Disney's new epic adventure, Hidalgo, tells the tale of a 3,000-mile endurance race across the Arabian Desert, and the American who won the race with the help of a Paint Horse. So who is the movie's equine star? Actually, Hidalgo is a composite of five different Paint horses, all carefully selected by the film's head Wrangler, Rex Peterson.
Several years ago, Peterson called on the American Paint Horse Association to help find the right horses for the job.
"Rex called out of the blue one day and explained that he was looking for five matching Paint horses. My first thought was, 'Wow, that's going to be a challenge,' " says Jerry Circelli, director of communications for the American Paint Horse Association. "It was like a needle in a haystack trying to track horses down on hearsay, so he wanted to come down and see pictures. We have five pictures of every registered horse in our database, and at that time there were 700,000 registered Paint Horses. That's 3.5 million photos!"
Peterson spent an afternoon at APHA headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, poring over records until he found some leads. He had some specific criteria as far as coat colors and patterns, and wanted geldings or stallions, 4 to 10 years old. Part of the challenge, Circelli says, was that a horse with a lot of white would work because it could be covered with dark "makeup," but a primarily dark-colored horse wouldn't be suitable.
After a number of phone calls and more than a few trips around the country, Peterson found his horses. "He had a mission," says Circelli, "and he got the job done. We just opened up our records for him and he did all the legwork."
Peterson kept in touch with the APHA and this year brought one of the Hidalgo stars, RH Tecontender--better known as TJ--to the APHA World Show for a demonstration.
"We're fortunate that Disney sent him to Fort Worth for the World Show with this horse," Circelli says. "As the announcer talked about the race in the desert and how grueling it was, Rex put the horse through its paces. After the performance, he signed autographs for nearly four hours. Rex is a special trainer, and he's not only good with horses, he's good with kids and good with people."
Here's how Peterson described each of the horses in the film:
TJ (RH Tecontender): He became my number one cast horse because of his disposition and willing attitude. He wasn't a problem for anyone to ride."
RJ (RJ Masterbug): "He was a three-year old stud, completely unbroken when I found him--and he became the perfect trick horse; smart, able, willing to try anything."
Doc (Ima Stage Mount Two): He's a pretty hard-knocker, tough and willing to do anything he was asked."
Oscar (Impressivelybetter): "He was a little girl's show horse. I wound up using him mainly for jumping, because that's where his training was."
DC (Honky Tonkin Tuff): Larger and more rawboned in appearance than the other horses, Peterson chose DC for specific shots where those qualities needed to stand out.