• 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.

  • ...

Only Idiots Talk To Horses


There was little more rewarding than working at a ranch.

Everything had a sense of importance, a sense of urgency. Nothing you did was taken for granted and in the grand scheme of things, it all mattered. There was no job too small, no task too unimportant. Everything had a place. Everything and everyone.

Maybe that was why Strawberry found herself enjoying it so much. It gave her a sense of belonging, a sense that what she was doing mattered. There was no doing things just because she had time to spare, no doing things because they had to be done ‘eventually’. No, they had to be done right there and then or else something would go wrong. She liked that.

With a grunt of effort, Strawberry lifted the pail and swung it over the latched door to hang it on the hook on the inside of the stall. She kept a close eye on the horse inside, making sure he wasn’t showing any signs of aggression. As usual, though, he kind of stayed away, keeping his eye on Strawberry.

“Hey boy,” Strawberry cooed quietly as she leaned over the door to check if he had water. The water system seemed to still be in check despite the weather, so there was nothing to worry about. But… still, it seemed wrong to see him like that. Strawberry bit her lip and opened the latch. In response, the stallion’s ears perked up. “Wooh, shh…”

Slowly, Strawberry stepped inside the stall, keeping herself in the opening of the door until she held it shut behind her. “Shh, see, it’s just me, boy.”

The quarter horse snuffled, though his ears swivelled toward her curiously. Strawberry had been around horses long enough to know that he wasn’t being aggressive, despite keeping to himself. With a sigh of relief, Strawberry let the door close behind her and she took a slow step forward. “Hey, Barley,” she whispered to him, “it’s me, boy.”

Barley snorted and turned his head away from Strawberry, who frowned. “Hey, c’mon buddy. I know you miss your owner, but you can’t shut everyone out. How’s anyone supposed to take care of you?”

She closed the gap between them and gently rubbed Barley’s neck with gloved hands. He didn’t seem to mind. “Maybe you’re more like her than I give you credit for,” she said with a laugh. “Ah, you even have me talking to you! Come on, Barley, you’re a freaking horse. Why am I talking to you?”

He didn’t respond, of course, so Strawberry just took to rubbing his nose. “Whatever. What do you say we go for a ride? I bet you don’t wanna be all cooped up in here by yourself.”

Satisfied with that, she led Barley out of his stall and brought him near the entrance of the stable. From there, she grabbed all the tack she knew Applejack used on him and her saddle and brought it over to where Barley waited. She found it interesting how Applejack never used any of the prize saddles she won to ride. They all just hung in the back collecting dust. Strawberry wasn’t sure if that was humbleness or arrogance. She decided it didn’t really matter.

It didn’t take long to tack Barley up and get him ready to ride. Strawberry was just making sure everything was strapped on right when she heard footsteps enter the stable. She looked over to see Applejack’s brother enter the barn. He looked at her and tipped his snow-covered hat. Strawberry gave him a wave as she watched him curiously. Had he finished repairing the fence already?

Unsurprisingly, Big Mac was not much of a talker. He simply made his way toward the tack area and glanced at Barley, who pinned his ears back. Big Mac shook his head and walked back toward the front of the stable. Strawberry cocked her head. “Uh, what’s up, Big Mac?”

“You goin’ out?” he asked, patting Roan’s snout while he stood next to his stall.

Strawberry nodded. “Yeah, I was gonna take Barley out for a quick ride.”

“Okay,” he responded, opening the door to Roan’s stall. “I was gonna take Roan out, too.”

Was he trying to hint at something? Strawberry rubbed her forearm with a crooked smile. “Um, did you want to join me? We could go for a ride together.”

It wasn’t that she didn’t like Big Macintosh, not at all. He was easygoing and super relaxed. But Strawberry found it hard to be alone with him because he was so easygoing and relaxed. Needless to say, Big Macintosh did not talk much, and Strawberry wasn’t sure how to act around someone who didn’t talk much.

Besides, he seemed a bit cold lately. Though, that was probably just Strawberry reading too deeply into things. He didn’t interact with Strawberry enough for her to be sure, but she did know that Big Mac and Applejack were extremely close, and if Applejack was actually any sort of distraught about their last exchange, Big Mac would probably know about it.

So as she waited for Big Mac to get the old gelding ready, Strawberry couldn’t help but wonder what Big Mac could possibly want. If he did want anything. Maybe he just wanted to go out for a ride.

But Apples be scheming, Strawberry reminded herself with an amused chuckle. It wasn’t particularly true, but she thought it was appropriate enough at times. Especially when Apple Bloom kept finding ways to have her do all the hard work.

“Y’know,” Big Mac cut through the silence, “Roan was my daddy’s horse.”

He didn’t look up from the bay roan as he spoke, instead just focused on getting the bridle on slowly and carefully. Strawberry looked over at him, but he had his back turned to her anyway. “Yeah, I think Apple Bloom mentioned that once.”

Big Mac nodded and turned halfway in front of Roan to look directly at his face. He gently rubbed along his snout and focused on the area on his forehead between his eyes. “They been together for a long time, he and my daddy. They was called the best horse-man duo on the circuit in their time. Had this… unbreakable bond.”

Oh, this was going to be a whole thing. Strawberry felt a little nervous as to why Big Mac had decided to start story time, but she didn’t dare ask him. She kept quiet.

After a moment, Big Mac took the reins in his hand and started on his way out of the stable, no doubt expecting Strawberry to follow along, which she did. He kept quiet until they reached outside, where he climbed into the saddle with no struggle. Roan was a big horse, but Mac was a big man.

Strawberry followed suit and exhaled slowly as she climbed into Barley’s saddle. It was only a bit of a struggle; Barley was at least a hand height or two taller than Whippy, but Strawberry was tall enough to manage. That made her realize how tall Applejack actually was. She’d never really thought about it before.

With a click of his teeth, Big Mac urged Roan forward. Despite being an older horse, he certainly didn’t show it. Muscles built from many years of work still rippled beneath his skin and his coat shined healthily.

Strawberry looked down at her mount and found she had similar praises about Barley. If there was anything to say about the Apples, it was that they were damn good ranchers in every aspect of the word. She brushed little snowflakes out of Barley’s mane. At least it wasn’t snowing very heavily. She did not like the snow one bit, but it was unavoidable.

Just when Strawberry began to wonder when Big Mac might keep talking, if at all, he cleared his throat. “Mind if I smoke?”

She shook her head. “No, it’s fine.”

He nodded and used his free hand to take out a pack of cigarettes. From there, he fished one out and stuck it between his lips, letting it dangle there while he found a lighter. Once he did, he lit up his smoke and drew in a long drag.

Strawberry watched how he did it so methodically – as if it was something he didn’t need to think about. He probably didn’t, to be fair. It was just a routine. He seemed to stare off at something far away while he let the smoke leave his body and trail behind him.

She almost thought it was alluring, though not in a way that would imply she would ever be attracted to him. No, she could never see Big Macintosh that way, but she understood why some of the other girls on the circuit did. He was… rustic, almost. Authentic.

“Pa and Roan won every event they signed up for,” Big Mac finally continued. “Real unbeatable team. I ain’t never seen anythin’ like it. I grew up goin’ to rodeos and watchin’ my daddy compete. I wanted to be just like him.”

Something in his expression darkened as he finished that sentence. Strawberry frowned as she watched him take another drag. She’d never seen Big Mac be anything but happy, or even frustrated. He didn’t look mad, per se, but his furrowed brow cast a shadow on his eyes, and the brim of his hat didn’t help either.

“Applejack ever talk to you ‘bout him when y’all were friends?”

Strawberry blinked in confusion. She hadn’t been expecting that to be the next thing to come out of Big Mac’s mouth. “S-she said that he was the best. That he loved you guys and your Mom so much. She learned a lot from him.”

“Oh, she’s a lot like him,” Big Mac agreed. “And so am I. He taught us everythin’ we know ‘bout rodeo, and he even taught us school stuff. And he was hard on us, but that’s ‘cause he wanted us to do well. And we did. He was always so proud.”

It was weird. He was saying nice words, but his facial expression wouldn’t have clued her in on that. “He must have been a great teacher.”

Big Mac nodded. “Eeyup. He was great, y’know when he wasn’t on them pills or so drunk he couldn’t stand.”

Strawberry’s mouth grew dry. Applejack definitely never mentioned that. “Oh.”

“I’ll give him credit, he never once laid a hand on us despite it all,” he told her, probably to dispel the thoughts that snuck into her brain. “Like I said, he was great. But he was hurtin’, and he needed help. He loved us, but addiction’s a difficult thing, Strawberry.”


“He yelled a lot when he wasn’t in his right mind. Never yelled around Bloom, and tried not to yell ‘round AJ. But I was there for it, and I’m sure Ma saw more.” He sighed and slowed to a stop and held out a hand, letting a snowflake fall and melt on his palm. “And she loved him, too. And Granny. We all did, and we all wanted to help, but we never knew how. Sometimes he was all fine and happy, sober as a judge, and sometimes he was so out of it, he could barely get out of his room unless he needed a beer from the fridge.

“He was a great man who made mistakes. And he always tried to make up for ‘em, but he was fightin’ a losin’ battle ‘gainst himself. He made one mistake too many,” he told her with a frown that seemed more sad than angry. He rotated his cigarette in his fingers before simply discarding what was left of it into the snowy field. “And sometimes, I’m afraid that AJ and I are too much like him.”

Strawberry wasn’t sure what to say, but Big Mac’s silence went on for too long for it to have been a simple pause. She opened her mouth and hoped that whatever came out next would be okay. “You have all his good qualities, from what I can tell. Both of you. Smart, strong, caring…” It was a weak statement, but if it meant anything, she did believe it.

“Maybe,” Big Mac muttered. “I don’t wanna lose track of who I am, and I ain’t gonna air out Applejack’s dirty laundry for her, but… I think maybe she already is. Or she has been for a long time.”

Strawberry snorted. “Okay, maybe she’s been rude and angry, but losing track of who she is? I don’t think that’s possible. She’s still the same stubborn S.O.B that I’ve always known! She loves rodeo, she loves this place, and she has ever since I met her. And she never gave that up.”

Big Mac took off his hat to shake off the snow building up on it and set it back on his head. “Y’all were close, right?”

Why did it seem like everyone liked to remind her of what was? “Uh-huh.”

He hesitated a little. “Did she always seem happy to ya? I mean even before we lost our parents.“

There was something to be said about the way he was able to talk about it all so nonchalantly. Applejack always seemed to struggle with getting the words out. Strawberry thought back to when they were little kids. Applejack was never one to talk about her feelings, but she usually had a smile on her face when she was doing something she liked. Strawberry shrugged. “I dunno, I guess? She was never much the expressive type.”

Big Mac’s lips pursed as he thought. “You still care ‘bout her, right?”

Strawberry felt her chest tighten, so she coughed. “What?” What was with Big Mac and throwing the conversation around every which way? “What do you mean?”

“I said what I meant. You still care ‘bout her.”

That time it wasn’t a question. Strawberry looked incredulously at him and found herself no longer caring that he was five years her senior. She rolled her eyes and kicked her legs against Barley’s flank, motioning for him to trot away from Big Mac. She whistled and smacked her lips.

To no one’s surprise, it wasn’t long until Big Mac caught up next to her. “C’mon, humour me.”

Strawberry groaned in exasperation and she sped up only to turn backwards in front of him, forcing him to stop. “Okay, yes, fine. I do. So what? I can’t just let all these years of, of caring disappear just ‘cause she happens to never stop being a major bitch!” She stuck her hands out to the sides. “I’m not going to let her walk all over me—or, ugh, whatever—anymore.”

Big Mac crossed his arms. “I just thought it seemed a mite bit weird that you switched up on her all of a sudden.”

She decided she liked Big Mac more when he was quiet and aloof. Definitely not when he was trying to get all up in her personal business. “Yeah, well, she had it coming,” Strawberry muttered, turning her gaze down to Barley, who seemed agitated. She couldn’t blame him—he seemed to be sensitive to his rider’s emotions, and Strawberry definitely felt a bit put off. She gently patted his neck.

What was crazy to her was that Big Mac was even trying to defend Applejack. Of course, she understood that he was her big brother and that’s what big brothers were supposed to do or whatever, but at a certain point, wouldn’t it just be easier to cut your losses and admit that maybe your sister isn’t the person you keep saying she is?

Applejack had been a good friend at some point. Strawberry often remembered those times fondly. Maybe she was a little shy and nervous around other people, but she was really cool once you got to know her, even if all she talked about was horses and cows. And on a saddle? Applejack was a different person. She was confident and strong, though she still mostly kept to herself. Strawberry thought it was kind of weird, but Applejack always made space for her, so it was fine. She even gave Strawberry lots of tips, and they practiced running barrels together all the time.

But then they got a little older and the city finally built that damn school. Strawberry transferred because it was a little closer to home, and to her surprise, Applejack was there, too. It was a clear relief for her anxious friend who definitely seemed to stick out like a sore thumb. She pretty much screamed ‘country’, and with a school full of mostly suburban city kids? Well, anyone who stuck out from that was put to the side. Strawberry herself could pass as one of them, but Applejack sure couldn’t. She didn’t want to leave Applejack alone, so they stuck together like two peas in a pod.

It wasn’t long until Strawberry found out that being Applejack’s friend made it hard to make friends. Kids were stupid like that. Admittedly, Strawberry had never been the smartest kid, either. She knew that. Her grades were fine, but there was more to being smart than some numbers on a paper. Maybe, she thought, if she showed them she wasn’t actually Applejack’s friend, then she wouldn’t be ostracized, too. It wasn’t true, of course. She was Applejack’s friend, but they didn’t have to know.

So then she started to be mean. Not mean enough for Applejack to actually be upset, but enough for people to see it and think it was all a game. It didn’t feel right, but Strawberry liked having friends, and if Applejack didn’t then why should that affect her? She’d never leave Applejack behind, but she needed to do something about the whole situation.

How stupid was that? Even now, Strawberry couldn’t help but cringe at herself. She couldn’t blame Applejack for being upset, especially not for how Strawberry treated her when all Applejack needed was a real friend, but she could blame her for holding a grudge and acting exactly how Strawberry was. Like her, but worse. Worse because she couldn’t even say she was sorry. Worse because she always had to be the victim. Worse because even when she was being a downright asshole, Strawberry was always the one who was in the wrong.

“I’m done playing her game,” Strawberry told him definitively. “I’ve been trying to move on for years, I’ve been trying to get her on my side. And when she finally calls me? Or I guess, when she picks up, she still has the gall to say she doesn’t like me?” She snorted out an angry laugh. “No, no way. I thought maybe we had a chance, y’know, a couple of months ago. I really thought so, but then she proved that she would never stop being angry when she all but attacked me at the bar. And she doesn’t even remember it, which is even worse. If you hadn’t stepped in, I’m sure she would have punched me for good measure. Just like the old days.”

Big Mac actually looked like he didn’t know what to say. Either that or he was really mulling over his words.

Strawberry stared at him for a moment before all the anger inside her fizzled away to something more manageable. Her cheeks went red as she rubbed her forearm. “I’m sorry, but I gave her so many chances. I let her be angry at me, but I think she needs to stop taking everything out on me. She can’t actually still be mad about what happened when we were kids.”

“She has a habit of gettin’ mad at other people,” Big Mac finally said. He fiddled with the reins as he thought about what to say. “But I promise you that there’s no one she’s angrier at than herself.”

She definitely believed it. But still… “It’s no excuse to take it out on me.”

“I know,” Big Mac responded. “I think she knows it, too, but I dunno if she can help it. Look, I ain’t tellin’ ya to be her best friend again. I just figured airin’ it out would help. And I figured… maybe you could understand why she is the way she is. She’s had a hard go at things, and maybe what she needs right now is a friend. It don’t have to be you, but I reckon she was just tryin’ to find that.”

She scoffed. “She must have been desperate to want to make up with me.”

Big Mac smiled. “Maybe. But you don’t have to worry ‘bout her callin’ you no more. She found a friend now. At least, that’s what Apple Bloom’s told me.”

“Huh.” Strawberry gave him a weak smile. “That’s good.”

He looked at her like one would look at an open book. “Eeyup. I don’t know much ‘bout him other than they ran into each other by accident. I don’t think Apple Bloom does, either. She told me that Applejack refused to talk about him. She don’t really like talkin’ ‘bout stuff like that, anyway.”

That was good. Good for her. Strawberry wanted to feel relieved, maybe even glad. But instead, she looked back toward where the ranch house was and watched how the snow slowly came down on it. She hated snow, but… it looked so pretty. She frowned.

“Y’know, it’s okay to move on.”

Strawberry blinked and set her gaze back on Big Macintosh, who rubbed Roan’s neck. “What?”

“You’re hung up on her,” he stated plainly. Strawberry flushed against the cool air. “C’mon, I’ve known you since you were a kid. Only one reason to stick around that long, right?”

Why did Big Mac have to be such a talker all of a sudden? “What, a–are you saying that I like her?” Strawberry pressed her lips together and exhaled sharply through her nose, making a little tuft of warm air. “No, come on, we were best friends and…”

She couldn’t even think of how to finish that sentence because Big Mac was right. She scowled and backed Barley up a few strides. “Okay, maybe when I was younger I did have a little bit of a crush on her, but we were stupid kids! C’mon, it’s not like it even mattered, she was clearly not interested in anyone, let alone me or, or girls.”

Big Mac shrugged. “That ain’t my point. Maybe you moved on from your feelings, but did you ever move on from her?”

“Well, I’m trying to do that. Haven’t you noticed?”

He raised an eyebrow and looked over his shoulder to the ranch. They were surrounded by Apple family acreage. “Really? So then why’re you here? I really doubt you like hangin’ out with cattle, or with Applejack’s little sister, or me for that matter.”

Strawberry scoffed. “Are you trying to fire me?”

“No, I ain't,” Big Mac shot her down. “I’m just tryin’ to understand what you’re doin’.”

If she was being honest, she had no idea what she was doing. She liked being at the ranch, she liked the work, she liked the calmness, she liked the satisfaction, she liked the animals. She liked the people, she liked Apple Bloom who made every chore into a game, she liked Granny Smith who made sure she was on track and supplied her with enough food to feed an army, and she even liked Big Mac, who was a comforting presence and didn’t mind showing her how stuff needed to be done.

She liked all of that, sure. But she… something inside her knew that it wasn’t why she was here. It wasn’t like she desperately needed the money, in fact, she was happy with just helping out for the exchange of warm food, but Granny insisted they pay her and it took everything Strawberry had to talk her down into the price they’d agreed on. Strawberry looked down at Barley. Applejack’s horse. He was a magnificent horse, and yet she couldn’t ride him like Applejack could. She knew that. He was fidgety and a bit ornery, but he listened so well. He was Applejack’s horse. Applejack. This was Applejack’s home.

But clearly, Applejack had moved on. She found a new friend. A new guy friend at that. Maybe something would come out of that. And then Strawberry would definitely have to move on, because maybe Big Mac was right. Strawberry never stopped moving forward, but she had never moved on. But whenever she looked around, it was always the same.

And when it all came down to it? It was always Applejack.

Author's Note:

Well, well, well. Here’s our second-ever not-Applejack POV chapter, and it's a Strawberry Sunrise POV chapter. Perhaps most surprisingly, its a Big Mac and Strawberry chapter, a duo that I don’t think we’ve seen before.

Big Mac reveals some stuff this chapter, stuff that Strawberry didn’t know about. He’s the caring older brother, he wants to take care of his sister. That includes making sure that Strawberry won’t hurt her, even though that’s all been a two-way street. Notice how he isn’t particularly mad at her? He’s mostly just curious as to what she’s doing and why. Heck, maybe she doesn’t even know.

Anyway, ooo! Strawb had a crush on AJ confirmed! So for those of you who don’t hang out over on the Reins blog (which you totally should, it adds dimension to this story I think), I did recently say that Strawb was bi with a lean toward men. I guess that kind of explains a lot, huh?

We finally get to see how Strawb’s feeling on the other side of this whole thing, though. Lots of bitterness, lots of justified anger. Can you blame her? I can’t. The thing I love about writing these characters is that they’re all flawed (because who isn’t), and it’s hard to say “oh this character is fully in the wrong” because they all have reasons to be how they are. Now, of course, this doesn’t excuse people being, say, abusive or manipulative in real life, but I hate characters that are just bad people for the sake of being bad people. Give them a reason! Make us feel bad for them. Then we’ll feel conflicted. Applejack sucks, but she’s been through a lot. We’ve been told that Strawberry was a jerk as a kid, but now we see why. It’s a dumb reason, maybe, but things like that really seem to matter when you’re a kid, right?

Anyway, some more Big Mac moments, and finally some actual Strawberry moments. How do you feel about these non-AJ POV chapters? They’re something I’ve been wanting to do more in this part of the story and going forward. Maybe not so often as having it switch every chapter, though.

Let me know what y’all think below if you want :)

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]