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An' They Call the Thing a Rodeo! (Attn: Steel)

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The train ride to Appaloosa was proving to be hot, dusty and dry... just the way AJ liked it! Nothing got her in the mood for a rodeo the way the traditional train ride did. As it was the farm mare was tryin' her darndest to keep her mind on the upcoming Equestria Grand Classic Appoloosa Rodeo and not on matters that kept rearing their head. 

 

She leaned back in her seat and took in a deep breath. The latest turn of events in her saga with Rarity had not gone exactly according to plan. That certainly irked AJ as she was used to things going the way she planned. Her plans may have been a bit round about at time but they never seemed to fail! Until this most recent debacle that happened to be a matter of the heart... or hearts as the case may be. That was yet to be known. Yet to be known s despite herself the intrepid orange mare had not been able to lay her feelings on the line in front of her one and only love.

 

Still not sure if she'd ever be able to get there, AJ had invited her long time friend out to Appaloosa for the event. Some parts of the rustic town she knew did not quite fit Rarity's refined tastes but there was a certain nostalgia about the town, a certain vintage charm, that the unicorn did hold a kinship for. She had been to see Applejack perform in rodeos here before all the way back to the first Grand Classic AJ had ever competed in. It always bolstered the farm mare's heart to have her closest friend there to support her. Today though, it did little calm calm her rapid pulse. Adding her new found feelings to the situation did nothing to soothe her. That didn't mean that she wasn't super excited to have her there!

 

All the way to Appaloosa, AJ had been trying her best to act her regular honest self with her unicorn friend. It succeeded for the most part because Apple Bloom had come along with them. Having her sister around grounded AJ back in reality. Kept her out of her head on the romantics she felt for the unicorn.

 

"Looks like we're almost there!" Abby bounded up on the seat next to AJ, startling her big sister of of her reveries. "Hi can't wait tah see Little Strongheart! She promised me she'd come see me next time I was in town!" The filly peered out the window intently. "Can't see any buffalo yet... but I bet they're out there!"

 

"Huh huh! Cool yerself there little sis! Hi'm sure she'll be happy to see you too but that don't mean you should shake the train off it's tracks with all yer bouncin' around!" She patted her sister fondly on the head.

 

"I wonder where Rarity got to?"  She glanced around. "She went to the little filly's room a while ago an' we're almost at the station," 

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Rarity was an expert by trade and passion in many areas of her life, but one area she had mastered through harsh and embarrassing experience was the art of applying makeup on a train. Being Equestria's primary mode of long-transport, and Rarity being a mare of far-flung business desires and a friend to many important and active ponies across the nation, meant that she had been on a train a great many times. It was considered untoward to arrive to an event without having her necessary duty to prepare herself, yet for years the trials and tribulations of makeup application on trains were stories told breathlessly in the dens and high living rooms of the Equestrian elite, no doubt on her account. Luckily she had grown experienced and had several little strategies to help her in this very important task. She only applied the makeup on the straightaway portions of the ride, which generally meant near the start or end of the ride. She applied the makeup magically so as to reduce the impact of a bump. Finally, Rarity ensured that should would be extra vigilant and take her time to make certain that if she were to hear a bump she would have the time to withdraw before making a mess.

She took it seriously, but only because she knew her friend was taking her own work today seriously. Of course she wasn't so certain that a rodeo would classify as work in the traditional sense, even if many of the so-called games were based on skills needed to run their farms. That wasn't entirely important however. Ponies competed in it, it became sport, and some ponies took their sporting rather seriously. Applejack was one of them. She was a well-known rodeo champion of Ponyville, having won nearly every event and contest that was offered locally. Her pace slowed when she failed to bring home the blue from the Equestria Rodeo Competition, so it was good to see her getting back on schedule. Ever since Rarity was a filly she knew she could count on three things in Ponyville life: Her parents traveling, her fashions improving, and Applejack winning the rodeo. While it was not an activity she was herself enamored with she knew full well how much it meant to Applejack, and was pleased to be invited to the Appleloosan Rodeo, part of the Equestrian Grand Classic series.
 

Not that she intended to completely forego good sense and styling. She wasn't a mare who would normally dare to dress too 'western' or 'rural'. She preferred the terms of well-weathered and rustic herself! Be that as it may, she wasn't coming here to look anything but her best for her good friend. She wore a white feather in her mane and a dark red saloon dress with upper chest v-cuts, shoulder fluff, a choker, and a nice set of lacies on her four fetlocks atop silk-laden shoes. Very much western saloon mare, though without all the extra pomp and circumstance that came with the floof skirt. Indeed, as she went to and fro in Equestria's frontier regions, she saw that the saloon mares had the most exciting fashions about them. She finished the nice ensemble with eyeliner, mascara, and dirt-resisting creams. She looked and felt amazing, and she could only hope that Applejack could take the proper encouragement from the effort she was putting into her outfit.
 

Put in that same effort Applejack and you are bound to win!
 

Checking herself in the private mare's room once more, she breathed a contented sigh and put her makeup and accessories away. She did a small twirl and then tittered. "Divine!" She thought to herself before facing the door. She counted to three and then pushed it open, sauntering into their cabin with a pep in her step. "Rarity. Is. Ready!" She said, striking a pose and winking at Applejack, holding it for a second before letting go of the pose and smiling. "I can't wait to see you perform, Applejack. I made sure to put in as much effort in how I appeared as I expect you to put into your performance! Ha ha- quite good, if I say so myself!" She said as she twirled once, the train coming to a slow roll.

 

"Appleloosa Station, all stop at Appleloosa Station!" 

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"Lan sakes!" Applejack auto responded when Rarity made her entrance and struck a pose. She was...well she was stunning! But she couldn't say that, could she? Well, she sure coulda back in the days a'fore her feelings for the unicorn always seemed to overwhelm her good common sense.  Instead she made a quintasential farm mare response of surprise then sat there with her jaw slightly dropped for a moment.

 

"Wowee Rarity!" Applebloom bounded up to the lovely unicorn and trotted around her in a circle to fully admire the gitup. Abby was no fashion lover but she knew style and class when she saw it. Well, spending time with Rarity had rubbed some fashion sense into her perhaps. "You sure do look the part of a full blown Appaloosa celebrity!" She smiled up at Rarity and then over to Applejack.

 

"Uhhhh...Applejack?" Her little sister questioned since AJ was still frozen with her mouth slightly agape. "Don't you uh, think Rarity looks good?"

 

Applejack shook her head, clearing the momentary fog of feels, and jumped up from her seat. 

 

"Yessiree Abby," AJ looked out the window briefly to compose herself as the train entered the station. "Rarity looks like a uh," She gulped, calming her nerves. Preparing for a Grand Equestrian rodeo and having Rarity with her was a lot to handle emotionally. "She looks like a million bits!" She felt her cheeks blush but thankfully it subsided quickly as the train platform came into view and along with it, a certain Appaloosian cousin.

 

"Cousin Braeburn!" Applebloom shouted with excitement as the train rolled to a stop and the doors were opened. She looked at her sister.

 

"Heh heh," Applejack chortled at her sister's enthusiasm. "I'll git the bags Abby. Go say hi to our cousin!" She smiled at Rarity. "I'll make a second trip for your bags too Rarity. Go on ahead with Braeburn, I'll catch up!"

 

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"Well well well!" Braeburn whinnied happily and reared up on his hind legs as Applebloom ran up to him. "Look what the tumbleweed tumbled into town!" He got down on Abby's level and smiled broadly at her. "Hi there cousin Applebloom!" Then he looked up and noticed Rarity. She looked absolutely stunning as she made her way off the train. Brae didn't exactly have a thing for mares but he could still admire her obvious good looks. He trotted up to her and removed his hat, making a western leg to her. "Good day to you lady Rarity! Welcome to Appaloosa!"

 

Applejack used the couple of moment to herself as composure time. She knew there wouldn't be much of it now that they were in town. She picked up her and Abby's bags and tossed them onto her back.

 

"Alright now girl," She spoke quietly to herself. "Yah gotta keep yer head in the game all the way. No more o' this messin' with how yah feel about a certain unicorn," She placed the bags on the platform and went back for Rarity's multiple carry on and full size luggage bags. 

 

"Hi know yer heart's in a tizzy and what not but yah gotta get yer head in control," She hefted a couple bags onto her back and took the last two carry on size ones in her muzzle. After dropping them gently onto the platform she nodded at a job well done. "Remember, no more silly notions..." She glanced up at the unicorn as she spoke to Braeburn. This might prove to be something he couldn't reason her way out of, but she'd try her best! "Rarity's here to support yah as a friend an' nothin' more." She nodded once to herself, firm on her game plan. Well, as firm as she could be. 

 

"Howdy Braeburn!" She called out as she trotted up to her cousin. "We sure are glad to see yah!" She noted that a courier pony had put their bags on a cart and would bring them to their hotel, The Grand Desert Rose. "You remember Rarity a'course?" Another small blush as she reintroduced her friend. 

 

"Yep, I rightly do!" He glanced at his cousin quizzically for a moment before moving on. "Uhhh, Y'all hungry or should we head straight for the Grand Rodeo Grounds? Show don't start until tomorrow mornin' but I'm sure yer itchin' to get a look around the stompin' grounds eh cousin?"

 

AJ Glanced at Rarity, unsure of what she'd like to do first.

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Rarity held her tongue for a while, though she was intimately familiar with the sort of shock and awe she could have on certain types of ponies. Indeed, it was hard for her to walk the streets of Manehattan at times when she had made sure to dress her best and attract attention to her shop. She loved it. Fashion was all about making a statement and she always made sure the statements she made were heard loud and clear and with nothing to stop her. How ponies reacted also became statements of their own. Applejack's statement was...a little more than confusing, if she had to be perfectly honest. She'd seen Rarity dress like this before, hadn't she? Had to be a good sign then. She must really have outdone herself on this design!

“Why thank you, Apple Bloom. I certainly do feel, how does the phrase go, like a million bits at the saloon,” she said with a laugh, throwing back her mane. “Which is how well I expect Applejack to feel after she wins today's Rodeo. Any other fine competitors today, or are you the belle of this roughhousing brawl?” She said with some satisfaction. Pinkie Pie may have been the pony with the perfect puns but rarity found time in her articulation and sophistication to slip in a few of her own from time to time. The train had by now come to a complete halt, and Applejack had offered to get their bags. How considerate! “Oh, that would be delightful Applejack. Thank you so very much. Don't pull any muscles now, don't want to see you sidelines when this should be your moment of glory!” She intoned as a pair of designer sunglasses found their position on her head, and she trotted out into the Appleloosan countryside.

Like many western towns on the old Equestrian frontier, it had a rustic charm about it that was vanishing from the rest of the developing nation. The hard work, dedication, and risk it took to survive and thrive out here were leaps and bounds ahead of anywhere else. While such ponies were not as rare as they used to be, what with Equestria growing larger and her borders expanding by the day, the fact they were so different only made it feel all the more appealing. The dichotomy was as wondrous as the fact that the town mimicked Equestria; every time she visited, she saw new faces, new building, new businesses, and new signs of growth. Had a designer settled here? If not, well, Fashion For You certainly shared the same expansionist ethos...

That was later. For now, she had a very enthusiastic stallion to greet. “Braeburn!” she said warmly, giving Applejack's cousin a hug and a friendly kiss on both cheeks in greeting. “How have you been? It certainly looks like Appleloosa is growing quickly. No doubt thanks to your excellent Apple family apple orchards!” she said as she looked around. Of course it was a bit of flattery, some theater, but It was true. Appleloosa wasn't famous for much else aside from its tart apples and being the only town in traditionally Buffalo territory. Only one of them was something the town could honestly benefit from. It wasn't the friendly Buffalo tribes who still had their own land, that was for certain. Hmm, why didn't they have any Buffalo students at the School of Friendship? It would seem only natural, no? She'd have to ask Twilight about that.

The topic soon shifted as to what they wanted to do. For Rarity, the answer was rather simple, so thank heavens the burden of decision making had fallen on her supple frame. “Oh, I haven't had a bite to eat in a while, but I do believe we need to get Applejack all squared away as it were. I'd hate for the time to fly and for us to miss some important doo-dad or another on account of our ravenous appetites. Isn't that right, Applejack?” She poked her friend with a smile, both of them fully aware that Applejack's intense eating habits before competition were warranted, indulgent, and time-consuming activities all the same.

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Braeburn looked to Applejack as Rarity offered the farm mare a chance to look around the rodeo grounds before going for grub. "Well then cousin, it appears the lovely lady wishes you the chance to git yer rodeo grounds fix a'fore we strap on the feed bags!" He reared up with enthusiasm. "Great to have y'all here in Aaaaapoloosa!"

 

Abby trotted forward, leading the way. Her eyes were fixed ahead, glancing back and forth. "Where's Little Strongheart? She said she'd be around the day before the rodeo started..." She fixed on something out in the distance. It looked like a cloud of dust coming over the rise of the hills just outside of town. She turned back towards the others. "I think the buffalo are here!" She smiled broadly and trotted a bit more ahead.

 

Applejack was happy to have so many distractions around! Getting into town, meeting her cousin, greeting the soon coming buffalo... yep, enough to get a mare's mind off her heart! Well, at least for a little while. She's just have to do her best to act normal and not get all funny around a certain beautifully dressed unicorn. 

 

"Hey Braeburn?" She questioned the stallion. "Have the buffalo been coming to town much lately?" 

 

We cocked his head for just a moment as they continued on down one  of Appaloosa's two main roads. "Well, they come around often enough cuz." She seemed to be acting a little odd. He'd have to ask her later what was up.

 

Soon they were at the rodeo grounds. Ponies bustled everywhere! Cleaning the grandstands and hanging decorations, raking the main arena, stacking bales, generally taking care of everything it took to host a Grand Equestrian Rodeo! The buffalo rolled onto the scene, snorting and blowing. Some of the adults took to speaking to ponies while one certain young buffalo made her way to Applebloom.

 

"Little Strongheart!" The filly trotted up to her friend.

 

"Applebloom!" The brave young buffalo embraced the filly warmly. "We were stampeding the trails not far from here and I knew it would be the perfect time to meet you! Wow!" She glanced at Rarity whose clothing stood out enough to draw Strongheart's eye. "Who is that?"

 

"Rarity!" Applebloom called to the unicorn and waved cheerily. "Little Strongheart wants a look at her fancy gitup!"

 

Applejack trotted around, getting herself adjusted to the place. Tomorrow she'd be proving herself here. She'd take home the blue in all the events she'd entered! Barrel weave, bale toss, rope pull, lasso skills, yep! This was her rodeo! If she could keep her mind on the prize! She made her way up to Abby and Little Strongheart, happy to see the young buffalo.

 

"Well glad to see you could make it Little Strongheart! Your family looks like they're doing well!" She glanced about noting the buffalo were getting ready to be on their way. "You gonna be able to stick around?"

 

"Yes! My father is letting me stay here for the next few days. He wants me to experience a real rodeo!" She smiled and then gasped at Rarity's outfit. "Beautiful!" Little Strongheart was always excited to learn what she could of pony culture.

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Rarity could see the look of concern on Braeburn's face and when Applejack wasn't looking gave one of her own, shared between cousin and friend alike. Applejack had been a little unusual lately. She was normally as stiff and straight as a well-made ironing board but truth be told she had been anything but lately. She seemed to lack confidence and to perceive things in a more sensitive, not entirely helpful manner recently. Where once she was an immovable rock of certainty she had become that only in the facade she generated, as underneath it all a soft and vulnerable core had been exposed without cause.
It hadn't had an improper effect just yet so she had not entirely broached the subject, as it would be uncouth to probe too far into her friend's unknowable depths. She would wait and be there for when Applejack felt the need to open up. Until then, Rarity would operate as Rarity would operate, which was as the very height of sophistication and class.

Little Strongheart arrived with sound and fury becoming of her powerful people. Luckily she came to a stop far enough away that a tidal wave of dirt hadn't found purchase on her fineries, not that she expected such luck to continue. This town was considered to be on the dusty trails for a reason, after all! Apple Bloom called her over and she bounded up to the pair of them, who seemed to be awfully excited to see one another. Rarity hadn't been aware of anypony keeping in especially close contact with Little Strongheart or, indeed, anypony...who...loo?...else in the tribe, but if anypony would, it would be Apple Bloom. She had a suitably agreeable and kind personality and was very outgoing. A good friend for Sweetie Belle, that was for certain.

“Oh, this?” She smiled and did a twirl, then gave a confident laugh. “Just something I made to help fit in out here in frontier, roughing it as they say! How have you been, Little Strongheart? My word you seem to have grown since we last met. How is your father, dear?”

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