When owner/trainer Paul Megson bought a pure, white Thoroughbred weanling named Arctic Bright for $80,000 at the 2007 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, he had high hopes for the son of Painting Freedom, who is one of the few male horses of his kind in the world.
After Arctic Bright turned in disappointing, unplaced efforts in his first two highly anticipated starts as a 3-year-old at Turfway Park this spring, however, Megson was forced to go back to the drawing board.
But not for long. When well-known trainer Rex Peterson, who has conditioned horses for several major films, including Disney’s recently released “Secretariat,” was in Lexington for the World Equestrian Games, he paid a visit to Arctic Bright at the Thoroughbred Center on Paris Pike. It didn’t take long for Peterson to realize the striking, fair skinned colt was exactly the horse he had been searching for.
Now Arctic Bright is on his way to start a new vocation under Peterson’s care at a private ranch in Southern California, where he will be prepared for a possible future role on the silver screen.
“There are several projects this coming year that just came off the shelf at different studios that I know about,” said Peterson, who has trained horses for other such movies as “Black Beauty,” “The Horse Whisperer,” “Hidalgo,” “Flicka,” “Dreamer,” “The Patriot,” “Runaway Bride,” and “The Black Stallion.”
“There’s one particular (movie) I think (Arctic Bright) should be in, but it’s all about who’s got what at the right time. If I’m there with him at the right time, then he’s the right horse for the job.”
Jamie Bruin, a retired jockey who still serves as an exercise rider at the Thoroughbred Center, first alerted Peterson to Arctic Bright’s existence. The rider had played a small part in “Secretariat” and knew Peterson was on a quest to find the perfect white horse to take with him to Tinsel Town.
Megson was present at a Nov. 30 send off ceremony for Arctic Bright, who departed via van from the Thoroughbred Center shortly after a small media gathering. Megson, who will retain ownership of Arctic Bright, said he was still hoping to develop Arctic Bright into a successful racehorse before Peterson came along.
“He’s so unique, and there’s very few of them in the world…he’s very intelligent, and it just seems like he’s fitted for (the movie business). When this opportunity came along, I thought it might be a better way to go,” said Megson, who attended the Nov. 30 sendoff with his wife, son, and two daughters, one of whom, Valerie, helped pick out Arctic Bright as a weanling. She noted that the colt’s departure was “bittersweet” as she would miss him, but was also excited for the opportunities that lay ahead.
Bred in Oregon by Dalene Knight, Arctic Bright is both a registered Thoroughbred and Paint Horse. According to Megson, who checked with The Jockey Club, there are only 35-40 pure white Thoroughbreds that have ever been registered, and most are either females or males that have brown or black markings somewhere on their bodies. He estimated there were probably only three or four horses like Arctic Bright on the globe.
“A snow-white, pink skinned, dark-eyed, correct, and straight horse is hard to come by—the Lone Ranger rode one years ago, and there hasn’t been a good one in 20 years,” said Peterson, who attended Arctic Bright’s sendoff with his partner Cari Swanson. The pair operates a company called Swanson Peterson Productions, which trains horses for the movie business and sells training DVDs on its website.
“I’ve been doing this for 35 years, and I’ve been looking for the right horse, and I think this horse is it,” added Peterson, who said he liked the way Arctic Bright was playful with his jockey and seemed to have a spirited personality. “This horse is an exceptional individual and I want to bring him along to the best to his ability, and Paul is here for the same purpose—to take him as far as we can.”
Peterson said he liked training Thoroughbreds for movies because “they have a little more fire, want and try about them.” He noted how he had experienced success with many other Thoroughbred ex-racehorses over the years, including Harbor Mist (nicknamed “Mr. T”), who starred in “Dreamer” and “Secretariat;” and Monkeysee Monkeydo, winner of the 1989 Texas Open Futurity at Los Alamitos during his race career who has since appeared in “Black Beauty” and several other films.
Peterson’s training techniques center around gaining a horse’s trust and self-assurance. “They have to gain a tremendous confidence in me to listen, do what I ask, and ignore everything else going on,” said Peterson.
When asked how he knew Arctic Bright was the perfect movie star candidate, Peterson said it had a lot to do with the horse’s body language and mannerisms.
“People ask me how I pick them. Sometimes it’s a feeling, sometimes it’s watching them; you just have to go and watch them,” he said. “Sometimes I turn around and walk away from them. I looked at several (white horses) through the years before picking (Arctic Bright). I think you could drive the wheels off a brand new pickup (truck) and never find another one like him.”
To read a previous blog about some of Rex Peterson and Cari Swanson’s Thoroughbreds, click here. To see some of Swanson Peterson Production’s training videos, visit their website: http://swansonpetersonproductions.com/.