Amber Marshall on horses & Heartland

By: Equine Wellness
As seen in: EWM Vol. 6 Issue 1
The star of Heartland talks about her love of horses and acting

Ask any horse lover what her favorite TV shows are, and chances are Heartland will be on the list. The hit CBC series follows the lives of a family on a working ranch in Alberta, and focuses largely on main character Amy Fleming’s gift for working with horses. We at Equine Wellness have become avid viewers, excited to see a show that brings attention to horsemanship and alternative horse care!

Amy is played by 22-year-old Amber Marshall, a native of London, Ontario. We were able to catch up with Amber in between filming series.

EWM: When did you first recognize your passion for horses? Was there a particular experience that drew you to them?

AM: When I was four years old, my family took me to a local fair where there was a pony roundabout. I was simply fascinated with the horses so my parents arranged for me to go out on weekends and ride that same pony. Sadly, not long after I started leasing him, his owners were forced to sell the farm. It wasn’t until my tenth birthday that I started riding again. I began taking English lessons and purchased my first horse, Monty, when I was 13 years old.

EWM: Tell us about the horses you have now.

AM: Pepsi has been with us since he was a weanling, which brings it close to five years. My mom found him online, and decided she wanted her own project, since I had my AQHA Palomino mare, Laney, at the time. When I got the role of Amy on Heartland, I moved to Calgary to be close to the set. I sold Laney to a girl I knew growing up because I was just too far away to give her the attention she needed. Pepsi stayed in Ontario, where my mom looked after him until he was green-broke and ready to head west! He now lives with me and my two other horses: Tango, a seven-year-old black Quarter Horse, and Cash, my baby buckskin.

EWM: Were you always interested in a more natural approach to horse care and training, or has the show been influential in that regard? Did you have to research any particular trainers, methods or equine therapies to help you portray Amy?

AM: I have always been interested in learning a variety of different training methods. I feel everyone has different energy they put out to animals, and certain ways of animal communication will work differently depending on the person. I practiced a lot of natural horsemanship on my Palomino mare, and found it very effective. I think for me, it is getting to know the horses individually, since like people, every horse is different. Once you gain their trust and respect, they are much happier to work with you as a team.

EWM: How has what you’ve learned through Heartland changed the way you work with horses, or your relationship with your own horses?

AM: Heartland has given me the opportunity to try so many different disciplines and training techniques. I have learned so much about myself over the course of the series’ four seasons as well. It is funny how a work environment can really change your energy and how horses react to you. I have been around animals all my life, but it was always on my own time, at my leisure. No pressure to perform, just pure bliss.

On Heartland we have a wonderful cast and crew. Everyone is always in good spirits and we have tons of fun on set. However, at the end of the day it still is a job. Sometimes I feel myself getting a little uptight if a scene isn’t going as written and we are running out of daylight. Over the years on Heartland, I have learned that you can never hide frustration from an animal. They always know. So now I try and channel that into the scene and just make it work. If the horse or I don’t get exactly what is scripted, it doesn’t matter. As long as we are both enjoying it the final product will always turn out well.

EWM: Did you read the Heartland books growing up?

AM: I always had a shelf of horse and animal books, and yes the Heartland series was among them. I remember reading a couple, but to be honest reading wasn’t my favorite activity. I was always outside acting out adventure stories instead of reading about them. I would play for hours in the yard with my dogs, pretending they were wolves and I was the only human member they allowed into their pack. As I grew older, I would always hope to do a project in school about days long ago. I figured then I could make an educational video for the class and include my horse in it, since that would be how I traveled back then. Luckily I did get to film one in Grade 10. My horse Monty was my escape from a sheriff who wanted to take me down. I’m sure the class quite enjoyed it.

EWM: Did you always want to combine acting and horses? How did you land the role on Heartland?

AM: I think the only answer to that could be “yes”. From my homemade “horse and bandit” video to acting out survival scenes with my dogs in the yard, I have always tried to bring acting and animals together. Heartland makes everything I have enjoyed doing come together. The director and producers must have seen that love of animals in my audition tape, as they seemed to think it was a perfect fit and hired me after seeing only a taped audition.

EWM: The show has become such a hit – how have you adjusted to this new lifestyle? Do people in your life treat you differently?

AM: My friends and family treat me as they always have, since I am still the same person. It is only when I meet someone new who has watched the show and knows me as Amy that I feel they are maybe a little shy of knowing who I might be in real life. The truth is, I think I am very similar to my character, although Amy has better knowledge of horses than I do, and I am still quite new to learning different techniques and approaches to horse handling.

EWM: Take us through a typical day in the life of Amber Marshall/Amy Fleming.

AM: My daily routine varies drastically from the off-season to months working on the show. Heartland films every year from May until mid-December, then we all have January until late April off.

When we are filming, my day begins around 5:30 am when I get showered and dressed, brush my teeth and head out to the barn to do chores. I feed my horses, steers, cats, chickens and my two dogs, then I jump into a vehicle that comes to pick me up every morning. Once at the location where we are filming, I get into the proper clothes for the first scene, have my hair and make-up done and then head to the set to rehearse and block out the scene. This is repeated several times in a day depending on how many scenes are scheduled. Once we finish, I return to my own clothes and get a lift home. I then head straight to the barn to feed and clean pens. After all the animals are put to bed I head to the house to study my lines for the next day, then fall into bed.

When I am not working, my time is much more relaxed. I wake up around eight, go do chores and spend more time bonding with my animals. I spend lots of time catching up with friends who I don’t get the chance to see during the spring, summer and fall. I also try and get home to see my family and friends back in Ontario, and maybe even plan a trip somewhere hot.

EWM: What is your favorite “non-horsey” hobby?

AM: Well, I do love dog agility, but never have the time during filming to get out to a club. I am always working with my dogs and setting up different obstacle courses for them when I have a break on set. The majority of hobbies I enjoy mostly involve animals.

EWM: Do you do any other traveling?

AM: This year during my break I decided to visit Costa Rica. It was a wonderful adventure and I got to see a wide variety of different creatures! Most of all, though, I just like spending time with my horses and dogs and, I have to admit, resting up from a long season.

EWM: What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?

AM: After four years on Heartland and countless interviews, I always find it hard to come up with something that fans would be surprised to know about me. I love animals — we all know that. That I really enjoy my time on Heartland we have also come to know. My best friend is a border collie cross I rescued a couple of years ago, and I love the outdoors. It’s funny how this answer is turning out to sound like a dating ad — after those answers I don’t know how many “dates” I would get!

EWM: Who are your greatest role models and why?

AM: For me, a role model is anyone who is living life for themselves and those they love; a person who enjoys what they do and those who surround them. They are polite but assertive and always find the positive. Anyone who can contentedly find an inner balance is a role model to me.

EWM: The scenery on Heartland looks so fantastic – how do you enjoy it in Alberta?

AM: I feel very at home here. When I first came out here four years ago to film the Heartland pilot episode, it was my first time seeing the mountains. I will never get sick of the gorgeous vista that surrounds us here in southwestern Alberta.

EWM: Speaking of scenery – you get to work with some very handsome male co-stars, like Graham Wardle and Kerry James. Any off-screen chemistry there?

AM: From day one, Graham, Kerry and I hit it off. During the second season we all lived very close to one another in downtown Calgary. The three of us were inseparable. We’d work together all day, and come home only to head out for dinner or a game of football toss in the park. I do miss those times, but now that I have moved out into the country and have animals to care for, it is not as easy to get together after a long workday.

EWM: We’ve seen your great new clothing line – is fashion also a strong interest of yours?

AM: For me, fashion comes second to comfort. It is pretty difficult to muck out stalls in a blouse and stilettos. And fashionable skinny jeans with moccasins are great for the mall, but don’t hold up so well to chasing steers into a pen. Therefore I wanted to bring out a line of clothes that was both fashionable and made sense for daily outdoor activities.

EWM: Your family is obviously very supportive and involved in your work. Is it difficult to be away from them during filming? Are you able to visit Ontario often?

AM: My family understands that being in Alberta allows me to live my dream of acting and working with animals. My parents and brother come and visit me here and I try to make it home when my schedule permits. I have started a life out west and have many friends and activities to keep me busy.

EWM: What are you hoping to pursue in the future?

AM: I know something exciting will find me. I’m not quite sure yet what that “something” will be, or if it will even be animal or acting related. I will always have animals in my life – that is a given. And I know I will always enjoy where I am and what I am doing.

EWM: If you could give one piece of advice to young riders about developing a solid relationship with their horses, what would it be?

AM: As I said before, everyone is different, and every horse is different. Just like when you meet a new group of friends, you can find a horse you see something in, one you want to build a relationship with. Never forget to have fun in the process!

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