A parent’s perspective

By Ann Caine, CanTRA Advisory Council

Cora Spencer, who began riding in 2013, was chosen to be featured in an episode of the Discovery Channel series, Collar of Duty, which aired in 2017. This series explored the role that animals play in the lives of children and adults with special needs. We are delighted that Cora was on national television as an ambassador for Canadian therapeutic riding! 

Cora was born in New Brunswick and has multiple diagnoses, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), having a stroke in the womb, and being on the autism spectrum. She lived in a loving foster home from birth, and in her young life she was surrounded by chickens, cows, sheep, llamas, and HORSES. 

At the time when Cora was in foster care, her “forever parents,” Andy and Daphne Spencer, were part of a group of parents taking a course in preparation for becoming either foster or adoptive parents. The Spencers already had three boys of their own, one of whom had special needs, so they were well aware of the additional challenges involved in raising an exceptional child. 

CanTRA therapeutic riding

An excited (and face-painted) Cora shows off her ribbon and certificate on her last day of summer camp. Photo courtesy of CanTRA

During the course, different scenarios were discussed regarding specific children’s cases and situations, and the challenges to be addressed. They learned of one child for whom there had been two adoption opportunities which did not materialize due to the nature of the child’s multiple needs. 

It is usual for parents to finish the course before being put on the waiting list for a child to foster or adopt. However, in the case of Andy and Daphne, they were asked to consider adopting a two-and-a-half year old girl before the course had finished. This little girl was Cora, and they were told that she would never be toilet trained, walk, or talk, and would have no social skills. This was a pretty daunting prognosis for any parents. Andy and Daphne decided to seize this opportunity, having overcome so many obstacles and proven the world wrong with their oldest son. This would be a new chapter in their lives that they were prepared to embrace.

The Spencer family moved from New Brunswick to Ontario with Andy’s new job. Cora was referred to therapeutic riding through KidsAbility, in order to help develop her fine and gross motor skills, core strength, and balance. Cora’s passion for horses was reignited and she blossomed socially at the local therapeutic riding centre while also working on all the other goals. 

Remember, this is a child who was never supposed to walk or talk! 

Cora calls riding at the farm her “Happy Place.” Andy reflects that Cora is suffering bullying at school and therapeutic riding provides a special anchor in her life. If she has had a challenging day at school, as soon as she arrives at the farm her whole demeanor changes. 

Cora is passionate about horses, and through therapeutic riding and the summer camp program she has developed confidence and social skills. Cora has become a social butterfly — never underestimate the power of HORSES! 

cantra - canadian therapeutic riding association

Main Photo: Cora riding Max, with instructors Katlyn (left) and Tiffany (right) on film day for TV. Courtesy of CanTRA.