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Watching Alisha Newton grow up on the critically acclaimed series Heartland, in which she has starred for nine seasons, fans are treated to Newton’s character, Georgie Flemming, blossoming from a young scrappy preteen into a grounded 20-year-old. Not only does she understand the value of hard work and fair play on the Heartland family ranch, she develops extraordinary equine skills. Riding bareback and both English and Western—and even doing some trick riding—Alisha, as Georgie, seems to understand the motives, needs, and even desires of the horses she works with on the show.
This is no accident. Alisha started riding Western when she was 4 on her grandma’s Vancouver ranch and added the English discipline at age 11, upon learning that Georgie was going to be riding jumpers on Heartland. She now owns, trains, and rides two horses: Aflame, a Dutch Warmblood pinto gelding, and Diva, an Oldenburg mare.
Although Alisha now typically rides English when not working on Heartland, she made friends early on with several cast members who would ride Western with her off-set to help develop her riding skills, as she was so young when she joined the series. For the amazing trick-riding stunts, the young rider turned to Jerri Duce. “Jerri’s a trick-riding legend and wrangler on the show who helped me a lot with my confidence,” Alisha says. “There was one scene when I had to do a suicide drag, which entails hanging upside down on a galloping horse. Obviously, I didn’t do the whole stunt, but I got into position and was upside down at a trot. However, I do admit, some of the happiest moments of my life are galloping through the mountains, riding Western with my friends.”
Born and raised in Vancouver, Alisha has been appearing on TV and in film for almost 15 years and has been seen in more than 100 hours of prime-time television. Her first big role came as a series regular on the Western, The Wyoming Story, an Amy Sherman-Palladino pilot for CW/Warner Bros. Immediately following, she made an appearance on the hit series Supernatural and subsequently played several leads in some challenging independent films before making her big-screen debut in 20th Century Fox’s Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters starring Alexandra Daddario and Logan Lerman. Soon after that came her starring role on Heartland, and she was well out of the starting gate.
During her annual four-month hiatus from the series, Alisha has co-starred in the made-for-TV movie The Tree That Saved Christmas, in the Syfy channel’s horror film The Hallow, in the action/sci-fi feature Scorched Earth, and the beloved Hallmark Canadian period Western series When Calls The Heart.
Although Alisha has appeared in a slew of modern and historic Westerns, she thinks that her casting in these shows is more by happenstance than design. “Perhaps I just have that ‘look,’ and do love being a horse girl,” she explains. “On When Calls the Heart, I played a farmer’s daughter and had a really great time on the show, as I’d never done a period piece before.
All my scenes involved cleaning the barn or mucking out the stalls, and I even had several scenes with Erin (series star Erin Krakow), where I showed her the gap most horses have in their mouth that can accommodate a bit.”
Alisha was able to purchase Aflame, a hunter/jumper who now does tricks, when she was just 13, and is still amazed how he understood her from their first meeting. She loves how calm and sweet he is. “He has had some health issues and I spent a year rehabilitating him, so he is now ridden mostly by a little girl who adores him.” Her other horse, Diva, was imported from Germany and became a member of the family just a year ago. “She is my dream horse,” gushes Newton. “She’s a jumper, and really elegant and fast—a spicy mare—and I call her my dragon.”
On Heartland, Georgie rides several different horses who each have unique specialties, including her horse Phoenix, who has to jump, trail ride, and do Roman riding. The horse that usually does the jumping stunts is named Conamore and, “I like him because he isn’t as calm or predictable as the other horses we have on the show. He’s actually a pretty spicy boy,” Alisha laughs. “It’s really refreshing to see such a firecracker on set.”
Having starred as Georgie for so many of her formative years, Alisha strongly feels that both the character and the other actors she works with have shaped her growing up. “The producers and writers will talk about what I do in my personal life and write this into the script. Georgie did a lot of Western riding in my first several seasons on the show, but when the creative team learned that I had started riding more English in my personal life, they made this change to my character. When we first met Georgie on the show, she was very sassy and confident, and portraying that attitude gave me more confidence as an actor.”
Alisha believes that acting from age 4 on has shaped her into the young woman she has become. She transitioned from public school to home schooling in the sixth grade, so her social life took a major turn. “Since then, all my friends have been actors, other kinds of film people, and even singers,” she explains. “It was very hard for me to relate to kids my own age growing up, as all I knew were older industry professionals. For example, my best friend is Wayne, a script consultant who is in his late 40s.” Her friendship with her tutor, Sarah, who has schooled her on the Heartland set for most of the series’ seasons, also has blossomed into an important relationship.
She’s had to grow up fast in many other ways, becoming a young businesswoman early on, learning to make smart decisions including mastering effective public speak while still a tween, memorizing pages of dialogue, and dealing with the crowds of people she meets at personal appearances—which she admits is still stressful.
Often, Alisha works more than 50 hours a week, and has had to learn how to take care of herself and to turn down requests if she becomes too tired. Her parents and grandparents serve as very caring guardians, protecting her on the set, but Alisha believes in the importance of setting her own boundaries.
“I’m very grateful,” she says. “The other day, I was asked by a friend of mine if I would change my childhood, as she thought I’d missed out on a lot of things and didn’t have very many friends growing up. Thinking about it, I wouldn’t have changed a thing as all my experiences and hard work have made me the person I’ve become and the lessons I have learned are priceless. I’m super grateful for my upbringing and love the community I’m surrounded by.”
Honing her competitive jumping skills over the past three years on the show, there have been whispers in the recent Season 13 that Georgie may be training for the Olympics. In the upcoming Season 14, there will be talk, and perhaps some training, to start getting her ready to compete in the Junior Olympics. As far as that level of competition goes, Alisha doesn’t share her character’s lofty goals, but does love participating in competitive jumping on Diva when she has the time, and someday would love to manage her own therapeutic riding organization.
She encourages horse lovers to get involved with them any way they can if owning their own horse is not possible. “After several years on Heartland, I still couldn’t afford to own a horse so I volunteered at a barn in Alberta and mucked stables. Once in a while, one of the owners would ask me if I wanted to ride their horse, so I got into the saddle that way. I learned a lot of my horsemanship skills working at that barn. It wasn’t glamorous, but I was able to build relationships with those horses and the people there.”
Alisha has spent 15 of her 20 years around horses, and strongly believes that they’re such a great learning experience—whether she’s just sitting and observing their habits and personalities, or simply watching her friends ride. As she revealed to COWGIRL; “What I enjoy most about working with horses is that it’s never the same. No matter how long you are around them, or what style you are riding, you are always learning new things and always evolving.”
As far as what the future holds for this young talent, Alisha hopes to direct and produce a feature film before she’s 30, and has already started the process by directing the short film Star Gaze, focusing on how young people process change, inspired by the time of COVID. Outside of work, she has aspirations as well, stating “I’d love to have my own little farm with horses, chicken, and even a pig!”