How the ‘Heartland’ Crew Gets the Horses to Act Angry and Sick

The popular TV show Heartland stars Amber Marshall as Amy Fleming. Heartland airs on CBC and follows Amy as she heals traumatized horses through natural horsemanship on her family’s ranch. Because of this, Heartland uses multiple horses to make the show as realistic as possible. In an interview with the Hallmarkies Podcast, Marshall shared how crew members are able to get horses to act while filming.

Georgie rides a white horse in a jumping event in 'Heartland'
Alisha Newton in ‘Heartland’ | Courtesy of CBC

‘Heartland’ uses liberty horses for complicated scenes

On July 18, the Hallmarkies Podcast published a new interview with Marshall. In the interview, Marshall was asked about how horses handle filming the long-running show.

“We have a very talented team of horse trainers. So, the thing is for me, each horse character is not necessarily played by one horse. There’s usually multiple horses,” Marshall shared on the podcast.

The actor went on to explain that for specific scenes, Heartland uses specially trained horses called liberty horses.

“So a liberty horse, for those people that aren’t familiar with that, is a horse that’s trained almost like a dog to do specific commands and things on cue,” Marshall said.

She continued, “And so if we needed a horse to look angry, we would bring in that liberty horse. We also have horses that are trained to lay down and lay flat and look like they’re sick or injured and just lay calmly and quietly. And we also have horses, and it’s a very specific skill, but it’s a falling horse. They’re trained to actually be upright and trotting or walking and then just flop over into the sand.”

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One horse typically plays Amy’s horse Spartan

On Heartland, the horse Amy primarily rides is a horse called Spartan. Marshall revealed that the same horse has been playing Spartan since the series premiered in 2007.

“So let’s say the character of Spartan who has been with the show since, as long as I have from the very beginning. And the main horse that we use, his name is Stormy. And he has been there all 16 years with me,” Marshall said on the Hallmarkies Podcast. “So he’s now 20 and he’s been with the show for almost his whole life. But for the character of Spartan, we have used many, many different horses over the years.

Marshall then gave some insight into when Stormy is the horse playing Spartan onscreen.

“Stormy, who plays that role, he’s a great horse and he’s very happy just to hang out quietly on set, and he’s the horse I usually ride and things like that. But if we need him to look sick, or injured, or scared, then we bring in trained liberty horses,” Marshall shared.

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One horse had to be painted a different color on ‘Heartland’

On the Hallmarkies Podcast, Marshall shared an anecdote of how a horse playing Spartan had to be painted for a certain scene.

Marshall said, “We did have to use a falling horse for when Mallory starts jumping Spartan. And he actually falls over in the scene itself. But the only falling horse that was trained to that that they could find was a sorrel color so he was like a chestnut, a reddish color. So that horse was completely painted head to toe to match Spartan for that scene.”

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