Local zebra stars in new film


Published: Friday, January 14, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 13, 2005 at 11:18 p.m.
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Actress Hayden Panettiere rides the zebra named Sam who was trained in Marion County. Sammy is one of two zebras who played Stripes, the zebra voiced by Frankie Muniz in the film "Racing Stripes."

Warner Bros.
Tim Rivers remembers the days he used to spend galloping around his animal farm on the back of his buddy Sam Quentin. For nearly 12 years, the black and white, mild-mannered zebra grew up on Rivers' farm, Animals in Motion, in Marion County.
Rivers has spent practically his whole life training domestic and exotic animals, like Sam, to one day light up on the big screen and star in ads and commercials. In this case, Sam's special and unique talent is being broke to ride, a characteristic that led Alcon Entertainment to feature Sam in its upcoming movie, "Racing Stripes."
He is one of two riding zebras used in the movie, but being able to work under saddle like a horse is not the only thing Sam has in common with his character.
Both were picked up as babies. Rivers bought Sam at the age of six months from an auction in Missouri and trained him on his farm, Animals in Motion, near Citra. In the movie, Stripes is a baby zebra accidentally left behind by a traveling circus during a bad thunderstorm. He is rescued by Nolan, a horse farmer, played by Bruce Greenwood, and brought back to live on his farm.
Stripes grows up on the farm thinking he's a horse and eventually sets his sites on the track next door to win the prestigious Kentucky Open. And at Animals in Motion, Rivers succeeded in training Sam to ride and said he believes in some ways Sam wanted to be a horse.
"Most of the zebras are wild and silly. He wasn't that way. It's very hard to find one broke to ride. Sam rode pretty good. He (Sam) kind of wanted to be a horse," said Rivers, adding Sam likes carrots and apples. "If you took him out to a pasture with six zebras and two horses, he'd hang out with the horses. He just preferred being with the horses."
A year has passed since Rivers shipped off Sam to be in the movie, which stars Frankie Muniz of "Malcolm in the Middle" fame as the voice of Stripes. The movie, which is in theaters Friday, follows Stripes' journey as an abandoned zebra who thinks he's a horse, and, with the help of a troupe of talking barnyard friends and a teenage girl, sets out to achieve his dream of racing with thoroughbreds.
Fifteen-year-old Hayden Panettiere, best known for her spunky performances in "Remember the Titans" and Fox's "Ally McBeal," is Channing, the daughter of the horse farmer, who's known Stripes since a baby and is just as determined to be a jockey as Stripes is to be racehorse.
The movie is set in Kentucky, but was shot in South Africa. Rivers said because of complications surrounding import/export laws and quarantine procedures he had to sell his favorite zebra for the movie. So Sam got "stuck" in Africa, Rivers said, and his new home is an animal park in South Africa near Johannesburg. Rivers said he first saw the trailer for the movie while watching "Animal Planet" about two months ago and recognized Sam immediately.
"I wish I had him back. I miss him. He was the best zebra I ever had. I'd give back what they gave me if he could come back," said Rivers, who wouldn't disclose the selling price.
Rivers said only a few of the 50 animals he has on the farm noticed Sam was gone. And even then, it was only for about a week. But Rivers does have a piece of Sam still with him.
"We got his little brother now," Rivers said. "I call him little Sam."
In the production notes of "Racing Stripes," it said "Sammy" was more calm than the other racing horse Daisy. "Sammy was the quietest and thus the safest around humans and other animals, but Panettiere still had to be very careful around him in case something frightened him," the notes stated.
Sam, almost 13-years-old, has had years of experience being around humans and on sets, Rivers said. He was used in the 1995 adventure comedy "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" and the television shows, "Second Noah" and "Sheena." Rivers said Sam also did some still shots in a photo layout with tennis great Steffi Graf. He's been in several commercials as well, most notably for Schweppes' beverages.
"He's a very well-behaved zebra," Rivers said. "Most zebras are bad to kick and bite, but Sam was good. I could take him into a hotel."
To prepare Sam for the movie, Rivers took him out to McKathan Farm to practice in the starting gates. Sam, Rivers said, was a natural. "Of course he didn't run as fast as the horses, but he did very well," Rivers said with pride in his voice. "Racing Stripes," directed by Frederik Du Chau, follows the technique of "Babe." It has a cast of human actors and real animals voiced by some of Hollywood's most recognizable voices.
Dustin Hoffman is Tucker the Shetland pony. Comedian and actress Whoppi Goldberg plays Fanny, the wise old goat. Pop songstress Mandy Moore is the beautiful filly Sandy who sends Stripes' heart aflutter. The lazy bloodhound, Lightning, is rap star and novice actor Snoop Dogg. Horsefly duo Scuzz and Buzz come to life with the voices of comedians David Spade and Steve Harvey. And Jeff Foxworthy lends his Southern twang as the dumb rooster Reggie.f-z As part of the deal with the producers, Rivers' brother, Bill, went to Africa and worked as Sam's trainer. Tim Rivers said his brother sent back photos of Sam during filming. "I just wanted to see how he looked," Tim Rivers said.
But he didn't have to worry much because the Animal Anti-Cruelty Welfare Officer was on set every day, according to the production notes.
Steven P. Wegner, the executive producer, said he had been working on this story since 1998. The idea of using painted horses came to mind at first, but then they hit the jackpot when they found Sammy - as he was called on the set.
"Sammy was our star zebra. He was the tamest of the bunch," he said. "He was great and well-trained. He was the most relaxed on the set compared to the other zebras."
All the scenes with Panettiere are shot with Sam, Wegner said, adding that the two became very close. Although humans didn't bother Sam, some of the other animals did. "The pelican kind of freaked out the zebras," Wegner said.
Tim Rivers said he'll definitely go see the movie this weekend and hopes to one day see Sam again. "If I go to Africa, I'll go see how he's doing, but I'm not going to make a special trip," he said lightheartedly.

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