Sheila Varian Inducted Into National Cowgirl Hall of Fame
honor of her lifelong accomplishments as an Arabian breeder and
a trainer of great working western horses, Sheila Varian of Varian
Arabians in Arroyo, Grande, California, was inducted into the National
Cowgirl Hall of Fame on November 14, 2002, at Fort Worth, Texas.
One of only four inductees selected from 450 nominees this year,
she joins Hall of Famers such as Annie Oakley, Patsy Cline, Dale
Evans and artist Georgia O'Keefe.
is a fine example of what the museum calls the 'cowgirl spirit,'
" says museum curator Jennifer Nielsen. "The Hall of Fame
selection process is guided by the mission of the museum and looks
to honor women who have distinguished themselves while exemplifying
the pioneer spirit of the American West. "
is the first Arabian horse breeder to earn this accolade, and one
of only a handful of horse people that gives presentations on vaquero
tack and training and its origins to historical societies. Today
this tack--saddles and ornate silver bits, spurs and stirrups crafted
by more than 80 artisans--is highly valued in collections worldwide.
of this stuff hangs in museums and private collections. I use this
equipment everyday on the ranch," says Varian, who learned
how to train bridle horses as a young girl, starting horses in a
hackamore until his 5th year and then gradually accustoming them
to carrying a port or spade bit without the support of the bosal.
And the Arabians that she has turned into finished bridle horses--ones
she has taught to rope, hobble, high line and cross rough country
safely and quickly--are prized as highly as any of her show horses.
renown for breeding outstanding English horses such as Huckleberry
(Bay El Bey x Taffona), Sheila Varian always felt that the Arabian
horse and cow horse were synonymous. Growing up as a California
cowgirl steeped in the vaquero training method, she put that to
the test 42 years ago. Surrounded by the west's best stock horse
trainers, Varian, a young school teacher with a self-taught Arabian
mare named Ronteza (Witez II x Ronna), clinched the Reined Cow Horse
Champion at San Francisco's Cow Palace during the Grand National
Rodeo. Today that would be akin to winning a championship at the
National Reining Horse or National Reined Cow Horse Championships.
chose to compete with an Arabian because she was drawn to their
beauty and was thrilled by the stories depicting their loyalty,
endurance and athletic ability in Walter Farley's Black Stallion
series and Marguerite Henry's King of the Wind. She saw no reason
why Arabians couldn't compete on an equal footing with traditional
went on to excel in the Arabian horse world, producing more than
900 top quality Arabians. Ronteza's son, Bey Event, was a champion
stock horse, winning three saddles at open shows and two unanimous
U.S. Nationals titles. He was sired by Bay-Abi (Errabi x Angyl),
the stallion who launched Varian's breeding program, producing exceptional
offspring when crossed on Varian's three Polish foundation mares,
*Bachantka, *Ostroga and *Naganka. The cross with *Naganka produced
his successor and Varian's dream horse, Bay El Bey (x *Naganka).
I was making a name for Varian Arabians. The Arabian horse world
didn't have much interest in the western disciplines, so I rode
English horses but still kept my great knowledge of old-time bridle
horses," says Varian, who won the Arabian Breeder of the Year
Award from the Arabian Professional and Amateur Horseman's Association
four times and received the Ellen Scripps David Memorial Breeder's
Award from USA Equestrian in 2001. "Bay El Bey, for instance,
was a natural sliding horse. He could easily have been an open reining
horse, but I made him into an English pleasure horse because he
could do it, he was so athletic."
El Bey fathered Huckleberry Bey++, a champion English horse who
sired Desperado V, a western horse that would have pleased a California
vaquero. "When Desperado V came along, our breed was more interested
in western classes," says Varian. "Don Severa, half-owner
of Desperado V and Varian Arabians' business manager had this wonderful
working ranch in the Adelaides west of Paso Robles, and so it was
full circle. I went back to my roots again, riding on ranches and
is a 40,000 member equine association that registers and maintains
a database of more then one million Arabian, Half-Arabian and Anglo-Arabian
horses. It administers more than $4 million in annual prize money,
produces national events, recognizes more than 400 Arabian horse
shows and distance rides and provides activities and programs that
promote breeding and ownership. For information about Arabian, Half-Arabian
and Anglo-Arabian horses, call 303-696-4500, e-mail info@ArabianHorses.org
or visit www.ArabianHorses.org.