I grew up around horses, but now that I live in the city my daughter rarely sees them. The horse-loving gene runs in my family, so I took her to the Western States Horse Expo at Cal Expo in June to give her some early exposure. She was 15 months old so activities for her age were limited, but I knew I could make it fun for her anyway.
At the Young Rider arena, kids can make horse-shaped cookies, paint a real horse, ride ponies, and win prizes. Throughout each day, there are breed demonstrations and chances to meet all kinds of horse breeds up close and personal, including rare ones like Haflingers, Kiger Mestenos, Gypsy Vanners, and Peruvian Pasos. At the Breyer Model Horse booth, kids can paint model horses for free and take sculpting and tackmaking classes (at additional cost). Breyer even holds a model horse show where kids can bring out their favorite models to be judged and win prizes.
There are horses of all different breeds and disciplines casually ridden around Cal Expo and the riders often stop to talk to onlookers. This year, we saw an Andalusian stallion in traditional Iberian tack, a Friesian stallion (like the horse in LadyHawke) ridden by a woman in Spanish costume, a previously-wild mustang calmly under saddle, pack donkeys, and a black Arabian stallion who was a movie star.
The black Arabian stallion was just hanging out in a circle of people, looking bored but still friendly. My daughter had a good time seeing all the horses, but she didn’t want to touch them because their size intimidated her. We spent awhile looking at the black stallion until my daughter got up the nerve to pet his nose. That was exciting to me because he was the first horse she ever petted. After that, we learned just how special this horse really was!
The stallion, nicknamed “Beyley,” portrayed the prince’s black racehorse, Al Hattal, in the movie Hidalgo. He had no stunt doubles, so any scenes featuring Al Hattal were played by Beyley only. Beyley was spotted by talent scouts and purchased by Disney when he was four years old. Disney had Beyley trained to rear, “fight,” and do other exciting horse tricks. When the movie Hidalgo began shooting in Morocco, Beyley was sent over there for his scenes.
After returning from Morocco, a half-share in the horse was sold to a local trainer who fell in love with him. Disney wouldn’t sell the entire horse because they wanted to use him in other films. Unfortunately Beyley had a pasture accident and badly hurt one of his knees. He was laid-up for four months, at which time Disney said they couldn’t use him anymore. They sold the remaining half of the horse to the trainer who loved him.
Beyley lived a life of luxury on Oahu, going for rides on the beach and enjoying the companionship of his mares. He attended various horse events as an ambassador for his breed, and people were shocked to learn he was a stallion because he was so calm and kind.
We posed for a picture with Beyley at the Western States Horse Expo, but my daughter preferred to look at the horse rather than the camera. I can’t blame her – he was a handsome guy. After we got home, I ordered a DVD of Hidalgo so my daughter can watch it with her friends someday and tell them, “That was the first horse I ever petted.”
[Originally published August 2007; updated November 2011]