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Sheila Varian

Sheila Varian
Sheila Varian, April 2010 at Varian Arabians
Born 1940
Santa Maria, California[1]
Died Expression error: Unrecognised word "dd", YYYY (aged Expression error: Unrecognised word "yyyy") (death date then birth date)
Nationality American
Occupation Arabian horse breeder

Sheila Varian (born 1940) is a breeder of Arabian horses who lives near Arroyo Grande, California. Her horse ranch, Varian Arabians, has been in existence since 1954. She has produced some of the most influential Arabian stallions in the breed, and via her foundation mares, has bred nine generations of Arabian horses, whose bloodlines are currently found in a significant number of winning Arabian show horses in the United States. She is also a horse trainer in the vaquero tradition, and was inducted into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in 2003.


Early years

Varian grew up with a strong interest in horses and a fondness for The Black Stallion books written by Walter Farley.[2] She was given her first horse, a Morgan-Percheron crossbred, at the age of eight, and rode bareback until she obtained her first saddle at age 12. Although her parents, Eric and Wenonah Varian, did not have an equestrian background, Varian has said that they always supported her interest in horses.[3]

It is a spring day, 70 degrees, and I'm on a good horse, moving cattle off a mountain. That is perfect happiness.

—Sheila Varian[2]

Her first Arabian was the mare Farlotta (Lotnik × Farza), obtained in 1952. Farlotta became a finished spade bit horse who won both stock horse (reining) and western pleasure championships.[4] Varian's reasons for choosing the Arabian breed were because "...their instinctual interest in and appreciation for people runs deep in their genes. The Arabian's lightness and responsiveness are wonderful, as is their willingness to be your partner. And I love beautiful things, and they are beautiful. Arabian horses have never let me down."[2]

Varian and her parents began using the farm name "Varian Arabians" in 1954.[5] They worked as a team to build a horse business, with Wenonah memorizing pedigrees, Eric building fences, and Sheila handling the horses.[6] As a young adult, Varian not only worked with horses, but also completed college at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo[1] and taught high school for three years until 1963, when her work at the Varian Arabian ranch became her full-time job.[3][6]

Training philosophy and Vaquero tradition

Varian stallion Maclintock V in vaquero style bridle.

Beginning in her teens, Varian was mentored in horsemanship by Morgan horse breeder and cattle rancher Mary "Sid" Spencer.[7] Spencer did all of her own ranch work, including shoeing, gelding, horse training, baling hay and repairing her own trucks.[6] From Spencer, Varian developed an understanding of the underlying principles used when training and riding horses, learned about the vaquero training tradition, and worked cattle in the mountains.[7] She was given the opportunity to learn how to handle well-trained horses by riding one of the Spencer's finished Morgans, a gelding named Little Horse.[6] With Spencer's help, she also learned to recognize correct conformation and balance in horses.

Varian had a strong interest in the history of the spade bit horse in California.[6] The process of training the spade bit horse takes many years of training, bringing a horse from a bosal type hackamore to the use of a combination of bit and bosal called the "two rein," and finally into the spade bit, producing a finely tuned working horse and partner. Its emphasis has always been on the resulting equine athlete’s quality rather than on how quickly the goal is reached.[8] Breeding of the horse is also a factor; to be a spade bit horse requires a horse with a higher neck set and proudly carried head.[6]

Varian utilizes vaquero-influenced methods in training her horses. The vaqueros were the horsemen and cattle herders of Spanish Mexico, who first came to California with the Jesuit priest Eusebio Kino in 1687, and later with expeditions in 1769 and the Juan de Anza expedition in 1774. They were the first cowboys in the region.[9] After learning the vaquero style as a teen, Varian has since softened her training methods. In her twenties, Varian met Tom Dorrance, who introduced her to his “soft approach” of working with horses, and his methods also strongly influenced Varian.[7] She has stated, “All good horses, like smart children, need good instruction, but they don’t need harsh instruction."[8]

Varian starts young horses under saddle at the age of three.[8] Although the traditional Vaquero method starts a young horse in the hackamore, she starts her horses in a snaffle bit. She then introduces the hackamore, using heavier and lighter styles as needed. After a year or two, she will introduce the young horse to a "half-breed" or low-port curb bit, and uses two sets of reins, one set on the bosal and one on the curb. After a couple of years in a two-rein, the horse is eventually introduced to the spade bit at the age of 7 or 8 if they have suitable conformation and temperament to carry it.[8]

Varian strongly disagrees with those who consider Arabian horses to be too high spirited to be pleasurable to ride on the trail.[2] She states that she can rope off of her Arabians, and take them into the mountains.[6] She views Arabians as sensitive horses requiring a smart and gentle approach. She advocates trainers who use the training methods of master horsemen such as Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance, with Dorrance's philosophy being especially suitable for Arabians.[2] She explains the nature of Arabian horses by analogy, comparing them to precocious children who show their ability with delight, but cannot be bullied or pushed around.

Varian Arabians

File:Mares & Foals.jpg
Mares and foals in a paddock at Varian Arabians

Varian values horses with good dispositions and athletic ability as well as appearance. She does not breed Arabians for a specific discipline, instead sums up her breeding philosophy as “consistently continuing to breed for more quality and never losing disposition or athletic ability.”

Varian has produced some of the most influential Arabian stallions in the breed. In 1959, when Sheila Varian was 19 years old, she and her mother Wenonah purchased a two-year-old bay stallion named Bay Abi (Errabi × Angyl).[10] Trained and shown by Varian, he was the judges' unanimous choice for U.S. National Champion Arabian Stallion in 1962, in 1963 won U.S. National Top Ten awards in both Arabian English pleasure and Western pleasure, and thereafter was awarded the Legion of Merit. Even though he was not bred to any mares until after he was trained, and thus his first foals did not appear in the show ring until he was 7, he sired 275 registered Arabians, including 65 champions and 24 national winners.[11]

By 1961, Varian Arabians had a small number of mares, the most notable being the Witez II daughter Ronteza (Witez II × Ronna[12]). Ronteza was the second Arabian Varian purchased.[6] She obtained Ronteza as a two-year-old and trained the mare herself. The team was undefeated in competition against other Arabian horses, and went on to defeat 50 horses of all breeds to win the 1961 Reined Cow Horse championship at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, California.[13] Recognizing that both Farlotta and Ronteza were sired by stallions imported from Poland, Varian sought additional Polish-bred Arabian mares. Poland was, at that time, an Iron Curtain nation and it was complicated to import horses directly to America, so she sought the assistance of British horse breeder Patricia Lindsay, who traveled to Poland and purchased three mares for Varian. These mares arrived in California in December 1961. They were Bachantka (Wielki Szlem × Balalajka by Amurath Sahib), purchased from the Albigowa stud; Ostroga (Duch × Orda by Omar 11), from the Nowy Dwor stud; and Naganka (Bad Afas × Najada by Fetysz), from the Michalow stud.[4] Bachantka and Naganka had been trained and raced in Poland, Bachantka having a record of 2/15 (0-1-3), and Naganka a record of 2/12 (3-4-1). After arrival in the USA, Bachantka also had a brief but successful horse show career.

Crossing Bay Abi on these imported Polish mares proved particularly successful for Varian,[4] and there are now nine generations of horses at the Varian ranch descended from these foundation mares. The cross produced, among other champions, Varian's successor to Bay Abi, the 1969 colt Bay el Bey (Bay Abi × Naganka), who was U.S. Reserve National Champion stallion twice, 1977 Canadian National Champion stallion, and a regional champion in English pleasure.[14][15] However, Bay el Bey was best known for his offspring, earning him the nickname, "The Kingmaker." Bay el Bey sired 441 foals including three sons considered his finest: his own successor at Varian Arabians, Huckleberry Bey (× Taffona by Raffon); U.S. Reserve National Champion Bey Shah (× Star of Ofir by Bask); and Barbary (× Balalinka), who won a total of seven national titles in halter and park horse competition. These three sons of Bay el Bey alone sired a combined total of 650 champions. Barbary was purchased from Varian as a yearling by film producer and Arabian owner Mike Nichols, who once stated, "Bay el Bey changed the Arabian horse in America and then in the rest of the world."[15] Bay el Bey also had a full brother, Mikado, a gray stallion who was a champion park horse.

Desperado V at age 24

Subsequent generations of Varian stallions continued the pattern of winning and producing champion show horses. Huckleberry Bey was 1979 U.S. National Reserve Champion Futurity Stallion, 1981 U.S. National Top Ten Stallion, and 1984 U.S. National Reserve Champion English Pleasure. He in turn was the leading sire of US National Champions for five years, and in 1999 his likeness was reproduced as a Breyer horse model.[16][17] In turn, his son, Desperado V (× Daraska by Dar) became a leading sire of champions. In 2004 and 2005, Desperado V was ranked the leading Arabian sire by the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF),[18][19] was second in 2008 and 2009. By 2009, Desperado V had sired 75 national winners.[20] In addition, another Huckleberry Bey son, Bravado Bey V (× Bachista V) was USEF's 10th-ranked leading sire in 2008.[21][22]

Over the years Varian also made use of outside bloodlines. She leased the young, then-unproven stallion Khemosabi for his first breeding season in 1969. She also made use of horses owned by other ranches, such as Bask, whom she linebred to his 3/4 sister Bachantka, producing another significant foundation mare, Balalinka,[4] dam of Barbary. In 2002, requiring an outcross stallion not closely related to her own horses, she purchased the Brazilian-foaled Jullyen El Jamaal, who has bloodlines not previously incorporated into the Varian program, as well as a line tracing back to Bay el Bey via Bey Shah.[23][24] Varian also continues to seek performance ability in her mares; every mare is trained under saddle and must prove suitable as a riding animal.[6]

Although Varian did not originally work her ranch name into the names of her horses, today Varian-bred horses have a registered name with the capital letter "V" at the end.[25] Varian-bred horses are now also freeze-branded with the Varian "V" logo. She acknowledges the role of her mares by taking the first letter of each mare’s name to start the name of their foals.[6]

Legacy and awards

The stylized "V" freeze brand now identifies Varian-bred horses

Recognition as a horse breeder

Varian Arabians has been ranked multiple times as one of the top 10 Leading Arabian Breeders of winning horses by the USEF, which ranks breeders based on points earned by horses shown in licensed USEF competitions. The ranch was ranked #1 in calendar year 2008,[26] #4 in 2009,[27] and #5 in 2006,[28] and #7 in 2007[29]

Sheila Varian also was honored by USEF with the 2001 Ellen Scripps Davis Memorial Breeders’ Cup, which recognizes an individual who consistently breeds outstanding show horses.[7][30] Within the Arabian industry itself, Varian was honored in 2005 with the Arabian Breeders Association's lifetime achievement award,[2] and was the Arabian Professional & Amateur Horseman's Association 2009 Breeder of the Year.[31]

Cowgirl Hall of Fame

Varian was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in 2003. Other inductees that year included western artist Glenna Goodacre; musician, artist, cowboy poet and pickup rider Ann Secrest Hanson; and classic cowgirl trick rider and barrel racer Velda Tindall Smith (1908–1990).[32]

See also

  • Varian Associates, Russell H. and Sigurd F. Varian, uncles of Sheila Varian.[33]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Varian, Sheila. "Profiles". VarianArabians.com. Varian Arabians. http://www.varianarabians.com/history/sheila_profile.asp. Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Roberts, Honi. "Arabian Horse Breeds-Sheila Varian". MyHorse.com. Cruz Bay Publishing, Inc.. http://www.myhorse.com/arabian-horse-breeds-sheila-varian.html. Retrieved 2010-07-13. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Varian, Sheila. "In the Beginning". VarianArabians.com. Varian Arabians. http://www.varianarabians.com/history/beginning.asp. Retrieved 2010-07-13. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "Brief History". VarianArabians.com. Varian Arabians. http://www.varianarabians.com/history/brief.asp. Retrieved 2010-07-13. 
  5. French, Judy. "Dreams Do Come True or A State of Euforia [sic]". VarianArabians.com. Varian Arabians. http://www.varianarabians.com/history/golden_jubilee.asp. Retrieved 2010-07-13. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 6.9 Varian, Sheila. "Business Sense (Belongs in the Barn Too)". VarianArabians.com. Varian Arabians. http://www.VarianArabians.com/breeding/business_sense.asp. Retrieved 2010-07-21. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "Sheila Varian: 2008 V6 Ranch Trail Ride Clinician" (PDF). ArabianHorses.org. Arabian Horse Association. 2008. http://www.arabianhorses.org/activities/trailride/docs/AboutSheilaVarian.pdf. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Stewart, Kara L. (December 2004). "The Vaquero Way". HorseChannel.com. Horse Illustrated. http://www.horsechannel.com/western-horse-training/vaquero-way-17722.aspx. Retrieved 2010-07-13. 
  9. "Buckaroos: Views of a Western Way of Life". Buckaroos in Paradise: Ranching Culture in Northern Nevada, 1945–1982. Library of Congress. 1980. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ncrhtml/crview03.html. Retrieved 2010-08-06. 
  10. "Pedigree of Bay-Abi". AllBreedPedigree.com. http://www.allbreedpedigree.com/bay+abi. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  11. "History: Bay Abi". VarianArabians.com. Varian Arabians. 1957-04-22. http://www.varianarabians.com/history/bay_abi.asp. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  12. "Pedigree of Ronteza". AllBreedPedigree.com. Pedigree Online. http://www.allbreedpedigree.com/ronteza. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  13. Varian, Sheila. "Ronteza at the Cow Palace". VarianArabians.com. Varian Arabians. http://www.varianarabians.com/history/ronteza.asp. Retrieved 2010-07-15. 
  14. "Pedigree, show and progeny record of Bay el Bey". AllBreedPedigree.com. Pedigree Online. http://www.allbreedpedigree.com/bay+el+bey. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Magid, Arlene. "History of Bay el Bey, "The Kingmaker"". VarianArabians.com. Varian Arabians. http://www.varianarabians.com/history/bay_el_bey.asp. Retrieved 2010-07-14. 
  16. "Pedigree, show and progeny record of Huckleberry Bey". AllBreedPedigree.com. Pedigree Online. http://www.allbreedpedigree.com/huckleberry+bey. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  17. "472 Huckleberry Bey, Famous Arabian Stallion". BreyerHorses.com. Breyer Horses, Reeves International. 2004. http://www.breyerhorses.com/products/storycard.php?item=472. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  18. "Week in Review, Equestrian Magazine, July 8, 2004". usef.org. United States Equestrian Federation. 2004-07-08. http://www.usef.org/wir/07082004.html. Retrieved 2010-07-14. 
  19. "2005 Leading Arabian Sires". usef.org. United States Equestrian Federation. http://www.usef.org/content/pointsAwards/leadingSirePoints.php?year=2005&viewCat=Arabian. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  20. Magid, Arlene. "Pedigree Research. "MIRAGE V++//"" (PDF). miragev.com. Catori Creek Arabians. http://www.miragev.com/MirageV_Magid_Research.pdf. Retrieved 2010-07-13. 
  21. "2008 Leading Arabian Sires" (PDF). usef.org. United States Equestrian Federation. http://www.usef.org/documents/points/2008/LeadingSires/arabian.pdf. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  22. "2009 Leading Arabian Sires". usef.org. United States Equestrian Federation. 2010-07-08. http://www.usef.org/_IFrames/pointsAwards/points/leadingSiresM.aspx?year=2009&section=1000&viewCat=Arabian. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  23. "Varian Arabians — Stallions: Jullyen El Jamaal". VarianArabians.com. Varian Arabians. 1996-10-08. http://www.varianarabians.com/stallions/jullyen_el_jamaal.asp#id=jullyen&num=1. Retrieved 2010-07-13. 
  24. "Pedigree of Jullyen El Jamaal". AllBreedPedigree.com. Pedigree Online. http://www.allbreedpedigree.com/jullyen+el+jamaal. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  25. "Varian Arabians — "What does the "V" mean?"". VarianArabians.com. Varian Arabians. 1996-10-08. http://www.varianarabians.com/home.asp. Retrieved 2010-07-13. 
  26. "Leading Breeders". usef.org. United States Equestrian Federation. 2009-01-13. http://www.usef.org/documents/points/2008/LeadingBreeders/arabian.pdf. Retrieved 2010-06-17. 
  27. "Leading Arabian Breeders". usef.org. United States Equestrian Federation. 2009-01-13. http://www.usef.org/documents/points/2009/LeadingBreeders/arabian.pdf. Retrieved 2010-06-17. 
  28. "2006 Leading Breeders". usef.org. United States Equestrian Federation. 2009-01-13. http://www.usef.org/content/pointsAwards/leadingBreederPoints.php?year=2006&viewCat=Arabian. Retrieved 2010-06-17. 
  29. "2007 Leading Breeders". usef.org. United States Equestrian Federation. 2009-01-13. http://www.usef.org/content/pointsAwards/leadingBreederPoints.php?year=2007&viewCat=Arabian. Retrieved 2010-07-12. 
  30. "The Ellen Scripps Davis Memorial Breeders' Cup" (PDF). usef.org. United States Equestrian Federation. http://www.usef.org/documents/awards/EllenScripps.pdf. Retrieved 2010-07-14. 
  31. "2009 Horseman's Awards Recipients". HorsemansAwards.com. Arabian Professional & Amateur Horseman's Association. http://www.horsemansawards.com/apaha/results2009.html. Retrieved 2010-07-14. 
  32. "All Honorees—National Cowgirl Museum". cowgirl.net. National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. http://cowgirl.net/home/home/hall-of-fame/all-honorees/. Retrieved 2010-07-14. 
  33. "Guide to the Papers of Russell and Sigurd Varian, 1836–1988" Stanford University Library


double-checked, that's what's there, see talk. ISBN [[Special:BookSources/978-0-906-38201-1

loc.gov not liking this:|978-0-906-38201-1 loc.gov not liking this:]]. http://books.google.com/?id=GX71QwAACAAJ&dq=isbn=9780906382011&cd=1. Retrieved 2010-07-22. 


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