Long-time fans of “Heartland” would still remember Ashley Stanton, a fictionalized character in one of the most successful Canadian drama series, even if she hadn’t been in it since its seventh season. She was portrayed by actress Cindy Busby and had one of the most interesting character journeys in the first four seasons of the series and then appeared as a guest later on in the seventh season.
- 1 Get to know “Heartland”
- 2 Meet Cindy Busby
- 3 Ashley Stanton highlights in “Heartland”
- 3.1 The mean, rich, competitive equestrian
- 3.2 Ashley flirted with Ty Borden and lied, which cost him his job
- 3.3 Her volatile relationship with her mother, Val
- 3.4 Ashley blackmailed Amy to help her with Apollo
- 3.5 Ashley walked away from a competition
- 3.6 Ashley fell in love with Caleb Odell
- 3.7 Ashley and Caleb were married
- 3.8 The end of Ashley’s storyline in “Heartland”
- 4 Was Ashley seen in “Heartland” again?
- 5 Cindy Busby’s thoughts about her “Heartland” experience
Get to know “Heartland”
Even with so many procedural dramas or reality-TV shows popping up left and right over the years, a majority of the Canadian audience and a great chunk of international viewers were still hooked on the family drama series called “Heartland.” It would be on its 16th season this October 2022.
Based on a novel series
The heartwarming stories from “Heartland” were inspired by a popular novel series with the same title, written by Lauren Brooke, the pen name of successful writers Beth Chambers and Linda Chapman. Basically, the heart and soul of the books was the family and friends who lived on a ranch in Virginia and devoted their time to training and healing abused horses. The first book was published in 2000 with the title, “Coming Home”, and eventually totaled 26 books with 20 regular novels and the other six labeled as special edition books.
How did the series start?
“Heartland” executive producer and creator, Michael Weinberg, was an investment banker and didn’t have any clue about how the TV industry operated before he thought of creating a drama series. At that time, he noticed that most of the TV shows aired were embarrassing to watch in the company of children. He discussed this with a friend and was introduced to the “Heartland” novels; they both thought it would be great if they had something like that on TV. Michael then became interested, and went on to read some of them but found them too juvenile, as the books’ target audience was young people, aged eight to 14. He shared, ‘I did, however, feel that there might be potential if they were changed to become more family oriented.’ He purchased the rights, hired a scriptwriter to develop it to cater to an adult audience, pitched it to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation or CBC, and was given the green light to create the pilot.
The premise of the series, TV premiere, and ratings
In the books, everything happened on a ranch in Virginia, but in the new script, the multi-generation family drama was set in Alberta, Canada. It focused mainly on the lives of the Fleming sisters, Amy and Louise, who lived on a ranch they called Heartland, with their father Tim, their grandfather Jack Bartlett, and ranch hand Ty Borden. An audition was held, and after acquiring the actors for the main cast, they filmed the pilot. The CBC executives loved it and ordered 13 episodes to complete the first season. Just as he’d hoped, after the changes to the original storyline from the books, it became a lot more interesting to adults. It made its TV premiere on 14 October 2007, going head-to-head with the TV premiere of a comedy sitcom called “Da Kink in My Hair.” They won the battle of ratings that night, with close to 550,000 viewers, and it didn’t take long for the TV industry to realize that they had a new threat in town, as after just four episodes aired, the family drama generated an average viewership of close to 470,000 viewers, and the first season finale was watched by almost 650,000 viewers. On its third season premiere, over a million people tuned in, and the numbers kept on increasing over the years.
The cast of main characters
When the selected actors went to audition, all of them had different journeys because, at that time, access to the Internet was quite unreliable. Most of them had to travel for hours just to get to a decent computer shop, but they said it was all worth it.
In the Fleming family, the role of Amy Fleming went to Amber Marshall, who stopped studying to work at a veterinary clinic, and accepted acting jobs. Louise Fleming was portrayed by Michelle Morgan, who auditioned while filming another movie, so she sent a tape instead. The family patriarch and owner of Heartland ranch, Grandpa Jackson “Jack” Bartlett, was played by Shaun Johnson, who had been part of popular shows including “Da Vinci Inquest,” “Traders,” “Mentors,” and “Jake and the Kid.” The role of the father of the Fleming sisters, Tim Fleming, went to Chris Potter, who was best known from the movie “Kung Fu: The Legend Continues.”
Outside of the Fleming family, the rancher Ty Borden, who later became Amy’s husband, was played by Graham Wardle, who was chosen for the role after he nailed his second audition. The nosy family friend, Mallory Wells Anderson, who often stayed overnight at the ranch, was portrayed by Jessica Amlee. The mean high-school girl role, Ashley Stanton, who was initially Amy’s biggest rival in the show, and later became a friend, was given to Cindy Busby.
Meet Cindy Busby
While growing up, Cindy had been a huge fan of the popular hit series, “Dawson’s Creek,” which was created by American producer, director and screenwriter Kevin Williamson, and had a fervent wish to work with him when she became an actor. After she finished the three-year Professional Theater Program at Dawson College, she took part in several auditions. Her acting career started with theater plays, until she landed her first major role in the TV mini-series “Bethune” in 2006. Eventually, her dream came true, when she was chosen to be part of the first episode of the “Vampire Diaries,” which Kevin created in 2009. More small roles were given to her until she was offered the role of Ashley Stanton in “Heartland.
Ashley Stanton highlights in “Heartland”
The character of Ashley Stanton was introduced in the first episode of the opening season of “Heartland.” She was part of the original cast of characters, and the fans of the show would forever remember her as the proverbial villain in Amy’s life during its early seasons.
The mean, rich, competitive equestrian
From the get-go, viewers saw Ashley Stanton as a rich high school student who was highly competitive in her favorite sport, equestrian, and in matters of the heart. She pursued both quite passionately, and sometimes would become mean to Amy because Ashley saw her as her major rival in horse jumping competitions. Her nastiness was on display when she bumped into Amy in school, who was gone for a while due to an accident that led to the demise of Amy’s mother. She bragged that her mother just bought her a new horse named Apollo worth $100,000 and warned Amy that she would beat her easily in a competition.
Ashley flirted with Ty Borden and lied, which cost him his job
The first time Ashley saw Ty Borden at a party, she was immediately interested. Ty was one of the new ranch hands in Heartland and was starting to have a romantic relationship with Amy. When work and life were getting too hard in Heartland, someone told him to look into another ranch called Briar Ridge, owned by Ashley’s family. She managed to create a misunderstanding between Amy and Ty when she asked Ty to give her a ride on her brother’s motorbike, which he did. Ashley convinced Ty to work at their ranch, and he accepted because Amy told him to leave her alone. Ty didn’t last that long in Briar Ridge, because Ashley failed to tell her mother that he was on a juvenile probationary period for assaulting his stepfather to defend his mother; her mother fired Ty when she learned about it.
Her volatile relationship with her mother, Val
Ashley didn’t first place during jumping competitions, and her mother Val was extremely upset about it, berating her daughter and putting so much pressure on her. Just like her daughter, Val and her ranch were the main rivals of the Fleming family. While Briar Ridge used traditional methods in raising horses, Heartland used unconventional ones. Val had been a rich widow when she was introduced to the show and loved to manipulate her children. While she spoiled her daughter so much, she also expected that Ashley would blindly follow her rules, and had high expectations of her, which strained their relationship.
Ashley blackmailed Amy to help her with Apollo
After Ashley came in third at the Hudson competition, her mother castigated her for not showing her best, and threatened to sell her horse, Apollo, if she lost again in the next competition. During practice, Ashley’s moves were flawless, but she was quite worried about the possibility of losing Apollo. Someone encouraged her to ask for help from Amy, so she went to Heartland and blackmailed Amy. Amy then watched Ashley do her jumps, and said that nothing was wrong with her performance until Val arrived on the scene, and saw how it affected Ashley. Amy instructed her to go another round and realized that Val’s presence agitated her daughter, as Ashley made several mistakes. She told Val that if she wanted to see Ashley win the top prize in any competition, she should refrain from watching her performances.
Ashley walked away from a competition
With so much pressure she received from her mother, Ashley practiced hard. However, during the competition, when it was her time to perform, she saw her mother in the venue. Val was about to leave the place, but changed her mind, and waited for her daughter’s performance. Ashley left the course and was disqualified by the organizers. She knew that she would earn the ire of her mother, but she said that it was worth witnessing her mom’s reaction. Apparently, when she was confronted by Val, she told her mother that she knew that Val called Mr. Mallen to help her win the competition, and was disgusted by her action. Mr. Mallen was the owner of the horse that Amy was using for the competition, and he demanded to have the horse back so Amy couldn’t participate, but Lou, Amy’s sister, convinced him to leave them alone.
Ashley fell in love with Caleb Odell
When Caleb Odell came to Heartland, he was quite taken with Amy. With Ty gone, Amy gave herself a chance to open up to Caleb. They went out for a few dates, but Ashley came into the picture. Eventually, Amy ended their brief romantic relationship when she realized that Ashley was always with Caleb, and he lied to her about it. With all the flirting that Ashley did, Caleb fell for her and vice-versa. He even taught Ashley to barrel race, and supported her interest in joining a competition. When Val learned about it, she immediately offered Caleb sponsorship and a cheque to help him with his rodeo points. It was Val’s strategy to get him away from her daughter. Her mother was against the relationship, but when she was diagnosed with cancer, she mellowed down a bit. For a time, Ashley and Val tried to repair their relationship, but Val kept on doing things that earned her daughter’s disappointment. It pushed Ashley to leave her mother and the only home she knew. Ashley was truly in love with Caleb that she lived with him in his trailer, and for a time kept their relationship a secret from everyone.
Ashley and Caleb were married
Ashley had a hard time adjusting to the rodeo circuit life of Caleb, but tried to make their relationship work. She wanted to accompany him to one of his rodeos, but he didn’t allow it because there was a superstitious belief that bringing girlfriends to the competition would bring bad luck; she didn’t heed the warning and still watched him compete. Caleb had an accident during his performance and blamed her, so they broke up, but then made up after realizing how much they meant to each other. Eventually, after so many obstacles, Ashley and Caleb were married by the end of the third season of “Heartland.” They even had their honeymoon in Italy, but for some reason, Caleb flew back home alone, and it took her a while before she returned to Alberta.
— Cindy Busby (@cindy_busby) March 17, 2016
The end of Ashley’s storyline in “Heartland”
When she returned from Italy, the newlyweds planned for their future. She wanted to go back to school to earn her college degree, which he supported, so they left Alberta to fulfill her dreams. This all happened in the fourth season of the series, and everyone thought that the two had a happy ending. However, the marriage deteriorated – specific details were never shared, but the couple divorced.
Was Ashley seen in “Heartland” again?
The fans were disappointed that Ashley and Caleb’s marriage wasn’t successful, despite the love that they shared over the years. Some viewers wanted to get a glimpse of what had happened to Ashley, and their wish was granted. In the seventh season of “Heartland,” Ashley made a guest appearance in the 10th episode entitled “Darkness and Light”, and gave an update on what was going on with her life. Apparently, she went on to study law and the couple reunited. Caleb was excited at the prospect of them getting back together, but when he learned that she received a marriage proposal from another man, he lost interest in making any serious attempt at reconciliation.
The producers as well as Cindy Busby never gave a specific reason why she was written out of the family drama, considering that she had a major character transformation. She was initially the most hated girl in the series, as she was cruel to the main protagonist in the story, but was loved by the fans later on. It helped that the writers of the show made her inner conflicts real and relatable. It was generally accepted that she quit the show so that she could explore movie and TV projects with bigger roles. After her stint with “Heartland,” she became part of multiple Hallmark movies and series – one of her most interesting roles was Elizabeth Scott in the TV movies “Unleashing Mr. Darcy” and “Marrying Mr. Darcy.” She was recently seen in another Hallmark Channel movie called “Marry Me in Yosemite,” which aired in 2022, playing the main character named Zoe Best.
Cindy Busby’s thoughts about her “Heartland” experience
In her post-Heartland interviews, Cindy said that she had a great time with the series, and had developed lasting friendships with some of the actors she worked with, including Kerry James, who played Caleb Odell. Some shippers even thought that the two dated in real life, but Cindy was quick to refute that rumor, and said that both of them were seeing someone else at that time. She understood that the fans probably saw the amazing chemistry they had in the show, and thought that everything was real. In an interview with “From the Desk: Learning by Study and Faith,” the French-Canadian actor said, ‘I love creating characters that people can relate to.’ While she never had a hand in writing narratives for the show, the writers had been open to suggestions from the actors, but she said that the character was well-written, so all she did was interpret it the best way she could. She also shared that among all the characters that she’s played, Ashley was still one of her all-time favorites.