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Hard Knocks (Ponyville)


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Applerich Stadium was the newest feature in Ponyville's burgeoning landscape. It wasn't as big as some of the giant stadiums that occupied the larger cities of Equestria but it was a big as Appleloosa's stadium and much grander in intent. It could host any number of sports and events than just the local buckball team and the ponies (and town) behind it had attracted quite a lot of attention. It was built on Rich family land and while the Apple family had no direct hand in its funding, it shared their name on account of the historically close ties between the family. That same connection meant that when the stadium was announced it was quickly feted by many events. From the Heartland Wrestling Federation and the Equestrian Buckball Association to the Heartland Hoofball Alliance and Canterlot Football Conference, many large and famous organizations wanted to use it. It was going to be well-used by the local Buckball team and Schoolastic Teams (should they ever exist, Chancellor!) and a legion of smaller events. But who was gonna be the first?

 

Turned out it was the National Rugby League, who had made a bold move by signing some local talent ages ago to try and secure the spot. Most teams in the League were barnstormers. A few professionals who traveled around playing games by, at best, a loose schedule, supported by locals and temporary players. One such team was The Roundbottom Roughriders, a mainstay in the Heartland who often traveled to and through Ponyville and had a healthy rivalry with the Bucephalus Buccaneers, who also laid claim to the area Ponyville. It was known for having ponies with good, strong hooves and strong backs who could outwork most others. A nice solid place to pickup some supporting pieces for better players. And there was one mare who they had both signed at different times. Often times for a few games to be played in Ponyville. On rare occasions, for a short timed stint. They never regretted signing her, only that she allowed the seasons to determine when and where she'd play- that and family matters, in any case. So when she agreed to play for the Roughriders months before the stadium's opening, it was enough to get the Mayor to decree that the first event to take place in Applerich Stadium was Applejack's return game: The Roundbottom Roughriders vs the Bucephalus Buccaneers.

 

She played no less than ten games before then and she had never felt better. She had been Ponyville's premiere athlete her whole life, after all. She was as fast and swift as the crack of a whip, as enduring as the mountains and rough as leather. She could kick the dang ball from near across the whole field and then some: Nopony could stop the Roughriders from scoring at least a goal kick when she was playing, but her strength and pure power meant she would much rather cream somepony and run her way down the field for more. The first few games were just on the radio. Some real scrub teams that the Roughriders walked all over. Then they started to face stiffer and stiffer competition, real tough customers. A rainy affair near the Velvet Strand with a reporter able to snap pictures was cable to catch Applejack dragging no less than four others in for a game winning score moments before the game ended. And her heroics against the Cloudsdale Steelwings were heard across the Heartlands, as she was responsible for every game in the second half en-route to a thrilling come from behind victory.

By the time the Roughriders made their way to Ponyville to face the Bucs- who had toured the Strand and faced some top dollar teams to prepare- Applejack was one of the brightest stars in the sporting constellation.


Just ask her family.

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"That is the end of the first half with the score the Roundbottom Roughriders 20 and the Bucephalus Buccaneers 15!" Said the announcer over the stadium's loudspeaker, which could be barely heard over the excitement of the crowd. Applejack had ended the half by drop-kicking the ball for three just as time was expiring. She was also responsible for an earlier drop kick and both after-try kicks, as well as a legion of hard hits. The fact the Bucs were so keyed up on her meant she was able to get the ball to the stallions who scored both tries, to boot. Yep, she was having a heck of a game and it showed. Her mane was damp with sweat- though compared to others she was as dry as a flower in a heat wave- and she had no few cuts and bruises, but she was no worse for wear than the others.
The teams broke for their respective locker rooms for the half, but she made sure to first trot to the 'home' side's stands, where the first row was placed just a few hooves lengths above the stadium ground. It wasn't the VIP seats that ringed the top of the stadium behind glass enclosures but it was close enough for Applejack to get what she wanted, which was some time with her family before she had to head in. They were seated front row you betcha, right next to the tunnel. She trotted there and even jumped up so she was on the railing next to her family.

 

"Woo-eeee! Talk about a tough team but it's a lot of fun. How y'all handlin' it out here? 'joying tha game?" She asked, beaming with pride at her work for the day as she searched for some hay fries. There better be some hay fries.

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Ambrosia was not the sort of pony who understood sports all that well.  Just a little filly, after all, and not the sort of filly that her mama was when she was Amby's age.  Nope, Ambrosia Apple was a frilly filly, all in love with things soft, pretty, and frou-frou fancy.  But she also loved her mama, and when momma wanted her family to cheer her on, she would be in the field, cheering momma.  Nopony was telling her to be quiet, after all.

"Woohoo!  Go momma!"  Now, if she were quizzed on where momma was going, or why, or what that whole bally business with the ball was, she'd just smile cutely and shrug.  But all her family was cheering and happy, so she'd be cheering and happy!  And when AJ came up for halftime, she would see her daughter's beaming face.  "You great, momma!  But you're sweaty."  Momma seemed to like being sweaty, but Ambrosia could never understand it.  Sweat was icky and salty and made the dust stick to you, but at least it made the baths after all that much better.  Especially if momma was helping to wash you, and singing bathtub songs!

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Zap understood the game very well. There were only a few rules. Rule 1: Roughriders were the best team. Not only the best team, but had the best player on the best team. Rule 2: Mom was the best player. There were some actors on the field wearing different colored jerseys that sometimes pretended to be the best, but there was only one true best, even if Mom didn't show it. On rare occasions, the other team would score against the best team with the best player. Zap never did fret too much about this because...  Rule 3: If the Roughriders lose or get scored against, it's not Mom's fault. The only thing Zap didn't understand about this game was why it took eighty minutes to determine what he could tell you in eight seconds, that Mom was the best player and that she would carry the Roughriders to victory.

 

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"Eeyup!" Big Mac started in reply to answer Applejack's question that they were doing fine. He also held up a small basket of hay fries, some of which was already eaten by the little ones the big brother was watching over. Despite his chill demeanor, Big Mac loved watching the younger members of the family when the other adults could not. But it didn't happen very often, seeing as how Apple Bloom loved to volunteer to watch her niece and nephew. But also, thought he didn't show it much, he was a fan of rugby and was interested in even playing, but seeing as how somepony in the family was already better than him (again), he might as well support her from the sidelines the same way he would at rodeos.

 

 

Zap jumped excitedly as she walked over to them. "Wow, Mom! You're doing so great. You should kick all the balls into the goal! Also number forty seven on the other team looked at you funny. You should beat him!" Zap stopped his insistent bouncing to grab a hay fry and once he was finished doing so, he started bouncing again. Zap was wearing a light blue roughriders jersey that was most likely donated to him because no one on the team could fit a jersey that small.

 

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What a day! RD was pumped as also totally chillin'! She'd gotten the day off training the new recruits at the Wonderbolt academy to be here for this awesome event. AJ was way good at all sports but none more so than rugby. The elements of the sport were perfectly suited to the well muscled and level headed mare. She was ferociously competitive and had the stamina of an all day buffalo stampede! 

 

RD had of course spent the first like, at least twenty minutes of the match exclaiming to any other pony that would listen that the star player was her wife. The pegasus was super proud and happy to be coupled with pretty much the best sports pony in all of Equestria. When the first half was over RD had been on the edge of her seat, rooting on the final points scored by her mare in the first half. 

 

She had some idea of how rugby was played though not the finer points of it. It was certainly not a sport for a pegasus like her. She was strong yeah, but hardly sturdy enough to withstand the blows one would receive out there on the rugby field. She had snagged a couple hay fries and had elbowed Big Mac numerous time when AJ had made awesome plays. She'd ruffled Amby's forelocks (which she didn't t like but tolerated from her other mother) and of course spent time paling around with Zappers.

 

"Nice moves out there hot stuff!" She winked at her flushed and sweaty mare. "No pony's got a candle to you on the whole field! And way to score right at the buzzer!"

 

She wasn't sure she was using correct rugby terms for anything but that was ok, she was supportive and present and having a fun day with her family. 

 

"Zappers and I are totes impressed aren't we big guy?" She smiled at the bouncing colt in the light blue jersey. 

 

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Her daughter said something terrifyingly accurate. "Ah am?" She said as she swiped her head and then took a dramatic whiff of herself, then made a grossly exaggerated face with her tongue out. "Peee-ewww! Ah guess ah am. Gonna have ta clean up real good when Ah get outta here," she picked her daughter up and gave her a big kiss. "Maybe get one of those nice smelling perfumes," she said, always threatening to take Ambrosia's favorite perfumes. Only when she acted like she didn't want it would Ambrosia give in. Sometimes. She adored the persnicketiness of her first daughter as much as she adored Zap's spunk!

 

Her brother was as consistent as always and as she placed Ambrosia down she made sure to snag some hay fries, giving her colt a little hoof-bump on the way out. "Thanks a bundle, Big Mac. Ah'm famished! These fellas don't know when ta quit, do they?" She said with a laugh. He'd make a good Rugby player. The game was all about physicality and he was as physical as they come. Of course he had a certain gentleness to him that made him a little less than perfect in sports, but no matter that. She'd have to drag him into the pitch one day. Speaking of dragging somecreature, she felt the same about that Bucs player. He had a mean eye to him and a quick hoof, and did a lot in those scrums that she didn't find all that fair. She'd got a good hit in, though. She tossed her mane back and puffed out her chest. "Well, he's just jealous that Ah got tha best family ever and all he has is his stinky river team," she said with not a hint of a joke or irony. Why that, when you spoke nothing but truth? "Keep up that good eye and one day you'll be out there too, Ah reckon," she said with all the confidence that a mother could muster.

 

As she stuffed her face full of fries she made sure to lean in and lean on her wife. "You ain't seen nothin' yet, flygirl. Ah'm just testin' theme. Second half?" She stamped her hoof on the metal railing, creating a loud bang as she winked. "Ah'm going to stampede allllll over their tired flanks! An-'" she tried to continue before a small tap on her one of her back hooves. She looked- it was the coach, who nodded to the tunnel. Applejack rubbed the back of her neck.


"Alright, guess Ah can't spend tha whole break chatting y'all up. Stay safe out here an' get some cider, it's part of tha tab!" She said as she hugged them all once more, ruffling her kids' manes as she hugged them at once. While hugging them, she made sure to whisper. "Tell Dashie ta root harder, Ah can only *just* hear her over the roar of the crowd!" She said with faux sadness before releasing them and leaping off and into the tunnel.

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~Ambrosia Apple~

 

Amby giggled and clapped her little hooves together when momma came by.  She always did in these games, which was why the little Filly was willing to go to them.  They weren't just watching AJ, they were spending time with orange-mama.  She giggled at the exaggerated display of scent, quickly turning into a pout when she threatened her perfume.  "Get you own, momma.  They was gift from blue-momma!"  Rainbow might not have hung out with her as much as with Zappers, but the pegasus still knew how to give nice gifts.

 

Speaking of RD... some fillies might have been disgusted to see their parents show affection, but never sweet little Ambrosia.  After all, liking lovey-dovey stuff was what made her a sweet filly, instead of a stinky colt like her big brother!  Who was nice in other respects, but didn't care much about how clean he was.  "Awww...."  She cooed, seeing her parents share a moment.

Taking greedy advantage of the extra second Applejack always spared for hugging her, she gave a quick nuzzle to momma's cheek.  "Be good, momma!"  She entreated, before sitting back as Applejack returned to the field.

 

~Spoiled Rich~

 

Mayor Rich found herself with... an ambivalent relationship to sporting events.  On the one hoof, she cared little for the games in and of themselves.  Rugby, buckball, baseball, hoofball, cricket... she simply could not sustain an interest long enough to even tell most of them apart, at a glance.  But she liked prestige, money, visitors to town bearing cash, and her name in big letters at the top of a tall building.  Sports stadiums gave her that, and therefore, a sports stadium Ponyville would have.  It was good for the town.  And for her.  But mostly for the town.

In light of all this, she didn't mind sharing name credits with the Apples, who had been the deciding support in her election (Annoying little former blank-flank filly aside), not to mention a historical familial business partner to her husband's family.  Best all around to cement that alliance, and to duly show support when any were playing in the field.  She didn't cheer enthusiastically, but she would smile and clap at the appropriate occasions.

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Zaps bouncing increased in speed at Rainbow's question on how excited they were. Seeing a professional match like this in the front row was pretty great, too, even though the stadium was only big enough to house half the town, should they show up to watch the team play a big match. Zap may never understand how good of a hoof of cards he was dealt. When Mom made an easy way to explain why an opposing player would act the way they did, Zap nodded in full agreement. "Yeah, I want to grow up and beat number forty-seven, too!"

 

Zap had heard stories on how Rainbow Dash was a cheerleader coordinator for the Friendship School. But when Zap looked up what a cheerleader was in his picture book, it didn't exactly align with what he expected out of Dashie. Nevertheless, he assumed she would know all there is to know about leading a cheer team, or family. And if Mom was signaling that they weren't cheering loud enough, then Zap would reinforce that suggestion to his other parent. "Blue momma, I mean, Dashie! We gotta cheer harder! Oh, also I want some cider now, I think." Zap was easy to suggestive sell ideas when he was having fun.

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Dash enjoyed the moment with her amazing sports star. She was so glad to have found somepony that embodied all there was of sportsponyship and competition. Both of them understood the feeling of excelling in a chosen athletic endeavor and loved the feel of the sweat and exertion that came with the territory. 

 

"Give em' heck out there AJ!" She rooted for her mare as she was coaxed into a team meeting.

 

Once AJ was occupied with the meeting RD helped herself to another hoof full of hay fries before flexing her wings and flying down to where Zappers was standing with his hooves on the railings.

 

"Cheer harder huh?" She winked at her son. "Your blue mama can actually cheer with the bestod them!" Some ponies though cheering was a 'girly' thing but really it was a sport for the most athletic of ponies! She wondered if maybe someday Zap might give it a try with his school team.

 

"Ya know Zappers, cheering loud is one of my specialties." She thought for a moment. "We should think of a special cheer to yell for your orange mama's game!"

 

When Zap asked for cider RD agreed. They could perhaps think of a fun cheer for the team while having a few sips of sweet cider. A quick flap to the concession stand saw a sipping cup with a straw for herself, Zap, and Big Mac. Little Amby could share with RD... which meant she'd give hers to her little filly of course.

 

"Go team go! Roughriders run this show!" RD tried out a line for cheering. "Sound good?" She asked Zap while sipping the sweet cider.

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The half-time came and went with lightning speed for the players. Most of them needed to catch a breather and the team as a whole needed to discuss strategy. Applejack was there, but she could have just ran out there and continued playing. She was as fit as a whistle and energetic as they came. She felt no small amount of pride in her body. It wasn't the sort of pride Rarity felt where it was aesthetics, no. Applejack felt *amazing*. Despite the dings and dents of gameday she could swear up and down that she felt as perfect as she started the day. Her stamina wasn't even being tested. Her strength, her agility- even as she had grown incrementally older she couldn't remember feeling better. From the day Twilight first showed up to now...if anything, she felt better. Stronger. Farm work was easier than ever. Playing this game? Better than ever. She had two foals, two amazing foals, and had never felt better. Some water and an apple- that is all Applejack needed. She had worked on it. It was important to her. She needed to be the best she could be. For herself, yes, but for so much more. For her farm. For her friends. For Equestria. For her family, she needed to be the best. They deserved it: Anything less was a dereliction of her duties to everything she held dear.

So when halftime ended, it was Applejack who led the Roughriders out. She was going to show everypony her very best, one more time.

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Only the town's best and most influential ponies could call the suites in the stadium their home, but High Bar was clearly one of them. The recent Manehattan transfer was by some metrics an unusual presence. She was, after all, merely a filly. A very wealthy one from a family with a big name in some circles, and one of Equestria's finest to be sure. But that wasn't all. She was a filly of style, of panache, and her parents hopes, a growing sense of the family business. She had been told to make a deal and a deal she would make, but truth be told she had been reticent. For a lot of reasons, not the least of which was trying to strongarm Mayor Rich would be the first time she had done anything of the sort for the family business. A business that she was terrified of, frankly.

 

Not that she'd let them know that.
"Mayor Rich," she said pleasantly enough as she entered the suite, flanked by two of her soldato. Her sunglasses were hung low on her nose while her stylish faux fur and griffon-tailed coat made the rest of the ensemble fit well. It has taken some work to get an audience with the Mayor, unexpected or otherwise. She had considered doing so at her office, but a public space worked better for her. "A great game, right?" She asked as she took a seat, never looking at the Mayor with her focus on the field. "You," she said as she pointed at the confused suite attendant. "Two ciders, extra crisp. Then make youself scarce, capiche?" She said quickly as she made sure to flair her coat over the seat. "Looks like ya opening is going about as close to perfect as it could."

 

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~Spoiled Rich~

 

When the filly came up beside her in the box, Spoiled Rich's initial reaction was a slight irritation at her privacy being disturbed, followed by general bemusement at a little pony acting as if she was all grown up.  It honestly reminded her of Diamond in some respects, although her daughter's assumed maturity was in the process of being replaced with actual maturity, which didn't look much like this.  "You're acting awfully big for your britches."  The mayor remarked, bluntly but not unkindly.  "Might I ask what you think you are doing?"

 

~Ambrosia Apple~

"Go wuffwiders go! We da team that wun dis show!"
  Ambrosia was not a filly that acted more than her age.  Honestly, she sometimes acted a little less, just because she knew everypony thought it was cuter.  Though her little lungs could probably not out-do Blue-mama's shouting, no one could deny that she was the most adorable cheerleader.  And so she would be for a while, though maybe one day in a way that would cause more worry than joy to Orange-Mama.  That day, however, was not today!  Today was fully a day of joy and not worry... right?

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"Go Roughriders, go! We're the team that run this show!" Zap cheerfully shouted with her sister and anypony else in the vicinity that would join them in their chant invented during the halftime show. Though Zap and Ambrosia often didn't match each other's enthusiasm when it came to their own interests, the setting which involved the best earth pony mom in the world dominating all others in a friendly, yet ruthless ball game seemed to align the two siblings' attention spans fairly well. "Go, Roughriders, go! We're the team that run this show!"

 

When Applejack ran back onto the field with her teammates in her wake, Zap fluttered up and blared. "WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

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