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 (Mortensen) was a cowboy and dispatch rider for the US cavalry who had once been billed as the greatest rider the West had ever known. The Sheik (Sharif) would put his 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.
The staying power and endurance of these horses became notable when in 1877 Frank T. Hopkins bred a line of Mustang horses. Frank T. Hopkins, probably the greatest long-distance endurance rider who ever saddled a horse, proved the virtues of the American Mustang many times.
A former dispatch rider in the United States Army, Hopkins developed his endurance-riding ability carrying dispatches for frontier generals and his horse-handling skill as a specialty rider in the Buffalo Bill wild-west shows. All in all, Hopkins won more than four hundred races in the late 1800's, when endurance riding was the rage, and for most of those rides he was mounted on a Kiger type or Paint mustang.
In 1886 he entered his first horse in an endurance ride form Galveston Texas, to Rutland Vermont. Hopkins entered the contest on a Dun (buckskin) stallion. Fifty-six riders set out from Galveston on September 6. Thirty-one days later he reached Rutland in first place with his horse in good condition. He had to wait thirteen days for the second place horse to arrive and then a few more days for the third. No others reached the finish line, and the two that had finished were worn out and poor condition.
One of the first proponents of the mustang and the Paint Horse, Hopkins became internationally known not only for setting unbeatable records in endurance racing but also for the excellent quality of the horses he rode. His ranch in Wyoming Territory was the home of a number of good and one outstanding Paint Horse, Hidalgo. Described as a cream-and-white Paint Horse, Hidalgo was bred on a Sioux Indian reservation in South Dakota. He was known as an American mustang and possessed the indefatigable endurance typical of the breed. Hopkins obtained the young Paint from the Sioux about 1882.
At the World's Fair in Paris in l889, Hopkins was approached by Rau Rasmussen, a freighter who dominated most of the trade from Aden to Gaza, to enter his Paint Mustang in a three-thousand-mile endurance race across the Arabian desert. Rasmussen had heard of the American mustangs' hardiness and asked Hopkins if he would be willing to pit one of his best against prized Arabian horses. Hopkins accepted the challenge. The desert endurance race was a true test of a horse's strength and stamina. To be able to complete the course, a horse must have a healthy constitution, incredible power, a staunch spirit, strong legs, and sure steps. Beginning in Aden, in southern Arabia, the course followed the Persian Gulf and then turned inland over the barren sandy land along the borders of Arabia, Iraq, and Syria.
The contest had been held annually for a thousand years, and in the past had always been won by an Arab horse. In the words of Anthony A. Amaral, writing of this famous race:
Slightly over one hundred horses started on the ride from Aden. The great caravan of skilled Arabian riders rode their most prized mounts. They were spirited, accustomed to the difficulty of the sands, accustomed to the sun that sprayed exhausting heat upon them. Even among the mass of mounted horsemen, Hopkins stood out with parti-colored, 950 pound Hidalgo from the American plains.
Hopkins held Hidalgo at a steady pace as they made their way through the dry heat and over sandy soil. The march progressed to the Persian Gulf and up toward Syria and then along the border of Iraq and Arabia. Each day the riders started with the sun, following it until they were marching into it. Horses dropped by the way, some exhausted, some lame. At the end of the first week, the scarcity of water and the meager diet the horses were forced to exist upon in the barren country had culled the inadequate horses. The strung line of riders dwindled daily.
Entering the second week of the grueling trek, Hopkins made his move and started to pass the other desert riders. In the wake of the sand kicked up by Hidalgo, treasured Arabian horses of the Bedouins fell farther and farther behind, while Hidalgo kept to a steady pace. On the sixty-eighth day of the ride Hopkins rode Hidalgo to the finish, leaving behind him three thousand scorching miles. The tough Paint Mustang was the winner by thirty-three hours over his nearest competitor. The only American Paint Horse in the history of Arabian endurance racing ever to win the historic race, Hidalgo did it, and did it on merit.
Hopkins said You can t beat Mustangs intelligence in the entire equine race. These animals have had to shift for themselves for generations. They had to work out their own destiny or be destroyed. Those that survived were animals of superior intelligence. All in all Hopkins rode mustangs in some 400 endurance competitions, wining most of them.
Jack Best. A cowboy on a Dun cow-pony, raced 530 miles from Deadwood, South Dakota, to Omaha, Nebraska. In order to win the race the winner had to be in Omaha with seven days. Best s dun Mustang won the race even though at close to 200 pounds Best was the biggest rider and his mustang was the smallest horse in the race.
In 1876 Sixth Calvary was in a campaign against the Apaches in Arizona. They were order to replace their blooded mounts, which had been suffering heavy losses due to poor forage and heat with mustangs. Though the Sixth originally balked at having to give up their blood horses, the brass felt that fire must be fought with fire-mustang against mustang- when fighting an elusive and fast moving foe such as the Apache. In six months they brought they Apache to bay with out the loss of a single horse all the while with only forage to sustain it.
Fired in the crucible of war and conquest; forged in the furnace of American West molded by the necessity of survival and culled by nature, the most critical judge of all where only the smart, the strong and the fit survive.
The Kiger Mustang shows remarkable endurance and intelligence, as nature is the best breeder of tough, surefooted horses with hardy hooves and bones of steel. The Kiger Mustang is bred and raised in the high desert and mountains of the Steens Wilderness area. They are able to gallop headlong down steep ravines, that would give other breeds pause. The Kiger is a long muscled desert horse, with large nostrils and a body that dissipates heat like a radiator. They have a very slow resting pulse rate and recovers very quickly, in the wild this is a must if one is to survive.
The Kiger is an extremely easy keeper, able to withstand the climate of high desert; from the oppressive heat of summer to the frigid cold in the dead of winter. When food is at a premium. The Kiger will cover hundreds of miles a day on dry or frozen ground with little or no water in search of sparing feed and at the same time maintain a robust stamina. The Kiger can extract energy from grasses containing less than 1-% protein and not survive: thrive. It eats what other breeds will not; weeds, bitter brush and bark.
The Kiger is genetically pure, after five hundred years of close breeding, man and nature have worked together to produce an outstanding animal. Everything about the Kiger is economical and concentrated.
Genetic imperfections, poor bones or hooves, susceptibility to disease all these were culled by nature the most impersonate breeder of all. The modern Kiger Mustang has retained all of the characteristics of itsí illustrious ancestors;
Centuries ago, the conquistadors sailed to the New World with the progenitors of the modern Kiger Mustang. Since the day these rugged steeds set foot on the rocky soil of America, it has remained a legend. History in the flesh, tracing its ancestry back through the opening and conquest of the American West, birth of the cowboy, the heyday of the plains Indians, the mountain man and the vaquero through all the glories of their careers.
The Kiger Mustang the most promising endurance horse in the world today has once again become available for endurance eventing. This year for the first time in a hundred years the Kiger has set their hoofs the endurance trail. We have horses running this year in endurance races in Arizona and the Pacific Northwest. The Kigers on the circuit have ran in five major events finished them all and in every instant placing in the top twenty percent, but of course we are still warming up.