The global equine community lost one of its brightest lights, gifted storytellers, avid evangelists, and dearest friends with the passing of Jennifer Ann Miller in July 2023.
Born into a horse family in Southern California, Jen was fortunate to enjoy almost all of her childhood growing up in the natural wonderland of Colorado. Her ambitions took her to Germany in her final year of high school, where she quickly acquired the language and a love for the country, people, and culture, graduating there on a study exchange in 1985. At university, Jen pursued a degree in marine biology, returning to her original roots at the University of Southern California (USC), but it was her love of film that altered the course of her professional life profoundly.
In classic Jen Miller style, the credentialed biologist sent letters post-graduation to five of her most admired filmmakers, expressing her intention to work with them on their next project, convinced that at least one would accept her generous offer. An affirmative reply came from none other than Robert Zemeckis, whose next project, a modest film based on the book Forrest Gump by Winston Groom, would give Jen her first film credit and her start to a successful career as a writer, director, producer, and music supervisor in Hollywood.
Jen in Poland with Celtis
The intersection of Jen’s passions, both personal and professional, for all things equine, especially her love for the Arabian horse, became the focus of her life post-Hollywood. A horse lover since childhood, Jen and her older sister Elizabeth were fortunate to learn the basics of riding and horsewomanship astride and alongside Gingersnap, the Shetland pony, and Sham, a flaxen-maned Arabian gelding that sparked their shared love for the breed. Avid readers of Arabian horse publications growing up, the sisters would pour through the magazines each month when they arrived, cutting out and hanging the images of their favourite horses on every available space in their bedrooms. Jen honed her prolific writing skills at an early age, writing fan letters to the likes of Fadjur, Bay-Abi and Khemosabi, while their immensely accommodating mother Claire indulged her daughters’ passions by driving the girls to all the local horse shows.
Jen and Sophie. Credit April Visel
The trajectory of Jen’s professional and personal pursuits was forever advantageously transformed with the introduction of Sophie Pegrum into her life when Jen was at her most daring and experimental. Having just completed a screenplay on female matadors, Sophie mentioned her recent project to a colleague at a dinner party, who was in turn friends with Jen. The colleague insisted the two must meet as Jen was deeply involved in bloodless bullfighting at the time. Overwhelmed and impressed by Jen’s enthusiasm and total immersion in the sport, Sophie agreed to travel with a group of friends to support Jen in a bullfighting competition in Baja California, Mexico. By the end of the life-changing road trip, Jen had already agreed that she and Sophie would be the closest of friends, forever bound not only by their shared love of filmmaking, discovery, and storytelling, but of their commitment to bring excellence into the world.
Jen’s home in Ojai, California, was the backdrop in which the next great inflexion point occurred for her professionally, as a chance encounter with renowned equine photographer April Visel, another local Ojai resident, led to a visit to Gallun Farms in the nearby Santa Ynez Valley soon after. It was here that Jen and Sophie would meet the legendary Strike, about whom both would craft their first Arabian horse mini-film, a gift to the Galluns as a token of gratitude for the serious fangirl moment. So moved were Greg and Nancy by the film, Jen and Sophie were offered the opportunity to create the promotional film for the soon-to-be legendary QR Marc at Rohara Arabians in Florida prior to his export and subsequent rise to global acclaim at Knokke Arabians in Belgium. The overwhelmingly positive reception and subsequent success of this promotional video put Jen and Sophie on the map as serious and avant-garde filmmakers in the Arabian horse industry, the momentum from which Horsefly Films was born.
Jen with her favourite mare, Emandoria (and lead image). Credit Fotograf Mattsson
In demand now around the world, Jen and Sophie were shortly thereafter invited to Poland in May 2009, to produce the Pride of Poland promotional videos for the annual auction. A fervent fan of the Polish Arabian and serious student of its history since childhood, this was the trip of a lifetime for Jen, whose enthusiasm and reverence for the horses, the people, the country, the culture, and the breeding programme inspired everyone to give their very best to the project. On subsequent trips to Poland each year, Jen would challenge everyone to think outside the box and to imagine endless possibilities, the results of which are some of the most indelible moments ever captured in film in Arabian breed history.
Turning the iconic Ekstern loose behind the manège at Janów Podlaski, a classic case of ‘always better to beg forgiveness rather than seek permission’, proved to be the most extraordinary footage ever captured of the late legend, his aristocratic presence, ebullient energy, and transcendent zest for life at its unbridled best. An inspired request at Michałów to assemble the most important female descendants of the family of Emigracja as well as all the internationally credentialed mares in residence for a group film shoot was met with equal enthusiasm and innovation by Director Jerzy Białobok, who unbeknown to the Horsefly Team, had asked all the grooms to be fully dressed in military uniform the next morning. The sight of mare after glorious mare emerging from the stables, all adorned in championship red roses, remains one of the most celebrated moments of a legendary stud at its zenith, when more World, European and United States National Champions still called Michałów home than at any other time in its exalted past. Jen’s iconic photograph of that final line-up of international champions in the inner courtyard of the Michałów stable complex will live on as not only the perfect encapsulation of Polish Arabian breeding excellence, but also of the destiny-altering influence of Horsefly Films on Poland.
The iconic photograph of Michałów champions. Credit Horsefly Films
Always one to squeeze every ounce of goodness and transformative energy out of everything she touched and did, Jen made the most of their time in Poland each year to capture as much B roll as possible of general horse life, as well as to interview the people most responsible for the success of the Arabian horse in Poland. Given Jen’s compelling passion for both history and storytelling, it was only inevitable that her next project would be creating the definitive documentary of the Polish Arabian horse. This passion project, and Jen’s love letter to Poland, became Path to Glory: The Rise and Rise of the Polish Arabian Horse, an award-winning masterpiece lauded by film festivals and critics all around the world. Not only did this moving and comprehensive film bring greater awareness of the Polish Arabian horse and its extraordinary history to a global audience, but it also rightly raised the profile of both Jen and Sophie to filmmakers extraordinaire, planting the seeds for what would mature into Horsefly Films Rare Equine Trust.
The Horsefly Films Rare Equine Trust Collection
Seven films later, Horsefly Films Rare Equine Trust has become one of the richest, most celebrated and most universally rewarded collection of equine films in the history of cinema. That synergy of vision and mission, a rare gift of effortless and symbiotic exchange between filmmakers and friends, has endowed the world with the most enduring cinematic tribute to the horse, poignantly reminding us all of the debt we owe this incredible creature for our success as a species. Beyond these ground-breaking features, Jen and Sophie, as Horsefly Films, have created an unprecedented collection of equine promotional films and documentaries for leading programmes, large and small, on every inhabited continent, ensuring their quintessential understanding of the incomparable bond shared between humans and equines lives on with immortality.
Special Screening of Path to Glory at the Polish Film Festival at the Egyptian Theater, Los Angeles
Although so much of Jen’s incandescent enthusiasm illuminated her professional world, her anchor and reason for being were her family, especially her husband Tano Sierra and their son Rafael. Jen was the most fiercely loving and loyal mother I have ever known, utterly devoted to ensuring Rafael had every opportunity to develop his abundant interests, talents, and gifts. Both mother and son shared an intense passion for music and performance, the combination of which led Jen to volunteer her time and talents to the local community in Ojai in support of dozens of creative projects. Rafael continues to share his mother’s enthusiasm for entertainment and authentic connection having already amassed, as a high school student, an impressive résumé of achievements as an actor, writer, musician and filmmaker, profoundly touching the lives of so many with his innate talents and passion.
Jen with Tano and Rafael
Jen always loved to share the story of how her mother would remind her to never let anyone dull her shine. “Shine on!” she would remind Jen, “in spite of the criticism and obstacles.” The job for which Jen was born, as far as her mother was concerned, was to “illuminate the path forward for the world”. We used to joke about printing Jen a set of t-shirts in multiple colours, one for every day of the week, with big block letters that read IMPROBABLY SHINY! on the front and Since 1967 on the back, as not only a warning to everyone she would possibly encounter that life transformation was highly probable if they engaged with her, but as a reminder to the world that high frequency energy was in their presence.
For everyone who had the good fortune to know Jen and spend any time in her energetic and transformative presence, she is forever treasured as one of the most intelligent, engaging, quick-witted, passionate, hilarious, joyous, visionary, intuitive, inspiring, loyal, loving and fully alive – truly, deeply, to the core of her very being – persons to have ever graced our world. She remains the light that still illuminates every corner of our existence, distilling our fear, doubt and indecision into hope, clarity, and infinite possibility, fuelled with Jen’s one-of-a-kind unbridled enthusiasm.
Jen and Rafael
Those that burn brightest are often extinguished far too quickly. The task has fallen to all of us, whose lives have been forever transformed by the Improbably Shiny One, to pick up her torch and light the path forward for others, gifting her kindness, her compassion, her generosity, and her unquenchable energy forward in service and in love.
Thank you, Jen, for sharing the best of yourself with the world for 56 glorious years. That world, OUR world, is an infinitely richer and more rewarding place because YOU were an essential part of it. May our souls find the courage to resonate at your improbably high frequency of being and continue to SHINE ON so that who you are and what you have given us lives on forever…