|By Dhyana Kearly
What do wild horses, movie moguls, cartoons and Alfalfa ranchers have in common? There’s a tale in the making out in Alfalfa that brings all these aspects together.
Mustang rancher, Rick Littleton doesn’t look like someone who was instrumental in the creation of the next American icon that kids won’t be able to live without, but he is.
You see, Littleton is a driving fore behind central Oregon’s wild horse breeding stock known as Kiger mustangs. Steven Speilberg and his DreamWorks Studio are making an animated movie about a wild horse starring a stallion. The horse that is the focus of this move was born and raised in Kiger country (central Oregon) and owned by Littleton.
For the past ten years or so, Littleton has been in the business of helping the Bureau of Land Management develop a successful program of wild herd management. Working with the BLM his efforts have culminated in the popular Kiger breed of horse which is sought after by wild horse enthusiasts.
Kiger horses exactly resemble the original Spanish horse that was left to roam the west four hundred years ago. The breed is considered an authentic breed by horse folks everywhere.
Littleton raises Kigers on his modest ranch near Alfalfa. He acquired his first horse, appropriately named ‘Kiger,’ about ten years ago through the BLM adoption program. Since then he has learned his business and today, when it comes to raising mustangs, he’s one of
the most sought after authorities on the subject in America. That’s what led Speilberg to his door.
Speilberg’s interest began with a video which Littleton produced about wild horses featuring his stallion ‘Kiger.’
The film found its way into the home of one of the DreamWorks Studio’s lead artists who is working on an animated movie called “The Road to El Dorado.”
The movie is an animation adventure about two losers who stow away on Cortez’s ship as it heads to the New World.
In 2001, DreamWorks will also release “Spirit” another movie about a wild mustang. That movie will be told entirely from the horses’ point of view, with no talking.
According to Littleton, the hope and ambitions of the studio is that “The Road to El Dorado” will not only rival, but also surpass all other animations so far produced in Hollywood. Using the latest high-tech equipment and methods available, Speilberg and DreamWorks plan to make this movie the foremost horse movie produced, animated or real life.
They even hope to convince the Ford Motor Company to create a new breed or ‘Mustang’ car to be released at the same time as this movie hits the theaters.
Apparently, the studio had been working on the project for some time, but was unable to master the inspirational aspects required to create a proper presentation of a “true, hones, free-spirited wild hors.” Until that is, they saw Littleton’s video and when they did, they were mesmerized.
The original phone call from Hollywood ended in a refusal on Littleton’s part to sell ‘Kiger’ at any price.
Shortly thereafter, a whole load of Hollywood-types boarded a $32 million jet plane, headed for central Oregon to insist in person that they would indeed purchase his Kiger stallion. Again he refused.
They wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and did everything they could to convince Littleton that they should have ‘Kiger’ to use as the inspiration for the animators and as a promotional tool.
As a person who’s not easily swayed by fancy suits expensive jet planes or celebrity and equally determined not to sell what perhaps represents the single most important thing in this life, Littleton still refused.
But once the film developers, creative artists and horse-flesh authorities got a look at ‘Kiger’s’ three-year-old son Donner, they decided that this was morel likely the horse they were after, and one they might actually stand a chance of acquiring.
After six months of negotiations Littleton finally delivered Donner (renamed ‘Spirit’ for the movie) to a horse ranch down in southern California.
Although he refuses to say how much he sold his horse for Littleton does admit, “He’s the highest priced mustang ever sold in the world today.”
Littleton’s hope is that once the world has a chance to see the story of the wild mustangs that more people will get behind the efforts he and the BLM have worked so hard to make people aware of.
That message is that free roaming wild horses, properly managed can be an asset to this country.
Properly managed, wild mustang herds can remain on the range embodying the original spirit of the west. Littleton and the BLM believe the mustangs do no harm to grazing lands, habitat, or pose a threat to other wildlife, or cattle ranchers, and once adopted, mustangs make darn good steeds.
Proper Management includes guiding the herds to produce the heartiest offspring possible by reducing the chances of inbreeding through regular round-ups. This effort involves culling out horses that fail to improve the herds, offering them along with others for adoption. Breeding stallions and mares are also routinely moved from one herd to the next to eliminate the chances of weakening g the bloodlines through inbreeding as well.
What’s going to happen to ‘Donner,’ AKA ‘Spirit,’ next? Well, Littleton said that’s one wild horse that’s about to have his every wish met, that is if horses make wishes.
An expert on Spanish horses from Peru has been hired hired to train ‘Spirit’. The mustang will spend the next several months preparing for the worldwide promotional tour, which will take him as far away as Europe and Japan.
The tour will lead up to the release of the movie and probably into the first few months after that, then it’s on to greener pastures, as they say.
“He’ll live the finest life a horse can imagine,” said Littleton, He’ll be living on a very nice horse ranch in southern California and will be well taken care of for the rest of his life.”
Who says there are no real happy endings in real life.
Movie may be entitled " Spirit of the West " or " Spirit Stallion of the Cimarron ". Gene Hackman has been cast as the voice of the villainous Cavalry officer. No other voices have yet been announced.