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Aussie makes magic in zebra film
Date: 06/01/05
By Peter Mitchell

An Australian horse trainer has emerged as the unsung hero of the new Hollywood family film Racing Stripes.

It was Heath Harris, the former jackeroo and one of the world's top horse stunt men and trainers, who had the job of training 15-year-old New York-born actress Hayden Panettiere to ride a zebra in the style of a jockey riding a race horse.

No easy feat.

Panettiere had only ridden a horse "one or two times" before being cast as the female lead in Racing Stripes, Warner Bros' new film also starring Dustin Hoffman, Frankie Muniz, Whoopi Goldberg and rapper Snoop Dog.

Racing Stripes is about a zebra who thinks it is a race horse.

The key to the movie was, could Harris train Panettiere to ride a formerly wild zebra?

"Heath Harris is brilliant," Panettiere told AAP.

"He taught me everything."

Harris, 60, worked on many of Australia's great films - Gallipoli, Breaker Morant, Phar Lap and The Man from Snowy River - before becoming one of Hollywood's top horse trainers.

He just finished shooting Zorro 2 with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Antonio Banderas in Mexico.

It was Harris who gave the inexperienced horse rider Panettiere the thumbs up for the role.

"We were like, 'can you ride a horse and Hayden said, 'oh yes'," Racing Stripes director Frederik Du Chau recalled.

"Then we found out later she had only been on a horse twice in her life."

Panettiere's first test was at Malibu on a horse.

"She actually got thrown off the horse during the test, but she got straight back on it," Du Chau said.

Copyright 2005 AAP

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