Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Looking for information about whether or not Julia Roberts actually rode the beautiful chestnut in RUNAWAY BRIDE, I came across this.  It is a little long, but it has a lot of fun information about how these horses are trained and how well they are loved, not only by their owners but the actors/actresses that ride them.  At the end is a section on beautiful horse used for the movie Hidalgo. Any horse lover like I am will find this fascinating (I love when Hightower auditioned for Robert Redford), if you aren't into horses skip on. lol Hope you enjoy the info either way.
Hightower (1982-2008) the favorite and beloved trick horse owned and trained by Rex Peterson, died peacefully at the age of 26 on October 30, 2008 at Rex Peterson’s ranch in Tehachapi, California.
Hightower starred in dozens of films over his career, most notably as “Pilgrim” in Robert Redford’s The Horse Whisperer, and he was famously FedExed to the East Coast to shoot a scene with Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride.
Hightower had a heart as big as the great outdoors and will be remembered as one of the most intelligent and noble equine actors of our day.  He will be universally mourned by all who had the honor to work with him.
Rex Peterson has 35 years of experience working with a wide variety of horses, riders, and riding styles in both the movie industry and the private sector.  He is the owner of Rex Peterson Horse Training in Tehachapi, California, where he developed his world-renowned horse training clinic.  Peterson’s many film credits include All The Pretty Horses, Appaloosa, Back To The Future III, Batman Returns, Black Beauty, City Slickers, Electric Horseman, Far And Away, Geronimo: An American Legend, Hot Shots, Hidalgo, Flicka, Runaway Bride, The Patriot, The Doors, The Horse Whisperer, Three Amigos, The Black Stallion, Wild Bill, and 1941.
Anyone who wishes to share their memories and photographs of Hightower should send them to Rex Peterson (  to be included in a book, “Hightower, One in a Million.”
Tehachapi News, January 12, 2009
Long life for star horse
By: Tina Forde
A famous actor died in Tehachapi Oct. 30, 2008.
His name was Hightower. He was 26 years old.
That’s a good old age for a horse.
Among his other achievements, Hightower appeared as the ill-fated Ginger in “Black Beauty,” as the traumatized Pilgrim in “The Horse Whisperer” and as the steed who carried Julia Roberts away in “Runaway Bride.”
For that gig, he had to shoot some extra scenes after the main shooting was over. By then, Hightower was in the middle of another film in California. FedEx shipped him back to the East Coast for the additional footage.
The director and the star wouldn’t hear of using any other horse. Roberts wanted to buy him.
Rex Peterson, Hightower’s owner and trainer, lost part of his heart when Hightower died.
“He was a great, great horse,” Peterson said in an interview at his ranch in Tehachapi, where he keeps, trains and breeds about 30 horses. “If you have one great horse in a lifetime, consider yourself lucky.”
“When the going got tough, he just got better and better,” the 54-year-old trainer said. “Hightower had a presence. When the camera rolled, he knew it was there.”
By the time Hightower worked in 2004 on “Princess Diaries II” – whose director, Garry Marshall, decreed “Let’s understand this: There’s one horse on my movie set, and that’s Hightower” – Hightower would perk up like a true thespian for the cameras, but Peterson could tell it was an effort.
“He was sore in the morning. He had arthritis. He would walk up to the set like an old man and then work all day just like he was fine. He had a work ethic. He was a professional. He knew why he was there.”
“I said, ‘enough.’ I retired him after Princess Diaries II.”
Happy in Tehachapi
The unregistered chestnut racing Quarter Horse lived out his days peacefully in the company of Peterson’s other equine actors, including the pure black Justin, who still lives there among his numerous progeny, and offspring of the star of “Hidalgo.”
During his aging star’s retirement years at the Tehachapi ranch, Peterson said.
“Hightower would run with babies. He was a good babysitter.”
Hightower’s pal Justin, a Quarter Horse stallion whose registered name is Doc’s Keepin’ Time, starred in the 1994 Warner Brothers production of “Black Beauty,” wearing a wig for the white diamond between his eyes. Justin appeared in “The Horse Whisperer” as the horse Gulliver, who was killed at the beginning of the film, and performed in commercials, music videos and television, including the Family Channel’s “Black Stallion” series.
Peterson learned the hard way that Hightower, a gelding from Beaumont, Calif., was a unique animal.
“Hightower was given to me as a two-year-old,” Peterson said. “He wasn’t much when I got him. I used him for a ranch horse. We were roping (in an event) at the top of Topanga. A 2,000-pound buckin’ bull – a Brindle that had escaped — picked us up and carried us 50 to 60 feet. This horse never panicked.”
He said his friends told him, “That horse will never rope another.”
Aboard Hightower, Peterson said, “I roped another that afternoon. There was no panic in him. A couple of months later I got a call for the “Winter People (a movie).”
In that film, a horse was required to “drag a guy to death,” Peterson said.
“The other three horses burned up, dragging him mile and after mile.”
But not Hightower, Peterson said – he just kept dragging that guy better each time.
Audition for Redford
Hightower won the starring role in the “Horse Whisperer” by nailing his audition with Robert Redford.
Peterson taught Hightower to feign a charging attack, one of the actions that the injured, anti-social Pilgrim would do in the story.
“When they drop their neck and charge you, the game’s over. It’s serious,” Peterson said. “They are coming at you to hurt you. They come in low to get at the jugular.”
Redford came to Peterson’s ranch, which was in Simi Valley at the time, to look at the prospect.
At a hissing signal from Peterson and from a standing start 30 feet away, Hightower bore down on Redford, head lowered as if to attack, backing the startled actor against a fence before pulling up about a foot away from him on command.
Redford hired him on the spot.
Peterson, a native of Nebraska ranch and farm country, worked the rodeo and Wild West show circuit as a prelude to becoming a renowned trainer, performing trick riding, Roman riding, chariot racing and jousting.
While working at a spectacular Wild West show in New Jersey, Peterson became a protege of fellow Nebraskan Glenn Randall, Sr. — “the greatest horse trainer Hollywood has ever seen,” Peterson said.
Peterson’s mentor
“He did stuff with horses nobody ever did,” Peterson said of Randall – including teaching Roy Rogers’ Trigger to “empty and drain” on command before entering a children’s hospital.
“Glenn was a master horseman,” Peterson said. “When someone asked if something could be done, he said, ‘Never been done doesn’t mean it can’t be done.’”
Peterson said Randall rode and trained every day.
Peterson learned from Randall how to build confidence in horses by using whips – not ever to touch the animals, but “as extensions of your hand.”
Peterson said good trainers aren’t born.
“There’s no such thing as a horse whisperer. It’s a fantasy. A fairy tale,” he said.
“There are people that spend their lives becoming great horsemen.”
Similarly, after “The Black Stallion,” he said, “Everybody wanted to buy their kid a wild horse. I would tell them, ‘Do you have a lot of life insurance on your kid?’ A horse is not a dog. It’s never your buddy or your pard. It’s never bought you a cold beer or paid the electric bill.”
Hidalgo horse tale
For “Hidalgo,” the story of a western showman (played by Viggo Mortensen) and his mustang who compete in a 3,000-mile race across northern Africa, Peterson spent seven weeks hunting for five paint mustangs to play the lead role.
The director threw the photos of the first 200 candidates on the floor, dissatisfied with them all.
Peterson finally handed over a shot of one last horse. It was a show horse and did not look anything like a mustang.
The director said, ‘This is the horse I want. Every little girl in America will fall in love with him.’”
Peterson had to find four others to match the horse, named TJ. Actor Mortensen, a superb horseman, bought him from Peterson after the filming.
As the main horse trainer on “Hidalgo,” Peterson made it clear he would tolerate no fighting among the horses.
In Morocco, he said, the men ride stallions  — no mares, no geldings, just stallions.
So the grand shot of the start of the race, featuring high-strung local Arab horses and riders, could have been chaos.
“There were 120 studs on that starting line,” he said.
At the first take, two stallions got into it. Overriding resistance from the local contractor (“But they’re my friends…”) and with full support of the director, Peterson ejected the miscreants.
He had no more trouble.
Peterson used his magic touch to train Justin for the video of British pop group Procul Harum’s song “Won’t Fade Away.” The sequence called for a horse to burst forth after being completely buried in sand. Peterson accomplished this near-impossible feat, and will not reveal the secret.
Peterson lives at his ranch with his two sons, Tyler, 18, a 2008 graduate of Tehachapi High School, and Ryan, 17, a senior at Tehachapi.
He moved to Tehachapi six years ago after the notoriety of “Hidalgo” brought too many curious visitors to his door.
Each and every horse is an individual, Peterson said, and he is hoping that one of the horses he is currently working with will be as good as Hightower.
“He will hopefully replace Hightower,” Peterson said, conceding that any newcomer probably will not have Hightower’s work ethic. “He will have to fill awfully big shoes.”
RJ, the Equine Star of “Hidalgo” moves to Millbrook:Ambassador at Large for Horse Rescue Rehabilitation and Retirement Foundation at Windrock Farm
By Jeanne Chisholm with photos by EG Simson and Kathy Landman
HOLLYWOOD  A LISTER  “RJ”, the famous American paint stallion that played Hidalgo will make his East Coast debut at a benefit performance at noon on Saturday May 5th at Windrock Farm. The popular equine movie star has relocated to Millbrook and will help in bringing attention to the Horse Rescue, Rehabilitation and Retirement Foundation owned and operated by horsewoman Cari
Swanson.  “Initially, like most people I was unaware of how many horses were needed to play the famous mustang for the film Hidalgo,” Swanson says.  Hollywood being what it is, five different horses were used for the demanding role. “Each morning of shooting, the horses entered the hair and make-up tent where artists armed with paintbrushes and airbrush guns created a uniform look.  The primary trick horse was RJ, one of the most expressive and charismatic of the horses recruited for the part.”
RJ was trained for the part by the legendary trainer Rex Peterson, whose movie credits include “Runaway Bride” and “The Princess Diaries 2”. A mutual friend, Margaret Hilliard, who works as a unit production manager in Hollywood and has frequently called upon Peterson’s expertise, introduced Swanson to Peterson.
“When a film script calls for the use of horses, Margaret [Hilliard] is the go-to person who makes the film happen,” Swanson says. “She looks for the best horse trainers and wranglers in the business. As the trainer for the horse scenes of each film, Peterson works closely with the director and principal actors.  His expertise allows the cast to feel confident and comfortable with the animals, enhancing their individual performances.” His film credits also include “All the Pretty Horses”, “Black Stallion”, “Electric Horseman”, “Horse Whisperer” and “Flicka. He is currently developing a reality TV series about horse stunts behind the scenes.
The film, “Hidalgo” was pegged as an “incredible true story of the greatest long-distance horse race ever run.” The story was inspired by the tale of Frank T. Hopkins, played by actor Viggo Mortensen, a Pony Express rider and his mustang invited to participate in a 3,000-mile Arabian Desert race in 1890.
The movie was produced by Hidalgo Productions and Casey Silver and directed by Joe Johnston. Actors Omar Sharif and Zuleikha Robinson were also part of the film which involved intense action not only with the horses but also leopards and a falcon.
Of the five horses Peterson eventually selected for the part, it has been reported RJ proved to be the most agile trick horse. He did however, draw the line when he refused to be covered with fabricated locusts while lying down.  Swanson, who will introduce RJ to visitors at her farm for the May 5th event, has worked with horses over many decades and been fortunate to meet interesting and unique equines. This has inspired her to begin writing a book called “Horses with Charisma.” She feels a celebrity horse will boost visibility of her book and at the same time highlight the Horse Rescue, Rehabilitation and Retirement Foundation.
“Until recently RJ suffered from the common Hollywood curse of being type cast as the Hidalgo horse,” says Swanson, a United States Dressage Federation Silver Medallist and international competitor in dressage and eventing. “Many may think it ridiculous that a seven-year-old equine celebrity in Hollywood is a wash up due to typecasting. Not to worry as RJ is reinventing himself by finding a new career at Windrock Farm.”
According to Swanson, in March of 2007, Peterson drove RJ three thousand miles from Southern California to Millbrook to help raise awareness of the Horse Rescue, Rehabilitation and Retirement Foundation.  “Over decades of working with horses, I’ve recognized the urgent need to help misunderstood, unsound or difficult horses find a job they’re happy performing.  If horses could speak they’d have a great deal to say and their needs would be hard to ignore,” she adds.
“It was obvious from the moment I met RJ that he was a superstar, demanding attention and respect.  His noble eye never left Peterson as he obeyed each voice and body command with lightening speed and precision. Transferring the trainer/horse connection to me is challenging at times.  Sometimes RJ takes advantage of my cues and bolts away,” say Swanson who also trains and sells dressage, jumper and event prospects.
“We’ve had several sessions where I must make it perfectly clear that I’m the boss, laying him down and sitting on top of him.   Fortunately he continues to come back to me with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face.  I think we may have designed a new trick.  This horse has a sense of humor. When I cue him to shake his head yes, he paws with the right, then the left, shakes his head no and finally sticks his tongue out yawning.  He’s warning me that we’re in transition.  I quite agree and accept this challenge.   There are several basic rules when working with trick horses.  If I remember these rules, all’s well. There’s nothing more exhilarating than a stallion rearing up over your head pawing at the sky.”

And, although RJ does not in anyway qualify as a resident of the Horse Rescue, Rehabilitation and Retirement Foundation, he can bring nationwide attention to this worthwhile cause, but stay tuned. RJ’s new career is taking off, he’s currently in negotiations with a new talent agency in New York to represent him in print ads and commercials.
Horse Rescue Rehabilitation and Retirement Foundation at Windrock Farm will provide a home for unwanted horses primarily but not exclusively from the horse show world or thoroughbred racing. Having successfully placed many horses in new homes, Windrock Farm in partnership with the HRRR Foundation will lead the effort to create awareness, action and support to help our equine friends. In addition the Horse Rescue, Rehabilitation and Retirement Foundation will educate individuals through clinics and lectures to help prevent horses from being mistreated or misunderstood.
About The Author: Jeanne Chisholm is the owner of Chisholm Gallery, LLC & Emporium in Pine Plains, NY specializing in Fine Sporting & Equestrian Paintings, Decorative Arts, Architectural Elements, Lavishly Illustrated Books, and many Estate Offerings.
Chisholm lives in close proximity to Windrock Farm, keeps her watchful eye on Cari Swanson & RJ, and encourages the reader to support their noble efforts.

November 2005
RJ Masterbug, the Equine Star of “Hidalgo” (Disney film, 2004) is introduced to Cari at Rex’s ranch in Southern California

Rex Peterson

The Man Behind the Reins of Hidalgo

Professional animal trainer Rex Peterson has trained horses for the movies for more than 25 years, creating some of the most exciting and complex horse action sequences ever filmed. His many credits include Black Beauty, The Black Stallion, The Horse Whisperer, The Patriot, Runaway Bride, The Ring, and Hidalgo. As he commented to American Humane while on the set of Hidalgo, “The horses are my kids and I won’t have them mistreated,” he says.

An animal-loving trainer

Peterson knows from experience that the animal/trainer bond is essential because, in filming, the animal has to ignore the camera, lights, actors, smoke, and crew and focus solely on the performance.
In filming Hidalgo, Peterson’s team of experienced trainers worked with each horse to enhance its natural talents and to match each horse with an appropriate rider. Stunts in Hidalgo required plenty of preparation and in some cases up to nine weeks of training. Shooting schedules change often in filmmaking, and the lead time Peterson had expected for one scene in which Hidalgo drags an actor out of the Wild West Show ring was pushed up.
RJ — one of the horses playing Hidalgo — had trained for this stunt, and Peterson called him “smart, powerful, and a quick learner.” Although RJ was an unbroken three-year-old when cast, Peterson recalls knowing within the first five minutes of meeting the horse that RJ was an exceptional creature.
For Hidalgo, Peterson was able to teach the lead actor to lay down a horse safely — a critical skill during filming when the trainer could not remain close to give cues and the action required significant trust between man and horse.

An American Humane kind of trainer

American Humane has found that when filming abroad the standard of animal welfare varies based on cultural beliefs, local animal welfare legislation, economics, and technological availability. During pre-production of Hidalgo in Morocco, Peterson insisted that the production adhere to American Humane’s Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media. He also refused to use studs and demanded that all horses be in good physical condition and free of ring bit sores in their mouths.
Both American Humane and Peterson recognized that the local trainers in Morocco needed help adhering to American Humane Guidelines that call for a high standard of care, especially in the use of bits. The local horses wore severe Moroccan ring bits, which go around the horse’s lower jaw and can tear the tongue and corners of the mouth, and in some instances, even break the jaw. Peterson recommended that instead the production supply Spanish bits, which have a short shank, mild low port, and a leverage factor that helps control but is not severe. Production donated the bits to 100 of the local riders in hopes they would extol the welfare benefits of the Spanish bit to other riders.

An award-winning trainer

The American Paint Horse Association presented a special “Legendary Achievement Award” to Peterson, who accepted on behalf of himself, Walt Disney Studios, Hidalgo Director Joe Johnston, Producer Casey Silver, Actor Viggo Mortensen, and “Hidalgo.” These entertainers were credited for their brilliant and outstanding work in showcasing the beauty, talent, and versatility of the American Paint Horse breed in this epic action-adventure film.

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