• Published 21st Aug 2021
  • 708 Views, 95 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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Game Day Day One

Game day.

Or, day one of game day.

Applejack cracked her knuckles as she breathed in the cool autumn air—delightfully crisp in the morning. The sun barely peeked out over the horizon, and it was cold enough that she could see her breath. Barley snorted in front of her, shaking out his mane against her petting hands.

“You nervous too, boy?” Applejack asked the horse. She rubbed the side of Barley’s head as he sputtered in response, lowering his neck so Applejack could offer more scratches. “I know. It’s a big day, ain’t it? Got our biggest barrel race of the season, then some ropin’ to do! Well, at least you’ll get to rest tomorrow, right?”

Barkey nickered in response, which in turn caused Applejack to chuckle and slap his neck. “Aw, I like talkin’ to you, Bar. Y’always know just what to say,” she teased. “And it’s gettin’ a mite cold, don’t ya think? Might have to wear some ridin’ gloves, though I don’t like how it makes the reins feel.” She shrugged and rubbed along Barley’s nose. “Ah well. I hope they put the dome up at the arena.”

“Talkin’ to yer horse again?”

Applejack exhaled slowly in a sighing laughter kind of way. “Mornin’, Brae.”

The soft metallic click of Braeburn’s lighter cut the silence. “Mornin’,” he greeted as he stepped next to Applejack. A fresh cigarette hung from his mouth. “Talkin’ to Barley? Well, Applejack. Seems you’ve finally lost it.”

Applejack snorted and rolled her eyes. “Oh, shut it, Brae. I like talkin’ to ‘im.”

“That’s ‘cause you don’t have any friends,” Braeburn teased. “Don’t forget, we’re goin’ for drinks tonight!” He exhaled a plume of smoke as he winked.

Barley sputtered and shook out his mane. Applejack guffawed. “Hah! Ya see, not even Barley wants me to go!”

“Well, Barley don’t get a say in it, far as I’m concerned.” The lean, young man flicked his cigarette between his fingers, then pointed it to the steed. “He’s a horse.”

“And what am I?” Applejack interjected. “Chopped liver?”

“Maybe,” Braeburn considered, circling around Applejack. “I mean, both of y’all don’t have friends…”

Applejack shoved her cousin with a frown. “Hey, what is it with you and makin’ fun of how many friends I got?”

Braeburn caught his footing with a laugh, standing up straight and taking a short drag from his cigarette. “Aw, ‘s’all in good fun. Besides, we gon’ get you a friend tonight,” he teased.

“I ain’t hookin’ up with anyone tonight,” Applejack declared instantly with a frown. “I ain’t that kinda cowgirl, ya know?” she added with a smirk.

“Wow, Applejack. That’s a pretty bad joke,” Braeburn said as he snuffed out the cigarette on the heel of his boot and flicked it away.

Applejack adjusted the brim of her hat with a small grin. “I know, but I just had to.”

Braeburn rolled his eyes and gave a sharp whistle. Applejack winced at the sudden loud noise, but recovered quickly as a spotted black and white appaloosa galloped over to Braeburn.

“Say, d’ya wanna go for a ride?” Braeburn asked, rubbing along the stallion’s nose. “Pongo loves early mornin’ warm ups. I’m sure Barley does, too.”

Applejack glanced at Braeburn’s impressive horse with a smile. She’d been looking forward to seeing Pongo in person since she’d heard about the Appleoosa rodeo. “He sure does. How’s about we see if Mac wants to come? I reckon he should be just about finishin’ up breakfast.”

“No problem by me,” Braeburn agreed. “How’s your bareback ridin’? I’ll race ya to the house.”

His question was almost offensive. Applejack snorted and crossed her arms. “You’re askin’ me how my bareback ridin’ is?” she asked incredulously. “Brae, are ya forgettin’ I do bronco ridin’ too? An’ probably better’n you do. I don’t need a saddle.”

“Hey, I was just teasin’,” Braeburn defended. “Now, let’s get a move on. Fritter and them’re comin’ soon to pick up their horses so we can get goin’.”

Applejack rubbed Barley’s neck, then hooked her palm around his neck, took a step back and jumped, all the while swinging her leg up and over his barrel. She landed on his back expertly, grinning at her cousin who hadn’t even made a move.

The thin man shook his head with a smile before mirroring Applejack’s action. He tipped his hat at her and pointed toward the house in the distance. “Now I hope you’re good at jumpin’ bareback. Fence ain’t open and y’ain’t got no reins to hold on to!”

“Oh please,” Applejack huffed, giving Barley an encouraging spur-less kick to the side to get him moving. “Bad jumpers rely on their arms to balance. Good jumpin’s all in the legs.”

~~~~🍎~~~~

Applejack beat Braeburn back to the house by nearly a mile. Well, a figurative mile. It was a mile to her, but she knew he’d say it was barely an inch. The blonde whooped in success as she hopped off of Barley, landing on the trodden dirt path with a hard thump. “Hoo-wee! Beat ya good there, Brae.”

Braeburn snorted, sliding off his horse and giving Pongo a good pat on the neck. “Well, I can’t deny it. You an’ Barley are a perfect match.”

At hearing his name, Barley snorted and turned his head toward Braeburn. Applejack chuckled and rubbed his mane. “You’re darn right. That’s why we’re gonna win today, isn’t that right, Bar?”

Braeburn clicked his tongue and rubbed Pongo’s nose before gesturing for Applejack to go in the house. “Here, I’ll watch em. You go grab Mac. Either he’s inside or out back havin’ a smoke, I bet.”

“Unfortunately,” Applejack drawled with a slight frown, “I think you’re right.” She shook her head and hopped up the porch stairs. “I’ll gettim. Be back quicker’n two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”

“I’m countin’ on it!”

Applejack entered the house. She smiled at its inviting warmth. The fire crackled in the fireplace as soft chattering filled the air. The blonde waved to the pir of women sitting side by side on the love seat, sipping coffee and already dressed for the day.

Competition days were always Applejack’s favourite. She always wore her hat, but competition day made it standard and necessary, which was a nice bonus. Plus, she loved her rodeo shirts as much as she loved her everyday wear. It was always the thrill and adrenaline of competing that spoke to her though.

All of her events were adrenaline filled and short, which was exactly the type of thing she loved doing. Applejack buzzed as she burst into the kitchen, only to be greeted by Apple Crumble and Apple Cinnamon but no Big Mac.

“Hey, any of you seen Mac?” Applejack asked, unsure of where either of her siblings were.

Apple Cinnamon nodded and pointed behind him with a thumb. “Sure, he’s out back.”

Applejack groaned. “Don’t tell me he’s out takin’ a drag.”

“Naw, he’s with yer sister. Says he don’t smoke around her,” the shorter young man explained.

“Well at least there’s that,” Applejack sighed. She shrugged and tipped her hat. “Thanks, y’all. I’ll see ya in a bit.”

“Sure thing! In case, good luck with your events.”

Applejack grinned and stepped outside, where sure enough, Big Mac and a miserably sleepy looking Apple Bloom were. Big Mac turned to her and waved, while Apple Bloom lagged behind. The younger girl held a bright blue lasso in her droopy hands.

“Applejack!” Apple Bloom called, perking up despite her tired expression. “Look, Mac was helpin’ me lasso better. Watch!” She held the lasso tightly in one hand before giving it a few spins above her and tossing it in front of her at a log. The lasso fell effortlessly over it as she pulled and tightened the rope around it. The log did not move as Apple Bloom tugged. “See! I can do it with my other hand now, too!”

“That’s great!” Applejack congratulated her. She walked next to her little sister and shook her shoulder gently. “You’re gettin’ real good at lassoin’. Once we get back home, I’ll help ya brush up on yer barrel racin’, if ya want.”

Apple Bloom perked up instantly and nodded, smiling widely. “Yeah! Please! I wanna be just like you, sis! I’m still not as tight on my turns or anythin’, so I’ll definitely need some practice with that.”

“Sure thing, Bloom. You an’ Megan’ll be the best horse-rider team in your age group this time next season, I reckon,” Applejack told her with a proud smile. “Hell, I might just retire early so you don’t kick my ass in competition!”

Language,” Big Mac grunted as Applejack rolled her eyes.

Apple Bloom ran to the log and slid the lasso from it, loosening the knot. “Naw, I don’t want you to retire,” she protested. “We’re supposed to make a ropin’ duo when I get older, remember?”

Putting her hands on her hips, Applejack chuckled. “Yeah, I reckon I remember that. Now, Bloom you rest up a bit or somethin’. Don’t wear yer arms out before your event, alright?”

Apple Bloom nodded, hooking the rope around her shoulder. “Eeyup! Me. Candy an’ Crumble was supposed to watch some TV before we go. I’ll see y’all in a bit then!” She smiled as she ran back into the house, leaving the older siblings alone together.

Big Mac sighed and shook his head. “I really wish ya wouldn’t curse ‘round her,” he muttered.

“Aw, don’t get yer britches in a twist, Mac,” she argued. “Bloom’s plenty old enough to hear it. Now, ‘course I ain’t sayin’ she should be sayin’ curse words, but ya think she don’t already hear ‘em?”

The stoic man shrugged and grunted. “I guess.”

“Exactly,” Applejack drawled out. “Now, c’mon, Brae wants to go on a ride. Though, I guess we shoulda brought yer horse, too.” With a half frown, she tapped her chin. “Come to think of it, we shoulda saddled up our horses before we came.”

“Ain’t y’all afraid of tirin’ ‘em out?”

Applejack snorted. “C’mon, Mac. You know Barley’s stamina’s insane.”

“Well, you know him more than I do, AJ. So what events do ya have today?”

Applejack began their walk around the house to the front. Big Mac fell in stride next to her. “Barrel racin’ an’ breakaway.”

“Ah, at least he won’t be long, then.”

“Exactly,” she agreed. “He’s doin’ really good today. Seems real happy.”

Big Mac opened the backyard door and let Applejack through. “That’s good.”

“What events do you have today?”

Big Mac grunted in thought. “Bull-ridin’ an’ bulldoggin’.”

“Hoo-wee,” Applejack exclaimed with a whistle. “You sure are takin’ a toll today. Gonna be alright for tomorrow?”

“Sure,” Big Mac said with a shrug. “Tomorrow’s just tie-down, at least.”

“So you ain’t doin’ bareback this time?”

Big Mac shook his head. “Naw, I’m still a bit sore from last time,” he explained. “That ol’ Jumper threw me down hard.”

Applejack nodded as Braeburn waved them over, rubbing both of the steed’s noses. They approached the lean man, Big Mac holding out a hand for a high five. Braeburn gladly gave it to him.

“Hey Mac. We didn’t bring yer horse,” Braeburn stated.

“I know.”

“See ya at the stables then!” Braeburn teased as he motioned for Applejack to jump on her horse. Applejack snickered and jumped onto Barley effortlessly. The horse whinnied under her as she patted him on the neck and urged him to gallop. The pair followed Pongo and Braeburn, whooping and laughing at Big Mac who trudged behind them.

~~~~🍎~~~~

“Come on boy. Loosen up, Bar,” Applejack muttered. “This’ll be easy as pie, I promise.”

Barley pranced around from side to side. His hooves dug into the hard earth beneath them as he nickered in response. Applejack smiled and patted the side of his neck. “It’ll be just like every other competition, boy,” she reassured her horse. “Nothin’ new. And you’re all loose and limber from earlier, right? It’s our last event, and we won those.”

Barley whinnied anxiously.

“It’s just you an’ me,” Applejack whispered into her horse’s ear. Barley sputtered, but his pacing lessened. The announcer’s voice, though incomprehensible through Applejack’s mental wall, sufficed to warn her of her turn. Gloved hands tightened their grip around the reins as she took a deep breath. “Just you an’ me.”

The background noise faded as Applejack took a deep breath, steadying herself on the saddle. Strawberry must have just had her sprint home if her whooping by the holding stables said anything. She couldn’t quite catch the time, but it must have been good if it warranted that response. Barley impatiently trotted in place as the faint sound of the crowd cheering broke through Applejack’s barrier. It made that familiar chill run up her spine once more.

“Applejack on her quarter horse Barley!”

That was the cue. Applejack lashed the reins, all the while giving Barley an encouraging kick to the flank. The horse responded instantly, taking the time to sidestep a few feet forward before bursting out into a gallop, making it past the sensor that would start their time at near full speed.

Applejack smiled as the adrenaline set in. She stood slightly on her stirrups, holding the rein in one hand and firmly patting Barley on the shoulder with the other. The horse lowered his head in time with Applejack’s lean forward as they approached the first barrel. Time slowed down as Applejack let out a deep breath, tightening her legs around Barley’s flank.

Tight turn, boy, she thought, feeling Barley’s thundering hooves beneath her. Specks of dirt flew by her at half speed as she raised her hand to her hat, pressing it down on her head before pulling Barley’s rein to the direction they had to turn. Just like we practiced.

Everything caught up to her as the slow motion roaring in her ears returned to the regular crowd support and the sound of hooves against the arena dirt floor. Applejack leaned into Barley, securing herself in the stirrups as the horse made the tight turn. It was about the cleanest one he had done that entire season, sending a smile onto her face as they straightened out, readying themselves for the next part of the cloverleaf pattern.

Applejack urged Barley on, making sure not to spur him yet. She bounced in her stirrups perfectly on time with Barley’s gait, making sure the short sprint to the next barrel was nothing short of efficient. Her mind went completely blank and the world around her disappeared. It was only her, Barley, and the next barrel. Her grip tightened as the horse’s gallop changed a bit. Applejack gritted her teeth.

It wasn’t enough to throw off their speed by much, but it was enough to make their approach to the second barrel a slight bit different. Barrel racing was a game of milliseconds; that much Applejack had learned from her years in the sport.

She tightened her legs around Barley’s flank, patting him on the neck. Something had spooked him a little bit, but she wouldn’t let that deter them. She couldn’t. “It’s okay, boy,” she whispered. Her gloved hand rubbed his neck as she urged him on. The barrel approached, and she narrowed her eyes, pulling the reins tightly to force him to tighten the turn. Her knee grazed the barrel, but it didn’t fall over. Barley shook his head resentfully as Applejack pulled him back on the path. It was a bit sloppy, but not their worst turn.

At least there’s only one last one to go, she reasoned. Applejack kicked her feet against Barley, not sure why the horse was so worked up all of a sudden. Maybe he’s tired. “C’mon, Bar, hold out,” she muttered, mashing the rein as she usually did at that point, though this time, she held on with both hands.

Barley raced to the last barrel. It was the final turn, then the sprint back home. Applejack leaned forward on her stirrups, her boots barely in the frame. She bounced in her saddle, watching the barrel grow closer and closer. With both hands, she forced Barley to turn. Dig in, dig in! The turn was tight, although… wrong.

Barley’s hooves caught in the dirt, sending loose soil flying everywhere. Reflexively, Applejack pulled on the reins, but that only served to rile up Barley more as he stopped suddenly and slipped all at once. It happened too fast. One minute, they were making the sloppiest turn, and the next Applejack flew off her saddle over Barley’s shoulder and watched him rear and wildly trot around.

Bronco riding instincts kicked in instantly. Despite the pain shooting up her body from where she had face-planted near the barrel, Applejack scrambled to all fours from her spot on the ground and moved as far away from her spooked horse as possible. Barley stomped down and whinnied, bucking like a bronco around the barrel that had been knocked over at some point. The blonde heaved, catching her breath as she got to her feet and backtracked to the metal fencing outlining the field.

Not a moment too late, two men on horses trotted in, each flanking Barley, forcing the horse to slow down and relax. Applejack watched, the adrenaline slowly ebbing. Barley reared weakly one more time before a nearby bullfighter jumped into the ring and calmed the horse down, leading him back to the stalls.

Finally, everything caught up to her. Like a wave, a dull ache coursed through her body from being thrown off her horse. She hadn’t been able to brace for impact because she had never been thrown off by Barley, especially not while barrel racing. Clutching on to the fence, Applejack held her head, pushing her hat onto her head as she groaned in frustration.

Her hand slammed on the white metal, the glove’s fabric dulling the noise. “Damn it,” she muttered angrily. Her eyes drifted back to the timer which had been paused as she fell off. 11.37. All things considered, she was on track to get a good time. What the hell happened?

One of the bullfighters approached her on a spotty appaloosa. As he got closer, Applejack noticed it was actually her cousin Braeburn, though she should have noticed right away. He and Pongo paused in front of her. “Woah, hey, you okay?” he asked, concerning edging his features.

Applejack frowned, wiping dirt off her face and doing her best to dust off her clothes. Despite herself, she nodded. “Just fine. Hey, how’d Macky do earlier? I didn’t get to catch it.”

“He did good. I think he won,” Braeburn told her with a grin. “At least for bull ridin’, not sure bout bulldoggin’, though. I think they’re doin’ that right now over at the other place.”

“Oh, that’s good,” Applejack muttered with a slow nod. “Hope he gets it.”

“Yeah. Well anyway, med team’s gotta check ya for a concussion or somethin’,” he explained, tugging his horse back around for Applejack to follow. “Ya flew pretty hard into the ground.”

Applejack chuckled, pushing the frustration of ruining her biggest shot down. She took off her gloves and rubbed under her nose. She felt wetness smudge on her skin and looked down to see blood. She sighed and looked back at her cousin. “So, bar tonight?”

Author's Note:

We’re finally building up to the entire point of the story. I’m so excited!

Y’know, after a conversation I had last night with some of my other writer buds, I almost wanted to call this chapter something different, but I decided it would be more appropriate for the next chapter ;)

Poor Applejack. Had her big shot and messed it up. Oh well, she always has game day day two, right?