By RANDY BURNS
Item Staff Writer
The winners of the prestigious Pyramid Challenge 25-mile endurance ride held earlier this month at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Ky., represent a partnership between Lee and Darlington counties.
Becky Hayden of Bishopville rode Nuke, an 8-year-old Egyptian stallion, owned by Marie and Mark Sobiski of Windward Farm of Darlington, to first place in the record time of 1 hour, 44 minutes.
"A good time for that race is two hours," Marie said. "He crossed the finish line 20 minutes ahead of the next horse."
In addition to winning the first place trophy, Nuke received an authentic Middle Eastern saddle for being the highest placing straight Egyptian horse.
The Sobiskis gave the authentic Moroccan saddle to Hayden.
"The saddle is like a trophy," Hayden said. "I'd really like to show off Arab horses in native costume and customize the saddle a little to use for that."
For now, visitors to Hayden's home have no trouble taking a look at the saddle.
"It's still in my living room," she said. "It's a nice trophy. People just want to come in to look at it."
Nuke became the first straight (full-blooded) Egyptian to win the race since Desert Sword, a gelding owned by David and Martha Lucas of Whitehaven Plantation in Lee County, won in 2002, Mark said.
"He received the ceremonial saddle given by the King of Morocco to the first Egyptian horse to cross the finish line," Mark said. The race is held in conjunction with the Egyptian Event, a celebration of the Egyptian horse.
Hayden and Nuke are no strangers. Hayden has ridden Nuke in all of his seven previous races, Mark said.
"They have finished top five in all of his races and won the Best Conditioned award at the Lee County Lizard Run held at Lee State Park in March 2009," he said. "He was also named the 2008 Institute for the Desert Horse National Top 10 in performance."
Marie said Hayden told them of the Pyramid Challenge and the Moroccan saddle four years ago, when Hayden was working at Whitehaven Plantation in Lee County.
"We were boarding Nuke there and Becky told us she'd love to ride him in endurance races," Marie said. "She believed we could make an endurance horse out of him while other people said he was too small and too wild."
Nuke is the only stallion to win the 25-mile race in its nine-year history, Mark said.
Hayden said she knew Nuke was a special horse. She also acknowledged that riding a stallion is a challenge.
"It's a little hard to keep a stallion's mind on racing," she said. "He knows he can run, but he also knows he can do other things."
Contact Staff Writer Randy Burns at firstname.lastname@example.org or (803) 491-4533.