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Heartland is a popular long-running Canadian drama series that follows the lives of Amy Fleming, a gifted horse whisperer, and her family. Set in the beautiful foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the show is loved by millions of people across the world.
Some of the most frequent questions Heartland stars get asked are “Have you always ridden horses?” or “How much do you and your character have in common?”. Naturally, as fans, we like to explore the similarities and differences between our favorite characters and the actors who portray them.
While most cast members had little to do with horses before coming onto the show, there are some notable exceptions. In fact, 3 actors from the main cast are experienced horse people themselves who were born to play their roles. These 3 actors also lead an eerily close life to their characters’ and even have similar personalities!
Meet Heartland stars Amber Marshall, Alisha Newton and Shaun Johnston who live just like their characters in real life!
Amber Marshall (Amy Fleming)
Amber Marshall plays the show’s main character Amy Fleming, a talented horse trainer who has grown up on Heartland ranch.
At the start of the series, Amy loses her mother and takes over the family business of healing troubled horses. Over 14 seasons, Amy matures into a reputable professional, besides becoming a loving wife and mother.
Just like her character, Amber Marshall also shares a special bond with horses. She has been riding since the age of 4 and got her first horse when she was 10. Initially involved in English riding, the actress fell in love with the Western lifestyle when she moved to Alberta for Heartland in 2007.
Being cast as Amy meant that Marshall could combine her two greatest passions in life: horses and acting. She has now been on the show for over a decade and admitted that the role has had a major influence on her life. “I believe that over the years my character Amy has become more like myself and vice versa” she revealed in the Official Heartland Blog.
Today, Amber Marshall is fortunate enough to live on a ranch, not unlike Heartland with her husband Shawn Turner. The property spans over 100 acres in southern Alberta and is home to Marhsall’s many animals. Whenever her time allows, the actress loves riding into the mountains, participating in team roping events, or helping out on cattle drives, similarly to her character Amy.
The video below is Amber Marshall announcing Season 14 on her farm surrounded by her animals.
She even told CBC that the show’s writers often build on stories that have happened to her in real life. Sharing so many things with her character means that she can just be herself on the screen, making Amy’s portrayal a much more effortless and natural job.
Also read our ultimate Amber Marshall fan’s guide. We also have similar guides on every Heartland actor.
Is Heartland filmed on Amber’s ranch?
Heartland is filmed on a working cattle ranch located west of Millarville, Alberta, not far from Amber’s ranch. The property is privately owned and only the Heartland cast and crew have access.
The ranch is also close to High River, which appears as the fictional location of Hudson in the show. To find out more check out our Heartland filming location guide.
Is Spartan really Amy’s horse in real life?
Spartan is played by a Quarter Horse gelding called Stormy and is not Amy’s horse in real life. Most of the Heartland horses belong to John Scott, who is the head wrangler of Heartland.
The storyline of Amy and Spartan has always been Marshall’s favorite in the show. Having worked together for 14 years, the actress and Stormy have developed a close connection. Marshall even rode Stormy on the 2019 Calgary Stampede!
Some of Amber Marshall’s animals appear on Heartland
Together with her husband, Amber Marshall takes care of five horses, two dogs, two cats, a few chickens, cattle, rabbits, and an alpaca. She is the proud owner of three Quarter Horses (Cruz, Hawk, and Nitro) and two Miniatures (Talon and Screech).
Being a huge animal lover, Marshall can’t imagine living without her little army of animals. She often brings one of her pets to the Heartland set to help with her performance. A few of her animals have even starred in the show, the most famous of which is the King Shepherd Remi and the Miniature gelding Talon.
Talon plays the mischievous Monty in Heartland, with whom Amy forms a special bond (see a photo below of Amy & Monty). At the end of Season 9, Ty gives Monty to Amy as an anniversary present, just before she tells him she’s pregnant. Remi has been on Heartland as Georgie’s dog since Season 6 Episode 5 “Trial Run” when she rescues the dog from a well.
Take our Heartland quiz which features questions about Amy!
Alisha Newton (Georgie Fleming-Morris)
When Georgie first wanders onto Heartland ranch in Season 6 Episode 1 “Running Against the Wind”, she is this troubled kid who ran away from her foster family. At the time of her arrival, a mysterious gray horse (Phoenix) also appears on the ranch. Over time, Georgie will grow to be part of the Heartland family and become an Olympic showjumping prospect riding Phoenix.
When Alisha Newton came onto the show in 2012, she was only 10 years old and so we can see her grow up over the next few seasons. Unlike her character, Newton has always been passionate about horses as she had the opportunity to ride on her grandparents’ farm.
For many years, Alisha Newton enjoyed riding horses only as a hobby. However, playing the up-and-coming show jumper Georgie on Heartland brought out her competitive side in real life. She currently owns two horses, a bay Oldenburg mare Diva and a pinto Dutch Warmblood gelding Aflame, with whom she competes in show jumping.
Just like for Amber Marshall, being on the show has allowed Newton to combine the two things she loves the most: horses and acting. She considers her character Georgie a strong role model for young girls, saying she is a “… a down-to-earth young woman who is not afraid to get her hands dirty in the barn” in an interview with Heels Down Magazine.
She has also admitted to having similar personalities with Georgie. After all, both girls are passionate, caring, and not afraid to dream big. Growing up alongside each other has also resulted in the actress adopting traits from her character and vice versa. The role has taught Newton a thing or two about patience and bravery, while Georgie might’ve gained some of her stubbornness.
Alisha Newton does most of her riding on the show
Being such an experienced rider, the producers allow Alisha Newton to perform most of her riding scenes, which is a rare privilege in the acting world. Hence why we see so many great close-ups of Georgie show jumping or doing mounted archery. She still has stunt doubles for the higher jumps or more dangerous trick riding, of course.
Although Georgie and Phoenix develop a close bond on-screen, Alisha Newton’s favorite Heartland horse to work with is actually Bullseye, who plays Jack’s mount, Buddy. Her relationship with Jag (a.k.a. Phoenix when not jumping) wasn’t the best to start with, but over the years it developed into a bond of mutual respect.
Below is a video of Alisha Newton riding off-set.
Alisha Newton’s show jumping ambitions
Off-screen, Newton actually lives a very similar equestrian life to that of her character. She spends the majority of her free time training her horses and traveling to shows. She tries to compete several times a year, but told Heels Down Magazine that “It’s difficult to have competitive goals when I’m working all the time”.
When filming, Newton boards her horses nearby so she can continue training a few days a week. Sometimes she even takes her co-stars Madison Cheeatow (Jade Verani from Heartland) and Ziya Matheson (Katie Fleming-Morris) to the barn and gives them riding lessons.
So far, Alisha Newton has proven her talent in the show ring and will pursue her showjumping ambitions alongside her already successful acting career. She is also passionate about eventing and plans to compete on a higher level in the future.
Also read our ultimate Alisha Newton fans’ guide.
Shaun Johnston (Jack Bartlett)
No Heartland fan can imagine the show without Grandpa Jack. He is the character that provides solidity and wisdom to those who need it most. Although in many ways he likes to keep things the way they are, with the help of his family he slowly opens up new possibilities.
Despite being much younger than his character in real life, Shaun Johnston and Grandpa Jack share quite a few traits and interests. They both grew up on a working cattle ranch where riding horses was part of everyday life. They both love to make music and write songs and tend to create a family vibe in their environment.
Although Johnston left the family ranch to earn a law degree, his farming background has had a major effect on his work on-screen. On his website (no longer active), he said “I like to believe my approach is open and natural. I guess I’m a product of my environment.”
Music has always been a big part of Grandpa Jack’s character on Heartland. It provides him with a means of expressing suppressed emotions and dealing with painful memories from his past. As a musician and songwriter himself, Shaun Johnston has actually written several songs on the show.
Among the main cast, Johnston is seen as the glue that keeps everyone working well together, not unlike his character does on Heartland. Being a “veteran” of the film industry, he feels a certain responsibility towards his younger co-stars and supports them as much as he can.
Here is recent video of Shaun Johnston dealing with everyday struggles of country life.
Also read our ultimate Heartland fans’ guide to Shaun Johnston.
Shaun Johnston had no intention of playing Grandpa Jack
Given the age difference, it’s not surprising that Shaun Johnston originally auditioned for the role of Tim Fleming on Heartland. However, since he received a callback for Grandpa Jack, he read his character description and it was a match made in heaven.
So how come the Jack we see on the show makes such a wizened appearance? Well, it’s all down to the talented makeup artists of the set who spend ours transforming the actor every single day. And of course, let’s not forget the long hours of practice it takes for Johnston to master Jack’s characteristic walk and deep voice.
They might be a generation apart, but their shared experiences and qualities make Shaun Johnston ideal for portraying Grandpa Jack. Over many seasons, Johnston became very comfortable playing his character and never forgets to add that extra twinkle to Jack’s eyes!
Is Jack’s mustache real on Heartland?
According to Shaun Johnston who plays Jack on Heartland, in the beginning, Jack’s mustache was fake. However, in more recent seasons the actor has been proudly growing the mustache himself!
Does Jack on Heartland really ride horses?
Since he has previous riding experience, Shaun Johnston who plays Jack on Heartland really rides horses on the show. He often boasts about his character being the only one never to fall off a Heartland horse! While Johnston performs most basic riding scenes himself, the more dangerous riding is always done by stunt doubles.
Read our best Heartland quotes article where Jack Bartlett is featured. We have many fun Heartland articles like this which can be found by using our search bar or scrolling below. Also, take our Heartland quiz to test your knowledge!