Written by Ed Valentine
Cheerilee's students are excited to participate in the Applewood Derby, a cart race that has been a regular event in Ponyville for years. Prizes are awarded in three categories — Fastest, Most Traditional, and Most Creative — but only carts that finish the race are eligible to win. One older pony can help each filly or colt build the cart, then has to ride in it with him/her during the race. The Cutie Mark Crusaders decide to enter in categories outside their comfort zones (Fastest for Apple Bloom, Most Creative for Scootaloo, Most Traditional for Sweetie Belle) and recruit their older sisters to help.
However, each of the older mares soon takes over the entire project for her team. Applejack builds an old-style cart for Most Traditional, determined to uphold the Apple family's ways. Rainbow Dash designs one to win the race and capture Fastest, remembering the fun she had as a cart racer in Cloudsdale when she was a filly. Rarity goes for Most Creative, as a way of making up for her second-place finish in that category (to Derpy!) when she competed in her youth. Every time the Crusaders try to change the cart designs, their sisters override them. Their resentment steadily grows until race time, when they all find they have been demoted from driver to passenger in their own carts.
As the race gets underway, Applejack's traditional cart is so slow that it lags far behind everypony else, the flapping wings on Rarity's swan-shaped cart keep blocking other racers, and one of the wheels falls off Rainbow's streamlined cart to send it sliding out of control. The three teams collide in the very middle of the track, causing a pileup that destroys all the carts. Finally fed up, the Crusaders lash out at their sisters for commandeering the jobs of building and driving the carts and ruining the Derby. Both sides realize their mistakes — the Crusaders for not standing up for their own ideas, the mares for not listening to them.
On a suggestion from Rainbow Dash, the mares help the Crusaders rebuild their carts in the styles they had originally intended, and the Derby is re-run with all the older ponies watching from the sidelines. With nothing more to do, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, and Rarity relax at trackside and wonder why they got so caught up in winning in the first place.
- An Aesop:
- In group/team work, it's important to allow others' opinions and suggestions when undertaking a big task rather than taking all the credit and ideas for yourself.
- Also, if you don't stand up for yourself in a team/group assignment, the more experienced members will take over the responsibilities for you.
- Just because adults are older than children doesn't mean they're always right. They still have flaws and make mistakes as much as any kid does.
- Hire the right person for the right job instead of using favoritism.
- Aesop Amnesia: Both Applejack and Rarity seem to have forgotten past episodes where they learned to listen more to their little sisters. And the Crusaders are still having a bit of trouble finding their backbone.
- The Alleged Car:
- Derpy won 1st for most creative cart in her fillyhood and her improvised design was just a bunch of planks and log disks that were nailed together.
- Derpy and her colt relative didn't put in much effort when making their cart. They just cut out a driver and passenger space in their block of applewood and put wheels on it.
- Appeal to Tradition: Applejack brushes off Apple Bloom's suggestion of building a faster cart simply stating the Apple Family has always been known as traditional cart builders.
- Artistic License Biology: Seeing the way that a helmet sits firmly onto a Unicorn's head, it would actually cause their horn to bend inwards in such a way that it would break and cause serious injury. To prevent this would require a modified helmet with a forehead hole cut out for the horn to go through; but none of the Unicorns (Rarity, Sweetie Belle, Snips) are wearing this kind of helmet.note
- Artistic License Cars: Rainbow Dash says that the Cloudsdale Derby racers ride in "cloud carts" when they are actually riding in Bobsleds. Seeing the various designs of carts in both races, though, there's nothing in the rules that says a cart can't be built like a bobsled.
- Artistic License Physics:
- At the beginning of the episode, a blueprint of an Applewood Derby cart clearly shows that it is unpowered, only gaining speed by going downhill. The race track is mostly flat, level ground, yet the carts are able to accelerate on their own even when they clearly shouldn't be able to.
- Applejack's first cart and Sweetie Belle's second cart are the slowest carts, even when going downhill. One must wonder how they're defying gravity to do something like that.
- Ascended Meme: The fandom meme of comparing Scootaloo to a chicken is referenced here, with Scoot trying to add chicken elements to the design of the cart conceived by Rainbow Dash.
- Awesome, but Impractical: Rarity's swan cart has mechanical wings that definitely fit her vision of "big and bold", but block the entire road so that other racers attempting to win for speed can't pass her. Turns out that was the point.
- Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Except for the Crusaders, nopony in the crash suffers so much as a scratch.
- Book Dumb: Snails, at the beginning he expresses fear at the idea of learning, and Snips echoes a fear of schoolwork after the opening.
- Boring, but Practical: Applejack's Appeal to Tradition is clearly based on the idea that her cart is the most useful, because it does not have fancy doodads or speed optimization.
- Calling the Old Man Out: The CMC mostly react to their sisters' overbearing nature with resigned disappointment, right up until the pileup. Then they explode.CMC in unison: They're not your carts!
Apple Bloom: We were supposed to design them!
Scootaloo: ...and we were supposed to drive them!
Sweetie Belle: The derby was supposed to be for us, not the three of you! Now you've ruined it for everypony!
- Cheaters Never Prosper:
- Rarity using the wings on her Swan cart to block the other racers from passing can be considered at act of cheating which also (unintentionally) helps Rainbow Dash to get first place in the derby. Unfortunately, this ends up helping to cause the crash that knocks everypony out of the race.
- Rainbow Dash sideswipes two carts during the race. A flagrant act of aggressive driving such as this can be considered cheating and poor sportsmanship.
- Comically Missing the Point: Rarity, during her spiel about the race.Rarity: Soon the prize for most creative will finally be in my hooves!
Sweetie Belle: You mean my hooves.
Rarity: Yes, that's what I said — my hooves.
- Competition Freak: Rainbow Dash displays an apparent dark side to her competitive spirit by sideswiping two carts during the race. This aggression constitutes cheating, poor sportsmanship, and endangerment to minors.
- Continuity Nod:
- Just like in "The Show Stoppers", the Crusaders reject the idea of doing something within their own interests and talents, opting to instead aim for something outside of their comfort zones; in this case, Apple Bloom wanting speed instead of tradition, Sweetie Belle wanting tradition instead of creativity, and Scootaloo wanting creativity instead of speed. Being more well-rounded characters now, it's portrayed as a positive choice this time, and indeed the conflict is driven by their elder counterparts' desire to do as they normally would.
- One of the things Rainbow Dash pulls out of her trunk is the banner Pinkie Pie made for her "birthaversary" party in "Pinkie Pride".
- Control Freak: AJ, Rarity, and Rainbow each take over the construction of their associated Crusader's cart, to the point that they can't even try for the original categories they wanted.
- Cue the Falling Object: After the big crash, and a pan over all the disgruntled concurrents, a wing of Rarity's swan cart breaks and falls.
- Crowd Song: "Derby Racers" is this; while the main characters all get lines too, the rest of the race's audience is also singing, doing the refrain.
- Death Glare: Several of the racers, including Derpy and Diamond Tiara, shoot Rarity, Applejack, and Rainbow Dash glares during the race and after the big crash, showing how pissed off they are at the three for their antics ruining the race.
- Determinator: A missing tire is not going to stop Rainbow Dash trying to get the (now-destroyed) cart across.
- Dramatically Missing the Point: Rainbow Dash, Applejack and Rarity all miss the point of the Applewood Derby being for fillies and colts. They also miss how their little sisters clearly wanted to go outside their own comfort zones. And worst of all, they show a much greater initial concern for their own carts than the well-being of the Crusader that looks up to each of them.
- Free Wheel: As Rainbow Dash asks if she can still win by pushing her wrecked cart across the finish line, the wheel that fell off bounces past.
- Freeze-Frame Bonus:
- On the scene transition to Rainbow Dash's cloud house, one can see the Twinkling Balloon sitting out front, which explains without dialog how flightless Scootaloo got up to see Rainbow Dash.
- The older stallion that Snips is paired up with has a barber shop pole cutie mark, and the two race in a cart fashioned after a barber shop pole. This strongly implies a family relationship (older brother or father).
- Funny Background Event: At one point during the race, when Apple Bloom is complaining about how slow Applejack's cart is, Cherry Berry casually overtakes the cart on hoof. She isn't even trotting, she's just walking.
- Hit Flash: The carts crashing in the center of the track.
- Hold Your Hippogriffs: Cheerilee says "Hold on to your horseshoes, everypony." to her class.
- In the Original Klingon: The Apple family insists that the Applewood Derby "start[ed] on [their] farm", despite the stated facts that every town in Equestria has a similar cart derby, and Ponyville is one of the newer towns in Equestria. This suggests that either the Apple family is embellishing its importance in Equestrian history, the Applewood Derby is just Ponyville's version of the cart derby, or it actually did start in Ponyville and was adopted by all the other towns.
- It's All About Me: Rainbow Dash, Applejack and Rarity all take over the design and construction of the carts and brush off the Crusaders' ideas in other to satisfy their own agendas of being the fastest, being the most traditional and to erase the shame of not winning the most creative, respectively. They even get to drive the carts and bump down the Crusaders, being the ones who were supposed to drive, to being just passengers.
- Jerkass Ball: Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Applejack all hold it to some extent, given how unreasonably mean and self-centered they are towards their sister counterparts.
- Left Hanging: The episode ends without any certainty as to whether or not the Cutie Mark Crusaders win the prize ribbons they were aiming for. Apple Bloom was clearly in the lead during the second race, so she certainly had a shot.
- My God, What Have I Done?: In the end, AJ, Rainbow and Rarity finally get hit with this after realizing they did go overboard with their designs and agendas and apologize to the Crusaders, Cheerilee, and the other racers for their actions.
- Mythology Gag: Cheerilee's cheerleader costume is a throwback to a My Little Pony (G3) toy set, "Go to school with Cheerilee"◊.
- No Ending: The episode ends with Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash watching the foals performing the second race without the adults. No outcome is shown.
- No OSHA Compliance: Setting up a major race track with multiple roads intersecting in the center? What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
- Off-Model: During the preparation for the second race, the lower part of Sweetie Belle's helmet changes colors. Once the race starts, it goes back to the normal lime green.
- Oh, Crap!:
- When a tire falls off Rainbow Dash's cart, the look on Scootaloo's face is a dead giveaway. And she's normally a daredevil!
- Almost right after this, when the last "GO!" of the Derby Racers song is sung, several members of the audience have a look of panic on their faces as they can tell what is about to happen.
- Personal Raincloud: Rarity gets one during her flashback as she stares in shock at Derpy winning first place for most creative cart.
- Polka-Dot Paint: Apple Bloom applies a Hot Paint Job in just two brush strokes in this manner.
- Pom-Pom Girl: Cheerilee and some of the school-age ponies are in top form during the song.
- Pun-Based Title: "To put the cart before the horse" is an idiom for doing things the wrong way around, confusing cause and effect, or doing something with emphasis in the wrong place. The latter is what happens in the episode; Applejack, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash all place more importance in building their carts to their liking than working as a team with the younger ponies.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Rarity just loves to stress the words "Big" and "Bold" when it comes to her cart.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: During the discussion and preparation of their cart designs, each Crusader winds up being the Blue to their counterparts' Red because they are quieter and more level-headed in the face of passionate obliviousness.
- Revenge Before Reason: Rarity's motivation for building her Swan cart to win Most Creative is to wipe away the embarrassment of getting second place back in her fillyhood years. Though it's clearly shown but neither stated nor probably intended, a possible secondary reason is to get revenge on Derpy Hooves who, coincidentally, is taking part in the Applewood Derby as well.
- Roadside Wave: Derpy's cart rolling into a puddle and splashing the ponies watching the race is used as a transition to start out the "Derby Racers" song.
- Second Place Is for Losers: Rarity winning second place for most creative cart in her youth certainly made her think so. Even worse, she lost to Derpy Hooves, whose cart was just a bunch of planks nailed together and rolling on log wheels, or so it seems.
- Serious Business: The Applewood Derby is a big deal. Every town in Equestria, even Cloudsdale, has a version of it.
- The background racetrack and music for the Cloudsdale cart race in Rainbow Dash's flashback looks and sounds like it would be at home in Mario Kart.
- The Applewood Derby is a nod to the Pinewood Derby, an annual event for Cub Scouts, where boys craft cars out of a block of wood and race them down a track; the Derby itself is similar to a Soapbox Derby and similar Cub Scout gravity cart races. Typically, there are prizes for the fastest cars and most creative design. And, in a case of Truth in Television, often fathers become a little too competitive, taking over the design and construction of the cars.
- One side-profile shot of all the racers is an expected homage to Wacky Races.
- A few moments later, during the "Go go go" portion of the "Derby Racers" song, a shot of the carts crossing paths in a checkered flag pattern is an homage to Speed Racer's iconic opening credits. Bonus points if you know that the anime name for that series is "Mach Go Go Go".
- After the big crash, Rarity wails that her swan cart has become "an ugly duckling!"
- Sore Loser: Rarity, for not winning "most creative" in her youth, gets a personal raincloud and is still upset years later.
- Split Screen: A three-part split is used a few times.
- First to show the determined faces of Rarity, Raibow Dash and Applejack just before the race.
- Then for Apple Bloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, whenever they're singing in unison during the song.
- Stage Mom: There are shades of it, in the obsessive way the Mane Three take over the project and use their sisters as a way to recapture their glory days, although they're more focused on the carts themselves than controlling their sisters' lives, thankfully.
- Stealth Pun:
- The cart Applejack enters appears to be/is modeled after an old horse-drawn buggy. It's literally a horseless carriage. It's also an Apple cart, making this a Multiple Reference Pun.
- Rarity's cart, with wings that she could manipulate to block other carts from passing her, could be seen as Flipping the Bird.
- Scootaloo's cart for the second race resembles a phoenix, even more ironic since it "rose from the wreckage" of Rarity's swan cart.
- Swan Boats: Rarity's cart is basically a swan boat on wheels, much to Sweetie Belle's annoyance as she wanted something traditional instead.
- Technobabble: Cheerilee's initial description of the physics they're going to learn, which Sweetie Belle even lampshades.
- Tempting Fate:
- Scootaloo asks how anything could go wrong with Rainbow Dash on her team.
- The racing course is set up with a four-way intersection for some reason. Since it isn't a proper clover leaf, it leaves the racers vulnerable to a collision. Sure enough, every single cart is demolished in the massive crash at the intersection.
- Took a Level in Kindness: In the background, Diamond Tiara is shown actively helping her butler build her cart and after the big crash at the end is shown checking on him. The same butler who last time he was seen she forced to do acrobatics for the class' amusement with little to no gratitude, showing her Character Development has continued offscreen.
- Truck Driver's Gear Change: The song ("Derby Racers") shifts into A major for the first line of the bridge, then climbs a half-step on each of the next five lines to reach the original key of D major.
- Understatement: When the CMC confront their older sisters for taking over the Derby and ruining it for everyone, Rarity admits they got a teensy bit carried away.
- The Unreveal: It is not shown who actually won the awards in the end, as the episode ends with the race still in progress.
- Vicariously Ambitious: The older trio start using the Crusader's carts to fulfill their own ambitions about the race, and ignoring what category they want to try to win in.
- Volumetric Mouth: Particularly during the Derby Racers song, the CMC's mouths fill all their faces on high notes:The Crusaders: [in unison] let me out, I'd do it over... if I only knew hooooowwww...
- Wacky Racing: The CMC and their sisters (or, in Scootaloo's case, sisterly figure) take part in the Applewood Derby cart race. The wings on Rarity's cart qualify it as a Wacky Racer.
- What Could Possibly Go Wrong?: "With Dash on my team, how could anything go wrong?" Oh, Scootaloo, talk about Tempting Fate.
- What the Hell, Hero?: The Crusaders call out their sisters for taking over the building of the carts without allowing them any input.
- You Didn't Ask!:
- The three adults' slight rebuttal to the What the Hell, Hero? above was that the Crusaders asked them for help first. If the Crusaders felt their sisters were going overboard, the Crusaders could have told them so. Nopony bothers to point out that the CMC did complain, but were brushed off.
- Rainbow Dash touches on it with her "And we probably could've done a better job of listening to you."