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Sheila Varian Inducted Into National Cowgirl Hall of Fame

In 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.

"Sheila 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. "

Varian 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.

"Most 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.

Although renown for breeding outstanding English horses such as Huckleberry

Bey++ (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.

Varian 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 western breeds.

Varian 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).

"Then 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."

Bay 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 working cattle."

AHA 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 or visit


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