In "Racing Stripes," Hayden Panettiere plays Channing, a teenager who loves animals, in particular horses. When her father (Greenwood) brings home an orphaned zebra, Channing immediately falls in love. The feeling's mutual as the adorable little zebra, nicknamed Stripes (voiced by Frankie Muniz), teams up with Channing to take on the world of thoroughbred horseracing.
In this interview, the very mature Hayden Panettiere talks about doing her own stunts, learning to work with zebras, and provides a little info on her upcoming movie, "Ice Princess."
INTERVIEW WITH HAYDEN PANETTIERE ('Channing'):
How hard was it to ride the zebra?
It was great. It was so fun because, you know, zebras are very different than horses. They each have their own personalities and it’s very interesting to see. But they’re a little more temperamental. You’ve got your nice ones and you’ve got your horrible ones, and you’ve got your totally crazy ones. But it’s very different than riding a horse.
They’re very slow animals actually, zebras. Very slow. Unless you stick a lion behind them and even then they won’t even run in a straight line. They’ve got really tough mouths, so it was me sitting there and you would have to tug. Whereas with a horse, you can just sort of glide them along. They walk in zigzag lines and you would have to tug to get them to stop. Some of the ones that we had were so sweet and so well trained it was amazing. [It was] amazing what we did with these zebras. Nobody ever expected it.
We heard from one of your co-stars that zebras are vicious.
Frankie! Frankie wasn’t even in South Africa. Frankie was in a booth with a microphone. I was riding the buggers, ok. I raced four baby zebras and eight adults, okay? Some of them do bite, mind you. When we had babies they did bite, but they were just babies. That’s what they do. They kick and they bite, you know? But they’re very sweet.
In the beginning we had four baby zebras, two of them that were first there: Zoe and Columbia. And Zoe and Columbia were very, you know they’re pack animals so they bond with specific [things], usually with zebras, but in this case it was [Andrew, a trainer]. So the three of them were like a pack and they would follow him everywhere. It wound up being that when I was there, I was supposed to spend every day with them because they were supposed to bond with me. I tell you that was the…it was like a nightmare. It was bad. We had a girl and a guy - Zoe was the girl, obviously, and Columbia was the boy. If I would go stand next to Andrew, Zoe would run in between us and turn around and kick me. And she would keep me as far away from Andrew as possible. She would literally put her head in and go [hit me]. She’d kick me and I’d be running, screaming in the opposite direction. She learned to love me. She learned to love me.
And you really did all the stunt riding?
Yeah. It was the biggest high ever. Riding as fast as you can…
How much patience did you have to have working with all of these animals?
I’m not sure what’s worse, working with very young children or working with animals. You have to have a lot of patience, but the animals were so amazingly trained. It was mostly the baby zebras that didn’t want to do something. It was kind of hard to get them to do it.
Did you interact with the other animals besides the zebras?
It was mostly the baby zebras, the zebra, [and] the horses. I did work with them and always saw them because I was always around them. But the zebra was the main one I was always with.
Do you have pets at home?
Yes. It’s kind of hard to have them when you’re traveling so much. But I have three cats, which I’m deathly allergic to. But, I still love them. I had guinea pigs and I had a bird and hamsters and fish.
Do you want a horse?
Oh, I need to get back into riding seriously.