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EQUINE

FEBRUARY 24, 2017 | THE WELLINGTON ADVERTISER | 19

A girl and her horse: the power of therapy riding BY JAIME MYSLIK

PUSLINCH – “I love riding Max because ... it has a good view and he’s really, really nice,” said Cora Spencer, a Sunrise Therapeutic Riding and Learning Centre rider. “He can sense me. “When I’m having a bad day ... mommy said that he nuzzles me and gives me a kiss.” Cora, 10, has been riding at Sunrise since 2013 and has forged a relationship with Max, a big bay horse that is one of the largest at the farm. Their relationship and Cora’s bubbly personality inspired the Sunrise staff to put her name forward when The Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet approached the farm for a horse and rider pair to be featured on the

“Collar of Duty” documentary produced by Summerhill Media Inc. “I think that suddenly they just thought beyond the service dog scenario and started thinking about therapeutic horseback riding,” said Lynne O’Brien, managing director at Sunrise. “So they found us and they contacted us and we were thrilled to be involved.” The series looks at the bond between animal and human in therapy situations. Cora’s dad, Andy Spencer, said it’s Max and Sunrise that are responsible for Cora’s growing confidence. “That bond between Cora and Max, that physical touch and the fact that she comes here and sits on a horse as big as Max and she’s able to

control him ... (it’s) just a real sense of achievement,” he said. “Because what we’re trying to instill in Cora is that she’s able to reach her own potential.” Andy and his wife Daphne

attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Asperger syndrome and three learning disabilities. She also had a stoke in the womb. “So she’s been through a lot,” Andy said. “The Cora you see now is

I think that suddenly they just thought beyond the service dog scenario and started thinking about therapeutic horseback riding. - LYNNE O’BRIEN, SUNRISE MANAGING DIRECTOR

adopted Cora in New Brunswick when she was two and a half years old. Her biological mother left Cora when she was three days old. Cora has been diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome,

a million miles away from the Cora that we got when she was two and a half.” From the age of two Cora has undergone intense behavioural therapy, during which she would repeat actions until

she could complete the task without a meltdown. Sometimes she’d have to complete her leaving ritual up to six times before she was able to go home with her dad. “I found it so hard,” Andy said. “I’d leave there crying sometimes, but what you see now is the fruits of that intense behavioural therapy.” The family moved to Guelph five years ago and now Cora is horseback riding at Sunrise unassisted. She walks and trots Max and Andy said she’d like to work towards cantering. “That’s given Cora a huge amount of self confidence,” he said. “Just her ... whole posture has changed.” It is quite the feat for a girl who didn’t even want to ride on her dad’s back because of

her fear of heights. “Taking her to the park she wouldn’t climb up the ladders to go down the slide and she would stand there and watch other kids and then she’d fret about it and then she’d be hard on herself,” Andy said. “So like all of us, to overcome fear and conquer it, again just elevates that level of self confidence. “Her whole demeanor changes because she knows she’s coming to a place where she’s been successful.” In the documentary the crew took Cora to the edge of the Elora Gorge. “We were right at the top of the gorge looking down, so it was just a neat confirmation of how far she’s come,” CONTINUED ON PAGE 20

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20 | THE WELLINGTON ADVERTISER | FEBRUARY 24, 2017

EQUINE Study: horses crave human contact, are more relaxed around those inexperienced with horses BY JAIME MYSLIK

Filming - Cora and Max filming for The Discover Channel’s Animal Planet documentary “Collar of Duty,” produced by Summerhill Media Inc. Submitted photo

Therapy rider in documentary CONTINUED FROM PAGE 19

Andy said. “She’s actually sitting on the bars right around the top, whereas before she never would have dreamt of going anywhere like that.” Cora said the whole experience was “high and awesome.” Andy said when Cora was born nobody thought she would be able to understand humour, empathy, sympathy or be able walk or be toilet trained. “And she’s defied all the odds,” he said.

Yet being in the documentary has not gone to Cora’s head. Andy said she’s happy to talk about it when asked, but she doesn’t really volunteer the information. The filming took two full days. The first day started out at the Spencer home in Guelph and then moved to Sunrise. The second day began at the Elora Gorge and concluded with Cora riding at Sunrise. For long days of filming Andy said Cora was a champion, coping with repeated line delivery and reshooting

scenes, repetitive actions that she sometimes questions. “She didn’t even ask ‘why are we doing this again,’ ” he said. “She just seemed to get it and each time it was a little different but she still managed to sort of remember the theme of what they wanted her to do and what they wanted her to say.” The documentary aired early in February. “Every day [Cora’s] a ray of sunshine,” Andy said. “Everything’s a song. She’s so chirpy ... she’s never negative.”

GUELPH - Horses are more relaxed when they’re around humans, especially when those people have no experience around horses, a new study finds. Yet it seems horses do not distinguish between humans who have a mental illness and those who do not. A recent study conducted by University of Guelph researcher Dr. Katrina Merkies tested whether therapy horses at Sunrise Therapeutic Riding and Learning Centre in Puslinch acted differently around people who had post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) versus those who did not, though they looked and moved the same way. “We managed to find four pairs of human subjects and we were able to match them very well to the physical characteristics,” Merkies said. “We had a professional acting coach so he was fantastic in really helping to prep the control subjects to move physically in the same manner as the PTSD subject did.” The control subjects emulated the actions of their counterpart with PTSD so

the horse would be seeing the same visual image. The research team then looked at behaviour and physiological characteristics like heart rate and cortisol levels to measure the horse’s response. What they found was that horses don’t act any differently with people who have PTSD and those who don’t.

alert with experienced horse people than with those inexperienced around horses. “We didn’t set out to find that, it just kind of fell out of the data that we collected,” she said. The trial had four sets of human pairs, one of each who had PTSD, but both shared physical characteristics and Merkies said that through no

We didn’t set out to find that, it just kind of fell out of the data that we collected. - DR. KATRINA MERKIES, UNIVERSITY OF GUELPH

“What we did find, not surprisingly, is that horses did react differently if there was a human in the pen versus no human in the pen,” Merkies said. “So any human was great. [The horse] moved slower, they carried their heads lower and their heart rate decreased so they really wanted to be around people.” In addition, the team unexpectedly gathered data showing that horses are more

intention of the researchers, it worked out that two of the pairs were experienced with horses and two were not. “With the experienced people, whether they had PTSD or not, it didn’t matter ... [horses] approached ... the experienced human quicker, they stood closer to the experienced human and they oriented their ears more towards the experienced human,” she said. CONTINUED ON PAGE 22

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FEBRUARY 24, 2017 | THE WELLINGTON ADVERTISER | 21

Elora’s Bob McClure celebrates 1,500 career wins, three top driver titles in 2016 BY OLIVIA RUTT

ELORA - To say Bob McClure had a good year would be an understatement. In 2016, he was named top driver at three racetracks, including his hometown Grand River Raceway. He was also nominated for a Standardbred Canada 2016 O’Brien Award as top driver, winning 546 races and totalling $3 million in purses. And just last week, on Feb. 15, he surpassed 1,500 career wins.

down.” He explained that as he starting winning more often, he was selected to drive more horses for bigger barns. “I’m at a point now where I’m more in demand than anything, so for every race I usually have one of the better horses. In that situation, you really just have to not screw up and just do a good job and be respectful,” he said with a laugh. McClure noted that going from five or six years without a steady pay cheque to earn-

... that’s the biggest thing you have to learn is being patient and not over-driving the horse ... - BOB MCCLURE, O’BRIEN AWARD NOMINEE FOR TOP DRIVER

The Elora resident grew up in the horse world, with his father Lormer, a trainer, and his uncle Jim, a successful driver. McClure, now 26, said when he started racing at age 18 it was difficult. But having a foot in the door of the driving world helped him get onto the cart. “When you’re starting out, you have to kind of put your time in … I was lucky,” said McClure, who added he has always had but one career path. “I never had any interest in anything except driving,” he said. “I guess it’s not quite as glorious as I thought it was going to be. It’s a lot more work than I thought it was going to be. I thought it was just a celebrity lifestyle, but I’m happy with what I do.” McClure said it was not until 2014 that he started getting noticed. “I started picking up more drives and more drives and then it was 2014 that really snowballed and I kind of came on the scene,” he said. “When you’re starting out you’re obviously not doing a good job, you’re learning, but as I started to drive more, bigger names start to put you

ing $3 million in 2016 winnings did not come easy. “When I reflect back on it, it really makes you appreciate what you have now,” he said. McClure told the Advertiser patience is what makes a good driver. “When you’re young, just starting out and inexperienced, that’s the biggest thing you have to learn is being patient and not over-driving the horse because they have to go home well,” he said. McClure has just five minutes or so prior to races to really get to know the horses he is driving.

“Horses are a lot quirkier than people ... would ever realize. Some of them take a lot of finesse, some of them are like driving a car so you find that out,” he said. For McClure, getting to the gate first is important to how he races. “The majority of drivers, they like to bring their horses in a little bit later … every single race I want to be the first on the gate,” he said. “I think some drivers can make horses do more than others … I don’t think it’s something you could teach or tell, I think it’s just something that some people can do.” McClure recalls that his best and worst races happened within two weeks of one another. In 2011, he had the opportunity to race Southwind Vavoom - a “really, really good horse,” McClure said - during a three-week series at Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey, a “mecca” for standardbred racing. “(In the) second week of the three-race series I won with him and that was just unbelievable, being able to go down and win at the Meadowlands. I don’t know if I’ll ever get a chance to go back there, so that was great,” he said. “In the final, I drove him bad. Being a kid, I drove him absolutely terrible and he got beat … in two weeks it was the best and the worst for me.”

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22 | THE WELLINGTON ADVERTISER | FEBRUARY 24, 2017

Equine Guelph partners with federations on training portal GUELPH - Equine Guelph has partnered with 10 provincial equestrian federations across Canada to launch TheHorsePortal.ca. The portal offers members industry training and education through a new online format. From the Rockies to the eastern islands, the portal will bring together horse people like never before, officials state, providing them short, practical online programs to stay current on the latest information on equine care and welfare practices. For any person respon-

sible for a horse, it is essential to learn the national standards, officials say. Each day, new scientific knowledge emerges on how to better care for horses and deal with emerging issues. “It is everyone’s responsibility to stay current on best health and welfare practices and industry standards,” state Equine Guelph officials. The inaugural short courses are “Equine Welfare Canada’s Code” and “Equine Biosecurity - Canada’s standard.” They will be offered March 6 to 24 and April 10 to 28,

respectively. The partnership between the equestrian federations

coaches, facilities, officials and horse caregivers. Not only will federation

Through the new portal, horse caregivers can access common sense, practical training that can be used on a daily basis. and Equine Guelph enables the federations to offer the online training directly to their members: athletes,

members be entitled to discounts on the short courses, but they will earn continuing education credits and

certificates of completion from Equine Guelph, the horse owner’s centre at the University of Guelph. “Equine Guelph is pleased to partner with federations across Canada to provide a gathering place for horse enthusiasts,” said Gayle Ecker, director of Equine Guelph in a press release. “The Horse Portal provides a program for us to come together and learn as a community. Through the new portal, horse caregivers can access common sense, practical training that can be used on a daily basis.”

The Horse Portal is also available to non-federation members. From racing to performance to the backyard pony, the portal was developed to cater to and benefit all segments of the equine industry, officials say. This project is funded in part through Growing Forward 2 (GF2), a federal-provincial-territorial initiative. The Agricultural Adaptation Council assists in the delivery of GF2 in Ontario. For more information on The Horse Portal go to TheHorsePortal.ca

Professor’s research to serve as foundation for future studies CONTINUED FROM PAGE 20

She added, “their heart rate was lower with the inexperienced human.” Merkies hypothesized that horses responded more attentively with experienced horse people because they expected to work. “An experienced horse person comes into a horse’s space, usually with an agenda - ‘we’re going riding,’” Merkies said. “So the horses maybe were more attentive to an experienced human that carries or has the demeanor of a purposeful approach, whereas (with) the inexperienced humans the horse wouldn’t have any expectation of work or having to do anything, so

perhaps that made them less attentive and (their) heart rate decrease.” Merkies said it’s important for therapeutic riding facilities to acknowledge and monitor the way horses respond to people with different levels of experience. She added the idea that horses pick up on their rider’s nerves needs to be reevaluated. “I don’t think it’s that the horses are responding necessarily to the mental fear or nervousness that a person brings with them as much as a nervous person is going to have tighter muscles, clench their muscles, move more in a jerky fashion and the horse is most likely responding to those physical changes in the

New study - Research assistant Marnie McKechnie with Luke at Sunrise Therapeutic Riding and Learning Centre during the trials. Submitted photo human rather than the emotional changes,” Merkies said. For businesses dealing with equine-assisted therapies, she said that as long as the proper and normal pre-

cautions are taken for anyone working with horses there is no greater risk for the horse if that person is inexperienced. “In fact, the experienced horse person may put a great-

er risk in terms of reactivity of the horses,” she explained. Merkies set up this study through a $10,000 innovation research grant from the Ohiobased Horses and Humans Research Foundation and conducted the trials last summer with 17 Sunrise therapy horses. The subjects with PTSD completed their trials first. “The main reason why we did this research is as a foundational study for future research in setting up experimental protocols,” she said. “So what we found is if horses don’t distinguish between PTSD humans and non-PTSD humans, then when we’re setting up experimental design for future

experiments we don’t necessarily have to use a human with PTSD. “Which makes it way easier to standardize and control experiments.” Next Merkies said she might look at how horses react in situations where people have a mental illness other than PTSD. “It could be different,” she said. But her main interest lies in looking at how horse and human personalities match. “Horses will forage a relationship with one particular person more than another person,” Merkies said. “So what are the elements that contribute to that successful relationship?”

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FEBRUARY 24, 2017 | THE WELLINGTON ADVERTISER | 23

New ThermoRegulator Healthcare Tool launched by Equine Guelph GUELPH - Equine Guelph has partnered with blanket manufacturer Bucas of Ireland and is launching the ThermoRegulator Healthcare Tool. The new interactive online tool explores thermoregulation in all seasons to help horse owners avoid overheating and dehydration along with a variety of sicknesses caused as a result of chilling and other preventable health concerns.

Nature has provided horses with a coat for all seasons but there is much more to thermoregulation than the length of hair. “There are health factors to consider when deciding whether to blanket or not, including a horse’s age, health and body condition score,” said Equine Guelph director Gayle Ecker. Exercise will also be a consideration if the horse is asked to perform higher level ath-

letics in a cold climate. Once a horse is clipped, you are committed to making blanketing choices, officials say. The ThermoRegulator Tool will lead horse owners through an interactive body condition score module. A horse classified as thin will have a hard time staying warm in winter. Turnout environment will also play a role in deciding if you should blanket. Take into consideration how windy or cold

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