A native of the Virginia horse country, Stephanie Millham grew up riding hunters and event horses before specializing in dressage in the 1970's. She credits her two legendary mentors for passing on their great wealth of academic knowledge as well as teaching and training techniques: Dr. H.L.M. van Schaik and Nuno Oliveira, with whom she rode regularly for ten years. "I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to receive instruction from two of the great classicists of the last century," she says. "In keeping with the old tradition of direct transmission of knowledge from master to student, one on one, I consider it an honor but also a duty to help pass this legacy to the next generation."
During her competitive career Stephanie won the prestigious high score award of the show at the AHSA East Coast Finals. After a successful FEI show season in 1983, including wins at the Prix St. Georges and the Grand Prix levels, and a third in the Intermediaire 1 at the USET's Pan Am Games screening trials, she retired from the competition arena. Her teaching career was launched that same year with a number of students referred by her own mentors, thus ensuring the success of the Avilion School from its inception.
Avilion alumni have gone on to success at all levels. Many are professional trainers, judges and instructors; one has been long-listed for the Olympic team, and several are training and showing successfully at FEI levels. Stephanie has coached a championship Jr./YR Team at the Region 1 finals, several BLM finalists, and an eventing student who won the top award for a mare competing at Advanced Three-Day in the USA. She has also trained a number of USDF bronze, silver and gold medalists.
What is Classical Horsemanship?
Classical Horsemanship is a distinctly european tradition, an equestrian philosophy developed over centuries by the horsemen and women of Europe, a blend of knowledge initially coming out of the cavalry and the royal schools of equitation, where it was considered an art form and a spiritual quest on the path of personal enlightenment.
Classical Horsemanship begins and ends in Classical, also called True or Traditional, Dressage, but is not exclusively about Dressage. Like the masters upon whose shoulders I attempt to stand, I include jumping, cross country and hacks in my practice of the tradition to which I have devoted the better part of my life.
That said, and while I have dabbled in other disciplines across the board, my deep and abiding passion is for dressage in it's truest form - as a rehabilitative, restorative, physiotherapeutic discipline that at it's best can claim it's place, not only as an avenue for sport, but as an artform. All the while putting first and foremost, the Horse. His nature, his biomechanics, his spirit.
I believe dressage is for the sake of the horse, as opposed to dressage for the sake of dressage. It is in the application of time proven principles to sometimes unusual subjects that we reach the core of real dressage. To develop any horse and rider to be the best and most beautiful their abilities will allow. Making the ordinary horse, extraordinary. It’s what I like to call - somewhat tongue in cheek - Organic Dressage.