Legacy of Historic Horse Ranch Continues with New Owner



A magical piece of Arroyo Grande history has a new owner! Longtime home of the late legendary horsewoman, Sheila Varian, the 150-acre Varian Arabians Ranch, which is nestled amongst the rolling hills off Corbett Canyon Road, was the birthplace of some of the best Arabian horses in the world. Now, the torch has been passed to two-time Olympic athlete, Simon Arkell, who is rising up to take on the new challenge as ranch owner. The Olympic pole vaulter and his wife, Caprice, have high hopes to continue the amazing ranch legacy. 

Arkell grew up in Australia and dreamed of becoming an Olympian. He trained at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo from 1992-1995 and achieved his goal by competing at two Olympic games. Arkell also gained recognition in the high-tech world for creating life-saving technology. One of his successful companies matches cancer patients with clinical trials through artificial intelligence to identify cancers and connect patients to treatment faster.    

Varian was much loved and well known for being fearless. Her legacy of breeding and training Arabian horses is known world-wide. In fact, up to 70% of all Arabian horses registered in the US carry the Varian bloodline. 

Varian passed away in 2016 after a battle with ovarian cancer. Before passing, she partnered with the California Rangeland Trust to make a plan that would permanently protect this one-of-a-kind property as a working ranch. She previously said, “I could not bear the thought of this place being broken up… Now all the animals that live here will be safe, and people will still be safe to visit here.”

In her estate plans, Varian left the ranch to the Rangeland Trust, knowing the ranch would be conserved through a conservation easement and sold, only once her longtime friend and ranch manager, Angela Alvarez, was ready to retire. While Alvarez will continue breeding Arabian bloodlines, she became ready to step away from the day-to-day operations after an incredible 38-year tenure. Alvarez’s decision spurred Varian’s trustees, along with the Rangeland Trust, to list the property. Proceeds from the sale of the ranch will go to the Rangeland Trust to conserve additional working lands in California and aid in the long term sustainability of the Sacramento-based non-profit so it can fulfill its mission. 

“We are pleased to honor Sheila’s wishes and fulfill our promise to make her dream of conserving the beloved ranch, while also furthering additional rangeland conservation through the sale of the ranch, a reality,” says Michael Delbar, CEO of the Rangeland Trust. “Additionally, we are excited to welcome the Arkells into the Rangeland Trust family as new landowner partners.”

Artifacts from throughout Varian’s life, including many of her awards and prized possessions, will be spread amongst multiple special locations. The bulk of these will be on display at her cousin Jack Varian’s V6 Ranch in Parkfield, Calif. (which is also conserved through the Rangeland Trust). Additionally, memorabilia from her legendary win in the 1961 open reined cow horse championship at the Cow Palace – including the saddle she won on with Arabian mare Ronteza – will be aptly displayed at the San Francisco pavilion. The Santa Ynez Valley Historical Museum will be home to the dress, hat, and boots that Varian wore when she was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Finally, a history wall will remain at the ranch for guests to learn about the remarkable woman that Varian was and the positive impact she made within the equine industry.

Arkell says, “What is striking for me, having come to the US to try and make it to the Olympics despite having almost no chance, is that my story feels a bit like hers. Ms. Varian became successful despite the odds to make her dream come true. Caprice and I feel like we are being courageous in a new way to keep her dream alive.”

The Arkells are also passionate about raising money for cancer charities and would like to continue that work in the name of Sheila Varian. Arkell shared, “Caprice, our kids Graham and Sophie, and I want to be stewards of this amazing property, to protect it and improve it for the community and future generations, but also leverage it to help others.”

The Arkells are excited to continue the winning tradition as a premier horse breeding and boarding facility. The ranch is NOW OPEN to boarding for ALL horses with a NEW name, “Varian Equestrian Center”. 

The Arkells are eager to share this rare treasure with the community so more people can learn about the amazing history. They hope to bring back events and one day offer a wedding venue to support the equestrian operation. Their goal is to vault the ranch legacy forward into future generations and use the gorgeous land to grow funds for cancer charities. 


1275 Corbett Canyon Rd.

CONTACT: Simon & Caprice Arkell