Horse whisperers, TV celebrity, to gather at Inkerman’s Liberty Lane Farm for symposium

Acton Shaun Johnston — aka Grandpa Jack — will be in North Dundas to perform at Liberty Lane Farm's Weekend Symposium on Horsemanship. Courtesy photo

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

INKERMAN — Lorie Duff may be a horse whisperer but she’s not treading softly when it comes to this weekend’s first ever Symposium of Horsemanship hosted at her Inkerman farm.

“I’ve received 500 emails just today about the event,” an enthusiastic Duff told Nation Valley News on Monday, Aug. 22.

Duff, 42, says the event stems from a near tragedy last December, when she almost lost her 14-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son in a car accident. The teens have since recovered, but “it does change you,” says the single mother. “I almost lost my entire family.”

It was a trial that prompted a look at the bigger picture, and Duff was inspired by famous horsewoman Barbra Schulte of Texas, who authored Healing Thoughts on Loss, Grief and Horses after losing a son to a rare form of cancer.

She reached out to the “iconic lady” of the horse industry, and Schulte agreed to put on a training event in Inkerman. Her attendance became the core for the upcoming symposium. “Her presence is unreal,” says Duff of the member of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. “She’s going to be here passing the torch to our Canadian coaches, which is why I did it.”

An educational event aimed at riders and trainers, the Aug. 26-28 symposium includes a highlight appearance by actor Shaun Johnston this Saturday afternoon (Aug. 27). The CBC Heartland star — aka Grandpa Jack — will take part in a two-hour fan meet-and-greet and later that evening perform songs and stories on a stage set up between two corrals at the property.

“Saturday would be the day to attend, for sure, for anyone who can only go one day,” she says. There will also be a raffle for Make a Wish and a silent auction to benefit that cause as well.

A one-day ticket, available online and at the gate, costs $82.50 for members of the public curious to check it out. Costs are double for those attending the entire weekend event, with four coaches and 40 riders from across Ontario and Quebec verified earlier this week. Duff expects about 200 people camping on site when all is said and done. CTV news will broadcast from the farm as the arrivals flow in tomorrow (Fri., Aug. 26), she says.

Shulte’s symposium sessions are “for anybody who’s a horse lover right down to someone wanting to get their coaching development points, or someone that’s been at it for years,” according to the organizer, emphasizing it’s for every discipline from western to hunter-jumper and dressage. “Anybody who has anything to do with horses will benefit.”

The event is recognized by Equine Canada and will count toward the annual points certified coaches must maintain.

Organizing the event has had other unique spin-offs for Duff. After approaching the RCMP about having the force make a presentation this weekend, they wound up inviting her to participate in the Musical Ride’s sunset ceremony. Upon her horse, Titan, the North Dundas Township resident became the first civilian to do a riding demonstration during an RCMP show last June. “My legs were shaking all five nights,” she laughs, describing the experience of performing in front of thousands of spectators on five separate occasions.

Officers will attend the symposium this Sunday for a special presentation also involving North Dundas Deputy Mayor Gerry Boyce.

A fan of Heartland, when Duff called the agency representing Shaun Johnston — to bring in the actor as entertainment — they not only agreed, they wound up signing her as well.

Establishing Liberty Lane Farm in 2009 at 11270 County Road 3,  the proud Newfoundlander quibbles a little over the horse whisperer label for herself — but not too much. “Yeah, it is … I would not say ‘horse whispering,’ but it is horse communication,” she says. “I’ve been at it now for quite a while, and I’ve studied with some of the greatest clinicians out there.”

Duff continues to upgrade that knowledge and is “giddy as a schoolgirl” about travelling to Maine next month for a clinic featuring the actual horse whisperer, Buck Brannaman — on whom Robert Redford’s character in the 1998 film was based.

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This article was edited to correct the spelling of Schulte’s surname.

Courtesy photo

Lorie Duff at Liberty Lane Farm. Courtesy photo

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