HAHIRA -- Twelve-year-old Rico Burks is proud of his first-year performance in the Special Olympics State Horse Show recently held in Alpharetta.

A rider from Jacobs' Ladder Therapeutic Riding Center Inc., in Hahira, Burks said, with a huge smile on his face, "I had a good time."

Burks, a seventh-grader from Hahira Middle School, competed in two divisions -- trail class and western equitation, winning fourth and second places, respectively.

"At first I was nervous," Burks said, explaining why he thinks he came in fourth in the trail class.

Of course, when it came time for his second performance, he was an old pro and wowed the crowd and judges with his Western equitation skills.

Fidgeting with what he refers as his "bling bling" hanging around his neck, Burks said, "It's great to have a medal."

And where can that prize possession be found on any given day?

"It doesn't hang up," he said, a grin forming across his face. "I just wear it all the time."

Burks' brother, Dominic, brought home two first-place wins from the Special Olympics State Horse Show, his first as well.

A master of the western equitation and trail class, this 12-year-old Hahira Middle School seventh-grader, who's "not a twin" by the way, said, "It felt good, especially when I received the awards."

Unlike his brother, Dominic hangs his medals on the wall for everyone to see and admire.

"My favorite event is the trail class," he said. "It's just easy for me."

Brittany Murphy, a Parker-Mathis Elementary fifth-grader, described her first Special Olympics horse show as fun.

"(I've) got to have hot chocolate and be with Divine and Buddy," two of the horses the riders used at the show, said the wide-eyed and excited Murphy.

Sassy was the third horse that traveled to Alpharetta.

Murphy, 11, won first place in English equitation and sixth place in trail class.

"I was really excited about winning first place," she said.

Murphy, too, wears her medal every day, proud of her accomplishment.

The three riders were accompanied by Leslie Jacobs, center director; and Daniel Jacobs, Julie Carter, Marcia Collins, and Stacie Powers, volunteers.

"I am really proud of these kids," Leslie said. "They set out to do their best, and I feel like they accomplished that."

A member center of the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, Jacobs' Ladder Therapeutic Riding Center Inc. is a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization.

Physical benefits of therapeutic horseback riding include improved posture and balance, great muscle tone and strength, increased range of motion, better eye-hand coordination, and improved joint mobility. Other benefits are of the emotional and social nature and include the pride of learning a new skill; independence, self-esteem, and self-awareness; greater self-control; the chance to make new friends, both human and animal; and social interaction and cooperation.

Therapeutic riding began in Europe more than 50 years ago and has become an established treatment method widely recognized by the medical, psychiatric, and social service professions worldwide.

Jacobs' Ladder Therapeutic Riding Center Inc. is located at 5866 Bradford Road North, Hahira.

For information, please call 794-1188.

To contact reporter Jessica Pope, please call 244-3400, ext. 255.

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