Amber Marshall: A Star in Canada's Heartland

Interview with Amber Marshall

Photo: Andrew Bako

Interviewed by Melanie Huggett

CBC’s hit TV series Heartland, a drama set on a ranch in the foothills of southern Alberta, has captured the attention of horse lovers across the country. The series centers on sisters Amy and Lou Fleming who live with their grandfather, Jack, on his horse ranch. Heartland not only features a cast of realistic characters in stories featuring drama, comedy, adventure, and romance, but also regularly explores current issues in the horse industry through those stories.

With her amazing gift for healing and training horses, and skills in show jumping and Western riding, the series’ lead character, Amy Fleming, is as horsey as they come; and Amber Marshall, the actress who plays Amy, is just as horsey.

Born and raised in London, Ontario, Marshall has been riding since a very young age. A former veterinary assistant and true animal lover, Marshall now lives south of Calgary, Alberta on her own ranch with horses, dogs, cats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and steers.

As an actor, she trained at The Original Kids Theatre Company in London for four years and has appeared in numerous film and television roles. Nominated for the “Young Artist Award” in Los Angeles for her role in movie The Elizabeth Smart Story, she has also had regular roles in the TV series The Power Strikers and Dark Oracle before beginning with Heartland.

We sat down with Marshall to find out more about her role as Amy and her life off-camera.

Horse Journals: What drew you to the role of Amy Fleming?
Amber Marshall: Well, I think it’s quite obvious: when I read the script I thought: This is my dream character!

I always had horses growing up and I had always wanted to go to Alberta, so it was a great opportunity. It was a nice experience for me to travel and to get to do something that I love. I get to be around horses, do the things I love, be around amazing people and scenery, and also act.

HJ: Tell me about your riding experience before the show. When did you start riding?
AM: I first started riding when I was about three years old. My parents had taken me to this little local fair and there was a pony ride circle. I totally fell in love with the pony I rode, so my parents talked to the man and asked if I could go out to the farm to ride.
They’d take me out once a week and I’d ride “Tony the Pony.” That lasted a year and then the owner had to sell the pony. I got out of it for a while after that.

When I was about ten I got into hunter-jumper lessons. I got my first horse when I was 13. I trained him as a hunter-jumper horse. Then I decided to go into Western Pleasure and got a palomino mare. I just did basic Western Pleasure.

When I got (the role on) Heartland I moved out here to Alberta. Since then I’ve bought two other horses, and I’ve got my mom’s horse from Ontario with me too.

HJ: Can you tell me about your horses?
AM: One of my horses is Pepsi. My mom bought him because she thought what I was doing looked like fun, but she never really rode him, so she gave him to me. He’s a Welsh-Paint cross but he’s solid chestnut. I also have a little stud cold named Cash. He’s a buckskin, and he’ll be my project as a two-year-old. My most recent is a black Quarter Horse named Tango.

HJ: Do you do mostly English or Western riding?
AM: I love both (Western and English). I mostly do trails. I want to start Tango as a header horse in team roping. Every once in a while I throw an English saddle on Pepsi and pop him over a few jumps. He loves it! But mostly I ride Western.

HJ: Did you get any extra training with horses to play Amy?
AM: Not really. We have wranglers who are on set every day. They’ve taught me a lot, just little things I didn’t know before. Heartland gave riding lessons to all the actors who didn’t know how to ride, but they sort of left me out!

But I’ve learned a lot by just being on the show. Growing up in London, Ontario, it was very English focused. I’ve learned a ton about the Western culture and riding. I never would have thought myself a team roper. Getting out here has given me the opportunity to try a lot of new things.

Amber Marshall

Photo: Andrew Bako

HJ: The horse you interact with the most as Amy is “Spartan.” Can you tell me a little more about the real Spartan?
AM: I love that horse. His real name is Stormy. He’s been with us since day one on the show. He knows his role, and he’s so good. We put down marks for where we are supposed to stand on the set. Horse marks are big red things made of plastic. He knows his marks. He knows he’s supposed to stand there until the scene is over. Then when we’re done he wanders off. He’s become quite a little actor.

When we bring a new horse on set, they’ve never seen a camera before. They’re scared of the lights and everything. They’re thinking “what’s going on?” But Stormy is calm and just does his thing. It’s really neat to see.

HJ: You have being playing Amy for several seasons now. What do you like most about her character?
AM: It’s crazy to think it’s been several seasons because it doesn’t seem that long to me. I love playing Amy. One of the things I love the most is that it has showed me the person I want to be. Amy is such a down-to-earth, wonderful, caring person. She just wants to do the best for animals. Since playing Amy, I’ve bought an acreage, and have my horses here, and chickens. It’s made me realize the kind of life I want.

HJ: Amy gets to do a lot of different things with horses, from rodeo events, to colt starting, to show jumping. Do you think she prefers a particular activity or discipline? What about you?
AM: I sort of think that Amy and me have become one! I just know Amy loves to do anything that involves horses. She’s got a bit of a competitive side too. She likes to enter competitions and rodeos and kick the boys’ butts. But she also trains and wants to step into her mother’s role. She’s got some maturity now that she didn’t have in the first few seasons. It’s nice to play a character that grows and changes. I’m really excited to see where she goes next year.

HJ: Can you give our readers any hints about what Amy might get up to with horses in the future?
AM: I have not the faintest idea. I don’t get scripts until the week before we shoot. We don’t start until May. The writers are very secretive! I’m excited to see what happens. Like you said before, Amy’s done so many types of things. It’s not just about a girl and her horse competing in hunter-jumper. It’s about a girl who tries everything. She tries it all evenly.

It’s something that I’ve tried to do myself. It was kind of frowned upon in my barn (in London) if you put on a Western saddle. I love a show that teaches kids that no matter what you do, as long as you have a great connection with your horse, that’s good. You should do it, and have fun, and not be judged.

Main article photo: Andrew Bako

This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.

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Lakeland College - Major in Equine Science - Animal Science Technology Diploma, Vermilion, Alberta.