“I’ve just been cleaning stalls, grooming, feeding and watering horses.”
Sounds like work to some, but not Jan Miller.
“It’s easy; isn’t anything to do with horses that’s hard for me. I just love it. Nothing’s work if you love what you’re doing.”
Temperature over 100 degrees, heat index 12 degrees more, very high humidity, the renowned McLouth horsewoman talked nonstop.
“I love horses. Horses have been my life. They’re all I’ve ever wanted to do,” insisted the 76-year-old with excitement.
“Fortunately my husband Sam (soulmate four decades) puts up with me and is an asset to horse operations,” Jan credited. “Sam knows the horse business too and doesn’t ever let down on the work side either.”
Born in Lawrence, Jan moved to her father’s home place at Waverly, Tennessee, when she was a year old. A Paint Walking Pony named Hopalong was Jan’s first horse
“I rode Walking Horses my Uncle Jess trained for Roy Acuff,” she remembered. “I rode five-gaited and walk-trot horses with coaching from Uncle Jess.”
Attending a one-room school for all grades, Jan said, “I learned to churn butter. Then I thought we were wealthy when we got a hand pump in the house for water.”
“Dad was a horseman and always encouraged me. ‘What’s stopping you?’ Dad would always ask when I wanted to try something new with a horse,” Jan fondly reflected.
Well, nothing stopped her then or now. Not unlike the song “I’ve been everywhere,” Jan Miller “has done everything that can be done with horses.”
After moving back to Lawrence, Jan’s youthful horse knowledge expanded. “My Aunt Louise and Uncle Jess lived south of town at Clearview Farms,” she related “I rode horses for fun and started learning about hunters and jumpers.
“Uncle Jess taught me how to train harness ponies,” Jan continued. “We showed harness ponies and trotters under harness. Then I took up barrel racing and competed successfully in horse shows and rodeos.
“Dad was a policeman in Lawrence and got into real estate sales, but was always interested in horses,” she added. “We bred and raised Quarter Horses and Appaloosas. Our Oklahoma Star line was athletically prolific. I’ve always really liked an all-around horse.”
Graduating from Lawrence High School, Jan enrolled at Stephens College a girl’s school in Columbia, Missouri, where jeans were prohibited.
“Mom thought I was too much of a tomboy, and you had to wear dresses to attend Stephens College,” Jan said. “I hated dresses, still do, don’t own a dress, so I got by wearing jodhpurs.”
As would be expected, Jan took her horse to college with her. “Country Boy was a great horse I showed in working hunter. He was a better horse than I was rider,” Jan admitted. “I really liked college, made good grades, but still spent most of my time at the stable, even studied there.”
Fondest college days’ experiences for Jan were with Kalarma Copper, 17.1-hands, sorrel, blaze face, stocking-legged world champion walk-trot horse.
“He had been donated to the college, but Mrs. Shirley Drew Hardwick, stable director, and I trained him to harness. I was privileged to show the gorgeous horse in ladies fine harness classes,” Jan grinned five decades later.
Graduating from that two-year-school, Jan attended the University of Kansas a short time before pursuing her lifetime profession. “Horses are all I’ve ever wanted to do.”
After getting married, Jan and her husband at that time and their four-year-old daughter moved to Laramie, Wyoming.
“I worked for a ranch and learned a lot about horses, winter storms and bears,” Jan said. “The ranch foreman with a face of leather from work outdoors all his life was a man of few words. I thought I knew about horses, but very little compared to him.
“The first time working cattle on a two-year-old, I rode up on what they considered a small brown bear,” Jan remembered. “That bear looked 20-feet tall when he stood up. It didn’t take long for me and my horse to get back to camp.
“We made it, neither of us with any broken bones,” she continued. “With scrapes all over me from running through the brush, it looked like I just came from a war zone.”
Moving back to Salina, Jan operated a stable then moved to Minneapolis and eventually to Solomon. “My second husband and I got into the horse breeding business. I helped train calf roping horses, too,” Jan smiled. “I never showed, but I could get down the rope, do two wraps and a ‘hooey’ as good as the cowboys.”
Raising her family, Jan participated in a wide variety of horse activities including team roping. “I loved it all from the little shows to the bigtime. My daughters and I competed in about everything there was, fun times,” she declared.
Maturity and health setbacks which would stop most haven’t slowed Jan’s horse enthusiasm. “Sam and I now breed and raise horses,” Jan said. “We’ve live-cover bred 55 mares this year to our great buckskin stallion JC Flashbac, who everybody knows as Davy. He just finished breeding the last mare yesterday.
“It’s all done by hand. We don’t do any semen collection and don’t ship semen. Davy can be collected, but it works better for us breeding live cover,” Jan said.
Davy is a proven all-around performance producer with offspring winning national and world championships in several events. Featuring Smart Little Lena, Topsail Cody, Doc O’Lena and Bueno Chex, Davy’s services are demanded by mare owners throughout the country.
“Our customers are the ones who’ve made our horses. They are the ones who show and win with the horses of our lineage,” Jan acknowledged.
With 75 mares in peak times, the Millers now own 20 Quarter Horse broodmares at their Jefferson County horse operation.
“We’ve had several stallions through the years and kept fillies back as broodmares for mating to Davy,” Jan said. “We sell all but a couple of our own foals before they’re a week old because of their strong heritage.”
Adrenaline continues flowing fast from personal show ring participation. “I show our foals in area competitions and futurities. I still love that aspect, but I don’t ride anymore,” Jan said.
Victoria Searcy from Leavenworth handles their training and performance showing. “Victoria does an awesome job. We have two of our buckskins being shown now,” Jan said. “We’ve raised a lot of buckskins, but actually bay is my favorite color.
“Disposition is most important for horses, balance, athleticism, willingness and forgiveness, while color is the least significant,” she said.
A walking encyclopedia of horse pedigrees, Jan adds to her entrepreneurship merchandizing and locating horses for others.
“If somebody wants to sell or buy a horse, I have nationwide contacts and attend many sales,” she said. “I sell a lot of horses and can generally find a horse for anybody although it sometimes takes a while.
“I get high on life. The greatest high there is comes from helping others and asking nothing in return. That high will stay with you your entire life,” Jan asserted.
Handling so many horses would seem to demand a large staff. “No. No. No. We do everything ourselves,” Jan affirmed. “It’d be impossible for anybody to work for me. I’m too demanding. I want everything clean, done my way, done right, so Sam and I are the ones who do the work.”
With seven children between them, Jan and Sam Miller have 12 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. “Our children don’t show anymore,” Jan said. “But our grandchildren and great grandchildren compete successfully showing our horses.”
No slowdown in sight for Jan Miller. “I feel blessed to get to still do this and most thankful for all the wonderful people I’ve gotten to know along the way.
“I was brought up with the philosophy there’s nothing one cannot do if you want to really do it,” Jan said. “Dad always insisted, ‘I’m not saying it will be easy but if you want to do it bad enough you can.’ I believe that.
“I love everything to do with horses. I’ll keep going forever,” she proclaimed.