American Paint Horses Become Movie Stars

Actor Viggo Mortensen (center) in the filming of Hidalgo. | © Richard Cartwright, Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Hidalgo, an epic action-adventure from Walt Disney Pictures, based on the true story of the greatest long-distance horse race in history, is now out on DVD and features a registered American Paint Horse in the starring role. In all, five American Paint Horses were used at various times to play the role of Hidalgo, the colorful equine star of the film.

Directed by Joe Johnston and produced by Casey Silver, the film stars Viggo Mortensen, Zuleikha Robinson, and Omar Sharif. John Fusco, whose screenwriting credits include Thunderheart, Young Guns, and the animated feature, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, wrote the original screenplay. Don Zepfel is the film’s executive producer. The film was distributed by Buena Vista Pictures Distribution and was released in theaters in 2003 and on DVD in 2004.

Based on the true story of the greatest long-distance horse race ever run, Hidalgo is one man’s journey of personal redemption. Held yearly for centuries, the Ocean of Fire–a 3,000 mile survival race across the Arabian Desert–was a challenge restricted to the finest Arabian horses ever bred, the purest and noblest lines, owned by the greatest royal families.

In 1890, a wealthy sheik invited an American and his horse to enter the race for the first time. Frank T. Hopkins (Viggo Mortensen) was a cowboy and dispatch rider for the U.S. Cavalry who had once been billed as the greatest endurance rider the West had
ever known. The Sheikh (Omar Sharif) would put this claim to the test, pitting the American cowboy and his mustang, Hidalgo, against the world’s greatest Arabian horses and Bedouin riders &mdash some of whom were determined to prevent the foreigner from finishing the race. For Frank, the Ocean of Fire becomes not only a matter of pride and honor, but also a race for his very survival as he and his horse, Hidalgo, attempt the impossible.

Locations for the motion picture include California, Montana, South Dakota, Texas and extended shooting in Morocco.

Paint Horse Stars

The American Paint Horse stars include the following APHA registered horses: Ima Stage Mount Two, Honky Tonkin Tuff, Impressivelybetter, RH Tecontender and RJ Masterbug. According to Walt Disney officials, the horses were selected based on the similar coat patterns they share with the true-life horse, Hidalgo, as well as their athletic abilities and trainability. World-renowned horse trainer Rex Peterson was instrumental in selecting the horses. Peterson, who serves as horse trainer in the film, has many Hollywood movies to his credit, including Black Beauty and The Horse Whisperer.

Distinguished Actors

Viggo Mortensen (Frank T. Hopkins) was most recently seen as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Mortensen made his screen debut in Peter Weir’s Witness. Some of his other film credits include Indian Runner, Carlito’s Way, A Perfect Murder, Crimson Tide, and A Walk on the Moon.

London-born Zuleikha Robinson (Jazira) has credits in film, television and stage in her young career. She was recently seen in Mike Figgis’ Timecode as well as in X-Files creator Chris Carter’s drama series, The Lone Gunmen.

Omar Sharif (Sheikh Riyadh) has amassed an illustrious film career including an Academy Award® nomination for his role of Ali Ibn Kharish in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. He won a second Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in Lean’s Doctor Zhivago. He has starred in over 60 motion pictures, including Funny Girl and Funny Lady, both with Barbra Streisand.

Exhibiting an eclectic range of film credits, director Joe Johnston previously directed Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, The Rocketeer, Jumanji, October Sky, and Jurassic Park III. Prior to directing, Johnston was an Academy Award-winning visual effects designer for both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, working on Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark and its sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Producer Casey Silver began Casey Silver Productions in October 1999 after serving as chairman and chief executive officer of Universal Pictures. He currently has some 30 properties in development.

Behind-the-camera personnel on Hidalgo include Shelly Johnson, director of photography; Barry Robison, production designer; Jeffrey Kurland, costume designer and Robert Dalva, editor.

For more information on Paints, visit the American Paint Horse Association at

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