Holding her red ribbon high, a beaming Taylor Horne ran into the arms of her mother, Rebecca Jowers, for a big hug Sunday morning during the Special Olympics South Carolina State Equestrian Show.

Horne, 16, had just finished second in an English Equitation class.

“I’m so proud of you,” Jowers told her daughter while holding her tightly.

Horne was one of the eight members of the Special Olympics team from Area 15, which is made up of Aiken, Edgefield and Saluda counties.

A resident of Clearwater, Horne attends Midland Valley High School.

“This is wonderful,” Jowers said later. “I am so excited for her. She has problems with her back and legs that make her bend over, so I was worried about her being able to sit up straight. But she came in second. I can’t believe it.”

Horne, like the rest of the Area 15 squad, lives in Aiken County and trained for the State Equestrian Show at Great Oak Aiken Therapeutic Riding Center.

“She loves the horses,” Jowers said. “They are literally her favorite things in the whole wide world. They’re something that she can control or learn to control, if that makes sense. She has always had a connection with horses, and she connects with them differently than she does people.”

In Bonnie Fulghum’s opinion, her son, Dawson, was already a winner before he rode his mount into the show ring Sunday to compete at the Aiken Horse Park Foundation’s Bruce’s Field.

She believes Dawson’s participation in horseback riding as an activity has helped him become a better student.

A member of the National Honor Society, Dawson, 19, is on track to graduate next year from Aiken High School.

During the opening ceremony for the State Equestrian Show on Saturday, he sang “The Star Spangled Banner.”

“For someone with autism, that’s pretty amazing,” Bonnie said. “Four years ago, before he started riding, all this wasn’t even thought of as a possibility. Riding has really given him the confidence to know that he has control of his world.”

As a competitive equestrian, Dawson also has made significant progress.

“He is riding independently this year (in the State Equestrian Show),” Bonnie said. “Last year, he had someone leading him and side walkers. This year, he isn’t being led. He has come a long way.”

Riders from six of the 16 Special Olympics areas in South Carolina participated in the State Equestrian Show, which was held at Bruce’s Field for the second consecutive year.

“I just want to thank the Aiken Horse Park Foundation for letting us have this unbelievable event here again,” said Wendy O’Brien, chairwoman of Great Oak’s board of directors. “It’s fun to watch all these kids do so well. Some of them can ride by themselves, without any help, and that’s awesome. It gives them a chance to actually show off their talents, which is pretty cool.”

​Dede Biles is the Aiken County government, business and horse industry reporter for the Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @DBethBiles.