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In Memory of Sheila Varian

In Memory of Sheila Varian

August 8 1937 – March 6 2016

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt


It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of legendary horsewoman, breeder and friend Sheila Varian on the morning of March 6 2016.

The impact of this news will be felt in ripples around the globe, as Sheila touched and inspired the lives of horse enthusiasts around the world for over six decades.

The first thing to know about Sheila is that she was probably more legendary outside the Arabian horse industry than in it, even though she has been widely considered the leading Arabian horse breeder in the world. Her historic win at the 1961 Reined Cow Horse World Championships at the Cow Palace in San Francisco gave her iconic status in the Quarter Horse-dominated world of cow horse competition, being the first and only woman, the first amateur and the first Arabian horse to ever win that prestigious award. Ask any cowboy today if he knows of Sheila Varian, and you’ll probably get a tip of the hat.

Sheila’s induction into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 2003 placed her alongside every famous horsewoman, from Annie Oakley to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. So it is not just Arabian horse enthusiasts who loved and admired Sheila Varian.

Sheila Varian and Jullyen El Jamaal.

Even though her long career started in training horses, her accomplishments in breeding them are even more impeccable. The Varian family were among the very first to import purebred Arabian horses from Poland, and did so at the height of communist occupation. This amazing accomplishment by a small family farm in Arroyo Grande, California, flung open the doors for the rest of the world, particularly Americans, to embrace Polish Arabians as the foundation horses they are.

Soon thereafter Sheila brought up a two-year-old colt named Bay-Abi (Errabi x Angyl), and showed him to the title of 1962 US National Champion Stallion, under her own handling. He began a breeding programme that has redefined how people breed Arabian horses. The birth of his son, Bey El Bey (ex Naganka by Bad Afas) in 1972 is perhaps the most significant occasion in modern Arabian history; still today, the get of Bey El Bey rule the show-ring. An amazing statistic from the 2014 US Nationals revealed that 84% of all US Reserve and Champions for pure-bred Arabian horses in the open halter and performance divisions carried the blood of Bey El Bey, including 98.6% in the halter division alone.

But Sheila’s success didn’t end there. Her vision has created foundation horses for countless breeding programmes around the world and opened the minds of breeders to experiment with out-crossing. Her programme has also involved the Ali Jamaal son, Jullyen El Jamaal (Ali Jamaal x Jullye El Ludjin) and the Fame VF son, Audacious PS (ex Hal Flirtatious), among many others.

Today, her sixth generation stallion, Major Mac V (Maclintock V x Majors Tiffany GA) begins another new chapter, uniting breeders’ affections for head type with the profound athleticism of the Polish lines that are her foundation.

Yet still, beyond all her accomplishments, her intangible qualities are what set her apart. Her wisdom, leadership, wit, inspiration, character and pioneering spirit have enraptured every person lucky enough to cross her path.

It was Sheila’s profound wish that Varian Arabians continue and so, under the direction of long-time Farm Manager, Angela Alvarez, Varian Arabians will steadfastly continue its 60 year tradition of training, breeding, selling and showing world-class Arabian horses. Additionally its next chapter includes its commitment to honour and extend Sheila’s grand legacy as a teacher, leader and storyteller by utilising the ranch as an educational and historical event centre for the Arabian horse.

And so it is with great sadness that we say goodbye to one of the most iconic women, not just in the Arabian world but in all the world of Arabian horses… Sheila Varian. She leaves our world and our breed a better place because she was a part of it.



Even before she became ill with terminal cancer, Sheila Varian reached out to California Rangeland Trust with yet another dream: to form a land preservation agreement that would not only protect the ranch for the people, the horses and the wildlife in the near future, but would also ensure that her land, and eventually other working ranches, would be preserved forever.

Memorial donations can be made to the Protect Varian Arabians Ranch campaign by visiting: www.rangelandtrust.org/varian


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