded by people, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be alone.”

Applejack looked at her brother, who pretended to pay no mind to her conversation, though his expression was almost too aloof.

“Look, I’m getting tired of chasing after you like some kind of… lost little puppy. That being said, I’m willing to start over if you are. But you have to be straight with me. I’m tired of this game.”

Why had she asked Strawberry to call her? Applejack wasn’t… angry anymore. She was just annoyed. Maybe a little frustrated, but it didn’t boil inside her anymore. Applejack missed it. Missed the anger. Anger was a lot easier to deal with. Did she want to be angry with Strawberry? Again? That’d be dumb, but the more she thought about it, the more it made sense. It was easy to be angry at her. It wasn’t easy to be angry when she was so damn thoughtful, though. And maybe a little right.

Applejack wasn’t a complete loner. She had her family, and she talked to them a lot. She had her pets who counted just as much as the rest of her family. She even found herself exchanging messages with some of the people she’d met on the circuit. She wasn’t a loner, but… was she alone?

She considered Strawberry’s words and decided that she was angry. “I...”

Dead silence for a moment.

“Okay. Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

‘Wait’, she wanted to say.

Applejack responded with nothing instead.

“You just can’t change, can you? I’ll let you go now. Thanks for being honest, I guess.”

She was angry, but she wasn’t angry at Strawberry anymore. How could she be? “But I—”

The line clicked dead.

“—Didn’t say anything,” she finished flatly, talking to no one. Applejack slapped her face with her hand. Maybe she should stop listening to Big Mac’s advice, even when it was really good advice.

“So?” Big Mac asked. “How’d it go?”

“I think I messed it up in a different way,” Applejack admitted.

“How?”

“I dunno,” Applejack said once again. It seemed like she didn’t know anything anymore. “She wanted to be my friend, and I told her… well, nothin’.”

“Reckon she got mad?”

“Yeah, I think. Though, it kinda seemed like she was givin’ up already.” Applejack thought back to how Strawberry was speaking to her. It was normal at first, but then her tone shifted. There was a lot of past tense. “She said stuff like she was gonna stop tryin’ with me. That she’s tired of it.” That I can’t change.

“Ain’t that what you wanted?”

Applejack looked out the window. She hadn’t even noticed the sun had hidden behind the clouds again. The truck rumbled along the long stretch of highway, growing ever closer back home. She wanted to go back so badly, but now that she was one step closer, she felt even further away. Everything changed. She changed. What she wanted had changed. She wasn’t sure how she’d even recognize any of it.

She closed the window and leaned her head against it. “I dunno.”

Author's Note:

Woah hoh! Two chapters in two weeks? Isn’t that crazy?

This talk with Strawberry was supposed to be how the last chapter started, but as you can see, clearly I changed my mind. And I’m glad because having it here meant I could address some things that I think needed to be addressed at some point soon. Also, I got to move the plot in a way that is more useful to me specifically lol.

Anyway, lots of Big Mac dialogue here. Ain’t that a bit strange? I like to think that he doesn’t talk much, but he talks when he needs to. And when your sister is dealing with a lot of internalized feelings... well, what’s a better time than that?

I feel like they talk about a lot of stuff, and possibly too much stuff, but at the same time, it’s kind of normal to have conversations like this in real life. She’s going through a lot, she’s feeling a lot, and she needs to let some of it out.

Speaking of... So Strawberry’s back with her first speaking role since like,,, last arc, I believe. Always love writing these two, even with a bit of a dynamic shift that’s happened here. What are your thoughts on that?

Until next time (and hopefully next time is soon!)


The Ty Pozzobon Foundation intends to break the stigma of mental health and wellbeing among Westerners and those who live its lifestyle.

Ty Pozzobon Foundation was established in February of 2017. Tanner Byrne and Chad Besplug were two of Ty’s closest friends and western lifestyle participants. They were instrumental in starting the Ty Pozzobon Foundation. Chad Besplug stated, “we want to break the stigma and start the conversation about mental health”. No one should have to battle this demon on their own. Bull riders would share advice on how to stay on top of a bull. Now they are sharing advice on how to stay on top of life.

The Amberley Snyder Freedom Foundation intends to give support and resources to youth and young adults living with disabilities to help them grow their confidence and independence.

The mission of Amberley Snyder Freedom Foundation is to provide youth and young adults with special needs and disabilities tools and services which will support their freedom, growth, happiness and independence. The ASFF will give youth or young adults the opportunity to utilize their strengths and continue to improve regardless of their personal challenges and situations. The focus of ASFF is to create and support environments of personal growth and unyielding progress.

Ty Pozzobon and Amberley Snyder are both big contributors to the rodeo community and beyond.

Pozzobon, unfortunately, took his own life at the young age of 25 despite being a top rodeo cowboy after many concussions. It was discovered that he suffered from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a progressive and often fatal brain disease usually caused by repeated head trauma. He is the first case documented in a bull-rider. After his passing, his brain was donated to science in the hopes that it would help doctors learn more about this disease. [source]

Snyder was a rising star in the barrel racing scene. After a car crash rendered her unable to use her legs, she never gave up and worked hard, even getting back into the saddle only 4 months after the accident. When asked what her goals were for recovery she said it was simple. Walk. Ride. Rodeo. She retaught herself how to ride and how to barrel race and even made an appearance in The American in 2015 as the fan exemption. Snyder still appears in professional competition to this day despite having to quite literally buckle in and strap into her saddle. She is all sorts of inspirational, delivering many speeches and talks and showing support. She even has her own book titled Walk. Ride. Rodeo. and a Netflix movie of the same title. [source]