Arabian horse legend Sheila Varian dies at 79


» The above video was created by the California Rangeland Trust about Varian Ranch.

Renowned US arabian horse breeder Sheila Varian has died at the age of 79 after a battle with cancer, which was diagnosed in 2013.

Varian, who died on the morning of March 6, had been breeding horses since 1954 and was considered one of the world’s leading breeders of arabian horses, but she was also well known in western riding circles.

Ridden by Sheila, Ronteza (*Witez II x Ronna by Faronek) notched up three “firsts” at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in the 1961, the first Arabian, the first female rider, and the first amateur rider to “win the world” – the Reined Cow Horse World Championships, a contest dominated by quarter horses.

Sheila Varian
Sheila Varian

She was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 2003.

The Varians were among the first to import arabians from Poland. Varian said: “I didn’t breed my stallions to follow any trends. I’ve always tried to take the best stallion and breed it to the best mare for the purposes I had in mind. I have had a deep fondness for the Arabians from Poland – however I recognize that all Arabians came from the desert originally so quality is more important than origin.”

The “V” following a horse’s name was initiated in 1981. Today, up to 70% of arabians registered in the US carry Varian blood.

In 2014, a documentary film titled V: The Legacy of Sheila Varian was released. It also marked the 60th anniversary of Varian Arabians. The film is described as “the ultimate underdog story”.

In recent months, The California Rangeland Trust worked to raise $2.5 million to conserve the Varian ranch, after Sheila Varian offered to place a conservation easement on the 200 acres, in Corbett Canyon between San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande. The easement prevents the ranch from being subdivided for houses or vineyards.

Desperado V
Desperado V and Sheila Varian

It meant that Varian continued to own and operate the ranch until her death. It will now be managed by ranch manager and friend Angela Alvarez.

When Alvarez retires, the ranch will be donated to the Rangeland Trust as a planned gift. The trust will then sell the ranch to a conservation buyer.

“I could not bear the thought of this ranch being broken up if I died or were not capable of managing it. There would be houses all over it, and the animals would have no place to go,” Varian said.

“Now, everything on this ranch will be safe. My farm manager, Angela Alvarez, would be safe. The people working here would be safe. And those who wanted to visit could still come. Now, I am comfortable and can rest easy knowing that this place will be taken care of. “

Following Varian’s death, the fundraising page set up for the Protect Varian Ranch project crashed because of the volume of traffic heading to the site. Organisers have a new crowdfunding area, which can be accessed here.

Sheila Varian, August 8, 1937 - March 6, 2016.
Sheila Varian, August 8, 1937 – March 6, 2016.

Latest research and information from the horse world.

2 thoughts on “Arabian horse legend Sheila Varian dies at 79

  • June 2, 2016 at 2:40 am

    I was a huge fan of Sheila Varian and attended a clinic she held here in Alberta. I was so impressed, living in quarter horse country, that she won the World in San Francisco even after the mare fell and got back up with Shelia still in the saddle. What magnificent Arabians she bred and how much we owe her for her foresight and devotion! Bey Abi would have been waiting for you. Fly high you too!!!

  • August 11, 2020 at 6:57 am

    She changed the World of Arabians and My Life as a small child <3 Thank You Lord
    So Proud that I had a Baby with her breeding – My Boy Fameous Bey Son of Fame VF son of Bey Shaw Son Of Bay El Bey son of Bay Abi


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *