BIBLE HILL - Anyone who competes in a team sport knows communication is vital to success.
But how do you communicate when your partner is a horse?
"You have to form a bond with something you can't verbally communicate with," said equestrian rider Dara Pelkey-Field. "So it's always a challenge."
But it's one the pair seems to have mastered. Pelkey-Field and her horse Mardi Gras are off to Bromont, Que., for the Canadian equestrian championships Sept. 21 to 23. They are one of two senior level duos to represent Nova Scotia at the event after a series of qualifying shows over the summer. They'll be joined by Windsor's Nikki Meyer and Genuine to compete against 10 other provincial teams.
"It's exciting," the Bible Hill resident said. "It's really nice to be able to take what you've learned over your career and go compete against people in other provinces doing the same thing as you. We don't really get that opportunity often."
The province is also sending a pair of junior riders - Halifax's Evan Phinney and Erin Cecchetto of Newport - to the event, as well as two senior and junior riders to compete in dressage and reigning competitions.
Nova Scotia earned a silver medal at last year's inaugural edition of the event and Pelkey-Field is hoping she can help take the province one step higher on the podium this time around.
"We have some really good riders on our team so there's no reason for us not to expect to come home with a really good result," she said.
But how well they'll do depends on the bond the riders build with their steeds. Pelkey-Field has a special one with Mardi Gras. The 11-year-old is a former thoroughbred racer she bought and turned into a jumper.
"It's kind of a big thing because our sport is dominated by European warm blood type horses," she said. "So horses like him are kind of rare and they shouldn't be because they're wonderful."
And best of all, he's just entering his prime as a jumper as it takes years for horses to develop the mental and physical strength to compete. Mardi Gras has been rolling along on the best season of his career this summer.
"So we'll cross our fingers that he keeps it going," Pelkey-Field said with a laugh.
It's a safe bet he will at the hands of his loving owner, who has been competing as a jumper since she started riding horses at the age of five. Although success is nice, Pelkey-Field enjoys getting to know her horses, learning their personalities and developing a relationship with them even more.
"You have to be able to read them and understand them," she said. "I've had some in the past that have all of the parts to make a really good show jumper and their heart's not in it. If you aren't aware of things like that then you're going to end up hurting yourself and end up hurting the horse. You have to be able to bond with them or you're not going to get any results."
Seeing the qualities which make each horse's personality as unique as any human's is why Pelkey-Field loves what she does ... and all the hours of barn work, training and practice that goes with it.
"There are so many reasons you fall in love with them and you do learn to love the things like getting up early and cleaning the stall and putting in hay and doing all the extra stuff. It really becomes your lifestyle."