When the words adversity and sports appear in the same sentence, minds usually drift to hockey players skating on broken legs or a long distance marathoner trying to finish their race with a pulled hamstring. But not many athletes have faced the amount of adversity that Paige Cote has.
Cote, a rider, will be competing in the Region 17 Arabian Horse Association’s Championship Show next month.
“I’m pretty nervous, to be honest,” Cote said. “Being a trainer in a different discipline, I’m not actually allowed to show in the amateur or beginner classes, even though I’ve never done this section of the sport.”
Cote has done almost everything in the equestrian world from barrel racing to quarter horse and warmblood showing to cattle work, but it’s only been a year and a half she’s been active on the Arabian circuit.
It all happened on a whim.
Cote takes in problematic horses to teach, train and help owners get the horse on the right path, or to rehome them. She has been operating her business for over a decade.
The horse she will be riding in the championship is registered under the name Hawks Drifting Storm, known as Stormy for short, and is one of her biggest success stories.
The Arabian quarter horse cross came to Cote over four years ago, from a family of first-time horse owners. Stormy ended up kicking the family’s daughter in the head.
Initially, Cote put Stormy on the market, but received no bites. So, Cote decided to keep and break Stormy herself.
Last year, someone dared her to take him to an Arabian show once his training was complete. Putting a fast-track on Stormy’s training, Cote took him to the show in April last year.
“He actually placed really, really well. From there we did one more show in the fall and he actually won several of his classes, which was pretty remarkable for him,” she recalled.
“We ended up getting a letter stating that we qualified for the Region 17. We’re in eight classes and he’s going to ride as a hunter horse for the hunter-flat course, and we have two halter classes in there to show off some of his uniqueness.”
The competition, hosted in Langley this year, will have athletes from Alberta, B.C., Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan and the Yukon.
If Cote and Stormy place in the top five of any classes they compete in, they will qualify for the National Arabian and Half-Arabian Champion Horse Show this August in Brandon, Man.
However, it’s not her success with Stormy that makes Cote’s story impressive. It’s the amount of adversity that she has overcome.
The first horse Cote took in was the 16-hand (measurement for horses, roughly 64 inches) Gomer (now 17 hands), who had international show jumping potential.
Gomer also belonged to first-time horse owners, and Cote said they loved him and treated him very well.
“In my first year of showing him, he basically was a psycho,” she said. “Every time I stopped he would rear up. He’d try to buck me off. It took 20 minutes to get on him half of the time.”
Eventually, Gomer got with the program and became a successful show horse.
Every competition Gomer was in he ended up somewhere in the top five and never has placed under fifth, according to his owner.
Cote said she even received an offer from someone to buy Gomer for a hefty prize, which she turned down, to the would-be buyer’s disappointment.
Then, while riding the huge horse at a show in 2013, Cote fell off of Gomer and broke her face.
“It was a two-year recovery period for it. Last year was my first year getting back into showing because of the accident,” she said. “My whole face has actually been redone. My nose is all new. I have a plate and my eye socket had to be reconstructed.”
Her ill-fortune didn’t stop there.
Cote, a single mother, had to get an emergency C-section while giving birth to her now four-year-old son and she said she nearly died on the operating table. She recovered from the C-section during the same time she was recuperating from her facial injuries.
“Finally now I’m back doing it, but it’s a slow go,” she said.
For horses such as Stormy, it’s good news that Cote is so resilient.
Without his owner, the horse might not be in Bridge Lake never mind in a competition such as the Region 17 Championship.
“It’s kind of cool that he’s made it there. He was basically up for being put down,” Cote said.
”The fact that he’s come around, it just kind of adds to my program. It’s kind of cool. I can say that I took this horse who kicked a kid in the head and now he’s a sweetheart — most days.”