During a (very innocent) game of horseshoes, Applejack and Rainbow Dash start getting very competitive, debating who's the better athlete out of the two of them. Rainbow Dash proposes an Iron Pony competition to settle it once and for all.
The competition starts out small, and fairly even at first; for every athletic event Applejack wins, Rainbow Dash beats her in another. As the day goes by (and more ponies come by to spectate), Rainbow starts using her wings to win certain events, leading to her winning the competition. Applejack accuses Rainbow Dash of cheating, and then comes up with a new challenge to settle their differences: the two ponies will join the Running of the Leaves, an annual race where dozens of ponies run through the Ponyville woods, the resulting vibrations causing the autumn leaves to fall off the trees. She also demands that Rainbow not use her wings during the race.
The day of the race arrives, and Applejack ties up Rainbow Dash's wings just to be extra-sure she won't cheat. To their surprise, Twilight joins the race as well, claiming that she's read enough about racing to know what to do. Dash and Applejack are... incredulous.
The race starts (with Pinkie Pie and Spike commentating on the action), and for a while, Applejack and Rainbow Dash seem to be tied for first, with Twilight moving at a leisurely pace far behind them. However, after each one trips over a couple rocks in the path and fall behind, they each consider playing a little dirty to get back in the lead. Rainbow Dash changes the road signs so Applejack will go the wrong direction, Applejack hitches a ride on the Twinkling Balloon Pinkie and Spike are in, Rainbow eventually unties her ropes, etc. The two are neck-and-neck as they reach the finish line and eventually tie...
Yes, fixating on their own rivalry instead of the race didn't work out as well as they thought. (By comparison, Twilight came in a respectable fifth place by pacing herself, and then sprinting near the end). Princess Celestia suddenly arrives on the scene, having come to see the race, and our characters learn their Aesop about not letting competition get the better of them. Celestia points out that there's still a lot of trees with leaves still on them, and Applejack and Rainbow Dash decide to finish the job with a friendlier run through the woods.
- Actually Pretty Funny: Midway through their fierce glare off, Applejack and Rainbow Dash burst into giggling after the latter blows a raspberry.
- An Aesop: It's important to be a good sport; friendship is more important than the competition.
- Anachronic Order: Wasn't it winter two episodes ago?
- Assumed Win: Neither Applejack nor Rainbow Dash.
- As You Know: Pinkie Pie providing exposition about the Running of the Leaves.
- Awesomeness by Analysis: Twilight enters a race having never run one before, but having read all about it. She earns a respectable 5th place because of it. And in a way that rather makes sense as well. All she did was pace herself while everyone else ran the entire way, then made her move once everyone else was worn out. This is actually a very common tactic in foot and bicycle races in Real Life.
- Big Ball of Violence: Eventually, Rainbow Dash and Applejack get into this at the end of the race.
- The Big Race: Where the Feud Episode really earns its name.
- Blowing a Raspberry: Rainbow Dash does this at least three times.
- Captain Obvious: Pinkie Pie.Pinkie Pie: Despite the name, the leaves do no actual running.
- Cavalier Competitor: Twilight doesn't take the race as seriously as Applejack and Rainbow Dash do.
- Cheaters Never Prosper:
- Played straight in the end when Applejack and Rainbow Dash's cheating ends with them both in last place. Justified because, as Twilight Sparkle points out, since they were trying so hard to cheat each other, everyone else had a pretty easy time getting ahead of them. Herself included.
- The entire main act of the episode is because Rainbow Dash cheated in the Iron Pony competition by using her wings, which Applejack refused to tolerate. The Running of the Leaves race is used as a tiebreaker.
- Chekhov's Skill:
- A minor example; one of the Iron Pony contests involved bouncing a ball consecutively without dropping it. Rainbow Dash won easily.
- Similarly, there's a competition to see who can kick the hardest, which Applejack handily takes. Twice.
- She also wins the lassoing contest with ease, though being a cowgirl, that one was pretty predictable anyway.
- Coconut Meets Cranium: Or rather, apples. To the tune of Shave And A Haircut (also see that entry).
- Competition Freak: Pretty much the basis of the Escalating War between the pair.
- Dark Horse Victory: Despite Rainbow Dash and Applejack being the strongest competitors, the Escalating War between them causes them to tie for last. In a subversion, Twilight Sparkle walks up to them wearing a medal, and Dash and Applejack assume she came in first place, before she admits that she only came in fifth.
- Deadpan Snarker: Twilight Sparkle, as usual, has a few snide remarks concerning the two rival's bickering.
- Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Both Applejack and Rainbow Dash. And for once, it actually puts them both significantly behind everypony else. For most of the episode, it doesn't occur to them to worry about anyone besides each other.
- Don't Explain the Joke: Rainbow's "Get it? Eye muscles?" line.
- Escalating War: The race between Rainbow Dash and Applejack soon degenerates into a match to see who can cheat the other in a more outrageous way. The show being what it is, they tie for last place, though that's more because they were so concentrated on each other they didn't realize everyone else had passed them.
- Evasive Fight-Thread Episode: Applejack and Rainbow Dash compete to determine which of them is the most athletic pony in town. We still don't know, since they wear themselves out trying to stop each other from winning the race.
- Exact Words: When Applejack comes flying in by hanging on a rope from Pinkie's balloon, Rainbow is not amused by this action.Rainbow Dash: What the hay?! You said no flying!
Applejack: No, I said no wings!
- Friend to All Children: Pinkie Pie invites Spike to help her commentate on the race, after seeing that he wants to.
- Friendship-Straining Competition: The plot of the episode. Applejack and Rainbow Dash get so caught up in their competition, they start to turn on each other and focus only on what'll help them win.
- Godzilla Threshold: As Rainbow and Applejack come up on the race's finish line, Rainbow finally decides "Screw it" and untie her wings to try and fly over the line before Applejack, despite going through the entire rest of the race with them tied. Applejack then football-tackles her, having none of it.
- Gone Horribly Right: Whenever AJ and Dash attempt to upstage each other, the victim somehow roars right back into the running. For example, Applejack knocks into a tree on which a beehive rests in the hopes of stalling Rainbow Dash.
- Graceful Loser: Applejack, at first is good-natured about Rainbow Dash's wins. After the latter starts using more sneaky methods of winning however, she becomes much more defensive about it.Applejack: (irritatedly to herself) Be a good sport, Applejack...
- Gravity Is a Harsh Mistress: When Applejack lets go of the tug-of-war rope.
- He Who Fights Monsters: Applejack is at first portrayed as a more scrupulous player than Rainbow Dash, just wanting a fair game. After being screwed over one too many times by her fowl play however, she ends up taking equally bad measures to get her own back.
- Jerkass Has a Point:
- To be fair, Rainbow is right: no one specified that she couldn't use her wings, and most of her normal athletic activities would involve using them and she brushes off Applejacks argument that it was implied, which in retrospect is a pretty flimsy excuse.
- Likewise, Applejack only cheats in retaliation against Rainbow's own cheating — and even then, not until Applejack just can't control her Suppressed Rage at Rainbow anymore. Otherwise, Applejack keeps trying to be the fair one.
- Large Ham Announcer: Spike believes in this trope wholeheartedly.
- Loophole Abuse: Applejack gets a ride on the Twinkling Balloon, much to Rainbow Dash's annoyance. No flying? No, no wings!
- Ludicrous Precision: Pinkie Pie.Pinkie Pie: But Rainbow Dash won't let Applejack have it, and takes the lead; she's ahead by half a nose! Or maybe three-quarters of a nose! No — about 63.7% of a nose! (Spike stares at her) Roughly speaking.
- Mundane Utility: In the event where Applejack and Rainbow Dash have to carry a brood of chicks across a mud patch, Rainbow "cheats" by using her wings as mud flaps. Rainbow also uses her wings in various other events to give herself the edge over Applejack.
- Musical Pastiche: After Rainbow Dash deliberately trips up Applejack with a tree branch and Applejack uses the branch as a slingshot, the background music has snippets similar to "March of the Swiss Soldiers" from Gioachino Rossini's William Tell Overture.
- Obvious Rule Patch: After Rainbow Dash uses her wings to win the Iron Pony competition, Applejack insists on adding a "no wings" rule for the Running of the Leaves.
- One-Sided Arm-Wrestling: Rainbow Dash wins with ease, which is odd considering the last time they hoof-wrestled, they seemed evenly matched. Then again, we never saw the end of it. Then again, she also used her wings to brace herself, which Applejack couldn't do.
- Painting the Frost on Windows: The Running of the Leaves is another example of how the ponies in Ponyville control the changing of the seasons.
- Pit Girls: Fluttershy's role in the episode is to keep score during the competition and be a cheerleader for the competition itself.
- Pun-Based Title: Named after the expression (and trope) "Fair Weather Friend".
- Reflective Eyes: The camera zooms into the reflection in Applejack's eye when she throws a ringer.
- Road Sign Reversal: Rainbow Dash flips the sign marking the path for the Running of the Leaves, sending Applejack off the track. She hastily flips it back when she hears Twilight Sparkle coming, to keep from being caught.
- Running Gag: Whenever Spike recaps the Iron Pony competition, more and more ponies arrive to watch.Twilight Sparkle: Who are you talking to?
Spike: (indicates audience) Them!
- Screw the Rules, They Broke Them First!: Applejack finally reaches her breaking point and gets down and dirty. Not a pretty sight.
- Second Place Is for Winners: Twilight Sparkle is glad to have made 5th place. After all, as she says, it'd be odd to get first place on her very first try.
- Shave And A Haircut: The apples fall on Rainbow Dash's head to this rhythm. The "two bits" part comes after Fluttershy updates Applejack's Iron Pony competition score.
- Sidetracked by the Analogy: Pinkie Pie, several times while announcing.
- Slow and Steady Wins the Race: Zigzagged: the ponies are having a race called "The Running of the Leaves" to help the autumn leaves fall. Rainbow Dash and Applejack are mad at each other and are on a vicious cycle of cheating due to thinking the other cheated, so they end up being tied for last place. Twilight starts off slow but then runs to prevent herself getting puffed out, and she wins a prize... but it's not first place either.
- Sore Loser: Rainbow Dash is a self proclaimed one. Applejack is eventually embittered into one.Rainbow Dash: I — hate — losing.
- Spit Shake: While they don't shake on it like people, Applejack and Rainbow Dash spit on their hooves and clop them together.
- Synchronized Swarming: When Rainbow Dash hides from a swarm of bees, they form a "?!" before flying away.
- Tail Slap: Applejack flicks her tail like a feather duster in Rainbow Dash's muzzle in the cold open.
- This Is Gonna Suck: Spike, being chosen as the rider for the rodeo contest between the two rivals.Spike: Why me?...
- Title Drop: The first half of the series' title by, who else, Pinkie Pie.
- Tom Swifty: Pinkie Pie is "your official p-ie in the sky announcer" for the Running of the Leaves.
- Trash Talk: In the cold open, Rainbow Dash and Applejack exchange a few lighthearted taunts regarding their horseshoe pitching skills.
- The Unreveal: Rainbow and Applejack both tied for last, while Twilight ended up coming in fifth. It's unknown who the first place winner was.
- Unusual Euphemism:
- Applejack's exclamation of "Nuts and chews!" on getting a 5-second penalty for nudging a barrel in the barrel weave.
- Rainbow Dash exclaims "Horse apples!" There are plenty of horses and apples around, but it doubles as an appropriate euphemism for "Crap!" (A fruit called the "horse apple" does exist, more commonly known as the Osage orange.)
- Walk Through The Camera: At the very end of the episode; when Applejack and Rainbow Dash run towards the camera and then run out.
- With My Hands Tied: One of the stipulations Rainbow Dash and Applejack agree to in the race is that Rainbow has to have her wings tied down.
- Worthy Opponent: Even within their extremely aggressive competitive streak, it's obvious AJ and Dash see each other as this.
- X Must Not Win: By the end of the race, the rivalry between the two seems to have become less about winning and more about screwing the other out of first place out of revenge.
- You Didn't Ask: Rainbow Dash's excuse for using her wings after Applejack complains.Rainbow Dash: You never said I couldn't use my wings!
Applejack: I didn't think I needed to tell you to play fair!