The sad loss of Valerie Millwood deprives the British Show Horse Association of one of its most influential and active supporters. Valerie enjoyed a lifetime involvement with horses, having trained with top showman Count Robert Orssich and leading trainer Sybil Smith. She ran a very successful and well known riding school and produced numerous ponies and horses for the show ring, winning at the very highest levels. Valerie, an acclaimed expert in the art of side saddle, was highly respected for her teaching and judging. Her enthusiasm and mastery of the art was a driving force in the Side Saddle Association in which she was a significant figure. She encouraged many people to take up riding side saddle and under her inspiration the side saddle classes at the BSHA National Championships have now become a most popular feature of the Show.
Valerie combined her extremely busy life in the horse world with running her family’s London business, a famous firm of undertakers, where, as a child, she first encountered the Friesian horses used for drawing the hearses.
Valerie became President of the British Show Hack, Cob & Riding Horse Association (as it then was) in 1997.She took over the Presidency at a time when the Association, and most particularly its Committee, was experiencing considerable difficulty, being riven with internal strife, conflicts of interest and personality clashes. The Association was in severe money difficulties, as membership was falling while the expenses of running shows, in particular the National Championships, were rapidly rising. Valerie’s business experience and her canny understanding of how to deal with problems, combined with her astute leadership, common sense and a straightforward no-nonsense approach to the difficulties facing the Association, enabled this rocky period in its history to be overcome. She proved so effective that when her term of office as President expired in 2000, there was a unanimous demand for her to remain on the committee, which thankfully she agreed to do.
After her inspiring leadership the Association progressed rapidly, subsequently moving from its headquarters in Coleshill, to its present home in Hitchin and achieving full incorporation and changing its name to theBritish Show Horse Association, enabling it to encompass further types and breeds if required. The membership, which had dipped below the 600 mark began to rise and now today, stands at over 1800, and there is a very healthy bank balance which enables the Association to employ excellent staff and to serve its members effectively, not least with the National Championship Show, which was moved to the superb site at Addington.
Valerie realised that serious sponsorship was needed for the show to become the much celebrated event that it is today. As well as being a generous sponsor herself, she set about the daunting task of raising sufficient sponsorship to enable the show to have secure financial footing; no-one who was approached by Valerie could ever refuse this very charming and persuasive lady. She understood that sponsors need encouragement and incentive, inaugurating the popular champagne reception, which proved such an attraction – indeed after the sponsors regaled themselves so happily by the main arena in the first year at Addington the Association phones were ringing all week with people keen to sponsor for the next year! Valerie was a convivial, outspoken and lively hostess, and the loudest laughter and merriment was usually to be heard on her table at every show, where she would entertain a wonderful salon of gossip and information, amazing everyone with her unerring knowledge of what was going on everywhere.
Without Valerie’s support and above all, her boundless enthusiasm, the BSHA would not be in the enviable position it enjoys today. She never missed a meeting, being driven hundreds of miles in all weathers by her loyal lieutenant, trusted friend and former head girl, Miss Thea de Boer.
Valerie was a consummate judge of horses and ponies and also of riders and their abilities, as befits one who taught so extensively. Her dedicated contribution to the horse world is reflected by so many of her pupils, who absorbed her respect for tradition, elegant turnout and correct training, excelling in their chosen spheres. She judged everywhere and was respected and revered by so many for her integrity and forthright character, which won her many friends across the wide spectrum of showing. She gave huge amounts of her time and effort and also generous financial support to the horse world, especially the Side Saddle Association and the British Show Horse Association. Valerie was always forthcoming when help was needed.
Valerie’s door was always open for those who needed help, advice or guidance and her ability to counsel those with difficulties was much valued.Valerie will be deeply missed, both as a friend, a mentor and a convivial and entertaining hostess who left everyone feeling so much better for having spent time in her company.
The funeral is at 12 noon, at St Marys Church, Pulborough, West Sussex on Tuesday 11th April.