Kitchener-Waterloo

10-year-old Guelph equestrian to star in Discovery Channel series

Cora Spencer is on the Autism spectrum and was born with weak motor skills but that hasn't stopped the 10-year-old Guelph girl from learning how to ride a horse. Her enthusiasm for riding earned her a place on the new television series Collar of Duty, airing on the Discovery Channel.

Cora Spencer was filmed for 2 days at Sunrise Therapeutic Riding and Learning Centre

Cora's enthusiasm for riding recently attracted the attention of Summerhill Media, who filmed her and Max for the television series Collar of Duty. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

When Cora Spencer was born, her adoptive parents were told she would probably never walk or talk.

Now, the 10-year-old girl from Guelph doesn't just walk, she rides a horse – and she can't stop talking about it. 

"This is Max," she says, throwing her arms around a tall, bay gelding. "He is the sweetest, nicest horse in the whole world." 

Filming television series

Cora's enthusiasm for riding recently attracted the attention of Summerhill Media, who filmed her and Max for the television series Collar of Duty, which is airing on the Discovery Channel.

The stuff that she can do and the stuff that she's comfortable with now, she wouldn't have even attempted it previous to riding.- Daphne Spencer, Cora's mom

The 12-part documentary series focuses on the relationship between humans and their service and therapy animals, and aims to show how animals can improve a person's quality of life.

The young equestrian said being the focus of so many cameras was "awesome," but her real passion is still horses.

Therapeutic benefits of riding

Cora's parents decided to enroll their daughter in riding lessons at Sunrise Therapeutic Riding Centre in 2013, after being told it would help with the development of her fine and gross motor skills.

"We'd heard about the therapeutic benefits of horse riding," says mom Daphne Spencer, although she admits they were skeptical at first.

"We didn't realize how much she would get from it, and it's just been phenomenal for her... The stuff that she can do and the stuff that she's comfortable with now, she wouldn't have even attempted it previous to riding."

Cora says Max, who is the third tallest horse in the barn, has helped her overcome her fear of heights. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

Spencer says Cora used to have a hard time running or walking down a flight of stairs, but those things don't bother her anymore.

I've seen her very focused, very into what she's doing, very connected with her horse.- Tiffany Mast, riding instructor

She says riding has also changed her daughter in other ways, making Cora more confident and less anxious.

"And it's also conquered my fear of heights," Cora said, "because this Max here is the third biggest horse and I love him."

'She's come a long way'

According to her instructor Tiffany Mast, Cora horsemanship is also improving, and she can now independently steer her horse at a walk and trot, and keep her balance at both paces.

"She's come a long way," Mast said. "I've seen her very focused, very into what she's doing, very connected with her horse."

"It's kind of a sense of freedom from all the thoughts going on in her mind when she can just focus on what she's doing and ride around. It looks very peaceful."

Cora still doesn't know when she'll get to see herself riding on television, but has been told that her episode will air sometime in early February.

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