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Viggo Mortensen, John Fusco bring 'Hidalgo' home
American Paint Horses ride into hearts of leading Hollywood actor and screenwriter

FORT WORTH, Texas-In Walt Disney Pictures' latest adventure movie, Hidalgo, a special relationship develops between a rider and his horse. The story unfolds with a colorful horse, once considered to be unworthy of competition against other breeds, who defies the odds and proves his worth to the world. In the process, he forever endears himself to his owner, who never doubted the horse's spirit, loyalty or determination.

It's a story based on the life of Frank Hopkins and his horse, Hidalgo. Likewise, it is an accurate representation of the bond established between actor Viggo Mortensen, who portrayed Hopkins, and his new sorrel overo Paint Horse stallion, RH Tecontender, who played Hidalgo. Similarly, it depicts Hidalgo screenplay writer John Fusco's relationship with his new American Paint Horse gelding, Impressivelybetter, who also played the legendary horse in the movie.

Mortensen and Fusco make no secret of the fact that they established strong connections with the Paint Horses during the Hidalgo film-making experience.

Viggo Mortensen and his remarkable Paint Horse "TJ"

For Mortensen, the admiration for RH Tecontender, "TJ," started on the movie set, which moved from California to Montana to South Dakota, and then on to the deserts of Morocco.

"His ability, his intelligence were just so much in keeping with the story," Mortensen said. "He would just learn things so fast. I don't know what it is. His intense concentration and his ability to just relax were incredible, especially when we had people who didn't know much about horses running around and making noise. He didn't care. He would just stay calm."

Mortensen related two scenes in particular, where TJ's talents proved to be exceptional. In one part of the story, Mortensen is seen running from a swarming mass of locusts that blacken the sky. He lies down with Hidalgo and throws a blanket over the top of both of them as a shield from the infestation.

"To get a horse to lie down like that 30 times in a row is not easy. To get him to hit the same spot over and over again, then to throw a blanket over him and blind him that way, well, most horses, especially stallions, are not going to put up with that. But TJ did."

In an equally remarkable example of natural acting ability, TJ showed his intuitive ability to do what was expected of him by Mortensen and the directors.
"There's the scene where I'm at the camp before the start of the race in Arabia and I get up in the morning, crack my neck and go over to put my hat on a peg and I'm washing my face."

In that scene, Mortensen explained, Hidalgo is supposed to pick up the hat with his mouth and bring it over to Hopkins. "It's as if he's supposed to be saying, 'Let's get out of here,' " Mortensen said.

A Paint named RJ Masterbug was trained to perform the task. He actually learned to pick up the hat, shake it and hand it to Mortensen. During the shoot, however, the directors wanted a close-up of the horse. Since TJ was the horse used for tight shots, it looked like another long round of training exercises for head wrangler Rex Peterson.
"TJ had been standing there the whole time, quietly, just watching Rex work with RJ. So, when they wanted this close-up, I said, 'Well, let's just try it,' and we brought TJ in. The first time, TJ picks up the hat, gently holds it, and looks me right in the eye. Every take! I mean that was amazing."

Mortensen said he enjoyed riding all five American Paint Horses in the film. "I rode as much as I could, and I rode all of them." Each of the horses, he said, displayed special talents.

Impressivelybetter, "Oscar," was fast and agile, Mortensen said. "He's an incredible jumper. The part where I'm racing the guy in the beginning of the movie and we're jumping those fences. That was Oscar. He could sail over them."

Honky Tonkin Tuff, "DC," was another fast horse, the actor said. "Oscar and DC, they were the kind of horses that were great when you were doing a long shot and you had to ride fast, but it was really scary sometimes, especially bareback before the take would start, because they were so moody and jumpy. You know, they were basically willing to please you, but they were all over the place spinning around and you're just trying to stay on. Once they're running full out, you're fine."

RJ Masterbug, "RJ," was an unbroken stud when he came to the set, but quickly learned to perform, thanks to the talents of Peterson, the actor said. Mortensen described the horse as bold, strong, intelligent and a quick learner.

Ima Stage Mount Two, "Doc," was built for speed, Mortensen said. "I liked Doc a lot because he was very fast and he could turn on a dime and do all kinds of things. He was very, very fast."

All of the American Paint Horses had remarkable talents, Mortensen said, and were perfect fits for the various depictions of Hidalgo. "We were lucky. I mean you don't know that going in. Rex has a good eye and he picked well."

While Mortensen said he respects all breeds of horses, he added, "I happen to like the way Paints look. It's a beautiful breed and I'm certainly proud to be friends with one and own one. … A Paint can make you look pretty good sometimes."

Mortensen keeps TJ close by his work in Hollywood so he can ride him as often as possible. The Paint Horse is presently stabled by Mortensen's friend just outside Los Angeles. Eventually, Mortensen said he will bring TJ to his ranch in Idaho to live with the horses he purchased from the sets of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

John Fusco and his high-flying Paint "Oscar"

John Fusco, whose screenwriting credits include Hidalgo, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Young Guns and Young Guns II, just to name a few, also keeps his new Paint close by. In fact, he can watch Oscar every day from his studio in northern Vermont.

"I had to have a 'Hidalgo,' and Oscar is the one I rode initially," said Fusco. "I had checked on all their backgrounds and knew that he was good with children. I thought he would be great for my son."

Fusco joked that someone once labeled him as "the screenwriter who writes them in and takes them home." In addition to Oscar, he purchased Paint Horses from the sets of several movies.

Two of those horses are Three Moons, a bay tobiano gelding, and Maide Of Smoke, a bay overo mare whom Fusco calls "Wakaya." Three Moons is a versatile horse that appeared in Fusco's film, Young Guns, about Billy the Kid and his gang. Wakaya starred in Young Guns II as the "Spirit Horse" that Billy the Kid's companion, played by Lou Diamond Phillips, is waiting on to take him to the Spirit World. Wakaya was also Fusco's inspiration for Rain, the Paint mare in his movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.
Another of Fusco's horses, "Chato," played the flashy Paint Horse that carried a brothel queen out of a burning building in Young Guns II. Jack Palance rode the horse in the first Young Guns film.

"I have made a point of writing Paints into these movies because I love them and I love to give them a home" Fusco said. "After I get attached to a horse on the set, I don't like to think of them staying in a hard-working movie string being shipped around. I like to reward them and bring them home to the good life."

As for Oscar, Fusco said he had his eye on the horse even before filming began for Hidalgo last year. Fusco recalled that Mortensen was preparing for his part in the movie and set out for the canyon country of Acton, California, for a ride to hone his horsemanship skills. Mortensen and a movie set wrangler invited Fusco along.

"They said, 'Pick a Paint,' and I said 'hello' to each of the horses to get a feel for their personality. Oscar just felt right and seemed smart to me."

Of the screenwriters and producers around Hollywood sets, Fusco said, "I've sort of become the horse guy. I guess they figured, 'If he wrote Hidalgo, he must be able to ride.' And man, did they take me on a ride!"

The outing proved challenging, even for a well-trained and experienced rider such as Fusco.

"They took me on an obstacle course that they rode daily," Fusco recalled. "It was straight up and down canyons, weaving through brush and riding full out. I was just tailing Viggo. Oscar took good care of me."

A versatile Paint Horse who has earned a long list of show points, including six Registers of Merit, Oscar is racking up more blue ribbons now with Fusco and his family.
Like Mortensen, Fusco said that the talents of the American Paint Horses in the film were never in question once they showed up for work.

All five horses, Fusco said, "really represent some of the best of the breed. As a Paint Horse owner and lover, I feel proud of the breed when I watch the movie. I hope others get the same feeling."

More about Hidalgo
Based on the true story of the greatest long-distance horse race ever run, Hidalgo is an epic action-adventure and 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 rider the West had ever known.

The Sheik (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- 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 a race for his very survival as he and his horse, Hidalgo, attempt the impossible.

Hidalgo opens in theaters nationwide on March 5. For more information on the movie, visit The site contains a movie preview, photos, computer screen wallpaper and more.

More about the American Paint Horse Association (APHA)
Since its founding 42 years ago, APHA has registered more than 765,000 horses, and has become one of the fastest-growing horse breed registries in the world.
The association serves more than 105,000 active members, who are located in every U.S. state, throughout Canada and in 41 other nations and territories around the world.
Among the many qualities that make Paint Horses desirable are their sound conformation, versatile athletic ability, intelligence, calm temperament, willing disposition and beautiful coat color patterns.

For more information about the American Paint Horse and APHA, visit, or call (817) 834-2742, extension 788.


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