Arctic Bright: Hollywood or Bust

I had a really neat experience on Dec. 2.

After writing this blog last winter about Thoroughbreds in Tinsel Town, and interviewing Cari Swanson of Swanson Peterson Productions, my editor informed me that Arctic Bright, a white colt I had also previously written about had been recruited by that company to train for a career in the movie business!

Rex Peterson, who is well-known for training horses in the film industry, including the Disney’s recently released “Secretariat” was present at a recent press conference at the Thoroughbred Center in Lexington, and since the story I wrote for our web site generated a lot of interest, I thought I would include some of the extra information I didn’t use in that story in this blog, along with some photos I took of Arctic Bright. I hope you enjoy!

“We wouldn’t even consider letting this horse go to just anyone--my daughters Hillary and Valerie and son Paul are all in love with the horse,” said owner/trainer Paul Megson of the 3-year-old son of Painting Freedom, who was unplaced in two starts at Turfway Park this year. “But Rex comes to us with a stellar background, and he puts the health and welfare of the horse before anything else.”

“I’ve been in the movie business 35 years, and I’ve seen a lot of white horses come and go, and I can tell you there’s not a good white horse in the movie business right now,” said Peterson, who vanned Arctic Bright to a private ranch in Southern California to be trained for a possible role on the silver screen. “I’ve been looking for the right white horse for five years, and I think this horse is it.”

Peterson said if a studio came to him and wanted Arctic Bright to be featured in an upcoming film, he could have the horse ready for shooting in seven to eight weeks.

“Most of the time, I like to put a year into it so I know where they’re at,” he said. “But I don’t think I’ll have that much time with him…I think by the middle of the year, you’ll see him in some things.”

Said Megson: “I was joking with Tommy Short who was training the horse (at the Thoroughbred Center) the other day. As Rex says, Thoroughbreds have a little more fire…they’re not crazy, just a little more aware of the present situation. We were joking if all Rex is going to do is teach this horse to rear up, he’s not going to do much, because he loves to do it on his own. So he does have a little fire to him, but he’s very, very intelligent.”

Arctic Bright with the Megson family at The Thoroughbred Center

Peterson noted how Monkeysee Monkeydo, the horse he trained for several films, including “Ruffian” and “Dreamer, won the 1989 Texas Open Futurity at Los Alamitos during his race career, but started having leg problems after campaigning just one season. His owner, who knew he was special and had a chance at another career, contacted Peterson.

“His owner said, ‘I don’t want him to be crippled and I’m afraid he’s going to because he’s been running so hard,’ ” remembered Peterson. “But now he’s 26 years old, and I still use him in the movie business. People that know the horse think it’s unbelievable. When he played Ruffian, he was in the stall and played dead. The vets that were there said, ‘We can’t believe this…the horse just came in here and lay down.’ But that’s what he was taught to do.

“Another horse I had was racing on a Friday (Harbor Mist, nicknamed “Mr. T”), and Monday morning he came to us and started training. Seven weeks later he was in Lexington with Kurt Russell leading him (on the film set of “Dreamer”), and then he went on to film “Temple Grandin” and “Arthur” in New York this summer (movie is still in production). He’s so quiet people don’t think he’s a Thoroughbred, and yet he was raced 57 times.”

Peterson was blessed to have learned the business from a man he called “the greatest trainer Hollywood had ever seen” – Glenn Randall Sr.--who conditioned all the horses for the Roy Rogers movies, as well as the the epic film “Ben-Hur.”

Arctic Bright with new trainers Rex Peterson (red shirt) and Cari Swanson

“Hollywood horses are something unless you’re around the movie business, you don’t see it anywhere else,” Peterson said. “Yes, they train Liberty Horses for the circus, but they’re always contained. When I turned my Paint Horse loose in 'Hidalgo' in the Sahara Desert, there’s not a fence in 1,000 miles. The horses have to gain a tremendous confidence in me to listen and do what I ask.

“With 120 crew members, cameras, lights, and sometimes wind machines and snow…they have to listen to me and ignore everything else. It takes patience, preparation, and persistence.”

Peterson said choosing Arctic Bright to take with him to Hollywood was partially based on a feeling.

“When I watched this horse gallop down the track the first day I saw him and I saw him playing with his jockey, he reminded me of another awfully good horse that I still own. He’s got everything going for him—we’ll see.”

Depending on his filming schedule, Arctic Bright may also stand at stud for a few months next year in either California or Kentucky as property of the Megson family. Details will be announced later.  

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