Just a Girl and Her Horse (or Life on Heartland Ranch)

I was 13 when I touched a horse for the first time.  His name was Snickers. It was a defining, extremely memorable moment.  I petted his nose, and was allowed to feed him half an apple.  Later in the afternoon, I got to brush him for a couple of minutes before the grooms took over.  I remember very little of watching my friend work in the jump ring with Snickers, as my mind was too full of "OMG, I just got to touch a horse!"  Several weeks later, I returned to the same barn and watched my friend and Snickers compete in a few events, but again, my mind was caught up in the fact that I was. Surrounded. By. Horses.

I was raised in the suburbs of Atlanta, in a county that was, for several years running, the fastest growing county in the nation.  The county that was nothing much more than farmland when I moved there in 1979 was a sprawling metropolitan city by the time I was halfway through elementary school.  My parents, though they'd both been raised in small midwestern towns, were not the outdoorsy, farming types, so I lived a very typical city life.  There was no hiking, no romping through the woods, no horseback riding.  Most of my experience with horses and livestock took place on annual trips to the Indiana State Fair in Indianapolis, where we'd walk through the pens and buildings, viewing the 4-H and various farm entries.  I have never ridden a horse in my life, and it has once again been several years since I've had the opportunity to even be close to one, but my love, my passion for horses, has not dimmed.  If anything, it has grown.  I simply love horses.

I lived for books as a kid (ok, I still do), and a large majority of the books I read as a pre-teen and young teenager were books about kids and their horse(s).  I read Marguerite Henry (the Misty series) and Walter Farley (the Black Stallion series), I wanted Ashleigh for a sister (the Thoroughbred series), and I visited Portland Meadows in homage to Trish (Golden Filly series).  Kelly Reno was an amazing Alec in The Black Stallion, as was Richard Ian Cox, in the Adventures of The Black Stallion.  I dreamed of riding Thunderhead (son of Flicka) to a win a local track.  I visited Trigger at the former Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum (formerly in Victorville, CA, now closed).  I've watched races live at Churchill Downs, love TVG, memorized stud lines and, as a young teen, knew my way around the Daily Racing Form (and if I'd had access to a bookie, probably could've made thousands betting to show).  I was extremely privileged to be able to participate as a cast member in both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, but I would have traded that experience for the chance to attend the Games' equestrian events.  My father took me to see a performance of Lipizzaner and Andalusian horses when I was 15 - that was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen! If there was a biography or film on a famous racehorse, jockey, or eventer, a history of a famous stable or stud barn, I've probably read it or watched it.

I never read the Heartland series.

I love Canadian television programming; there's just something about it that the programming here in the US doesn't have.  I may live in the Deep South, but I've grown up a fan of many Canadian shows.

I never watched the series Heartland.

Several months ago, I wanted something new to watch, and came across Heartland among about 300 other titles stored in my Instant Queue on Netflix.  As I was looking specifically for something on the opposite end of the spectrum from the superhero movies I'd been watching recently, Heartland looked like just the ticket.  Cue season one, episode one.

The story begins with 15-year-old Amy Fleming and her mother going out to steal rescue an abused horse from a nearby farm.  An already tragic situation quickly becomes even worse as Amy and Marion are involved in a wreck on the way back home, resulting in Marion's death.

I lost my father seven years ago, and thought my world was ending.  The glue that held my family together was gone, and the result was a family falling apart at the seams.  My mother and I were not equipped to keep both family businesses running, and it wasn't long before we found ourselves floundering in a sea of debt, questioning the decisions we had made and were still making.  Much like the Flemings at Heartland Ranch, we had to make a lot of changes.  And we had to learn how to do it without the person we had relied on for so long, the one who knew how to do what we were only pretending to do.

Over the course of 18 episodes, Heartland Ranch flounders and flourishes, as do the relationships of those involved in its daily schedule. People butt heads and screw up relationships, while also forging new beginnings with the people and places around them.

Heartland is currently in its 7th season on Canadian television (season 6 just began airing in the US this week), and has cemented itself as one of the most popular television shows in Canada. While it tackles tough situations and delves into topics such as abuse (of both the human and animal kind), alcoholism, crime, death, and more, it stays a family show that refrains from crass language, overt sexual behavior, and violence for the sake of violence. It's a show that everyone from a proper Southern grandma to a 5-year-old boy who dreams of being a cowboy can watch and enjoy. And while some situations may be a little over-the-top, Heartland is ultimately a show about the everyman, and provides storylines that almost everyone can relate to in some way.

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