Varian Ranch FAQs

Preserve Varian Arabians Ranch is an incredible and unique project of California Rangeland Trust. Learn more about how you can get involved!

Preserve Varian Arabians Ranch FAQs

“There isn’t a more iconic cornerstone in the global Arabian horse industry than Varian Arabians. Its walls saw history made on several occasions: when Ronteza beat the Quarter Horses to win the Open Reined Cow Championships; when the three Polish mares stepped off the trailer onto Varian soil and started a revolution in the importation of Arabian horses; when horses like Bay El Bey, Huckleberry Bey, Barbary, and Desperado V were born in the foaling stalls of Varian’s show barn; when the deal was done to syndicate Huck for $3 million… I could go on and on. It is history. Our history. We must preserve it to the best of our ability so that our children and grandchildren can touch the walls of history and be inspired, just as we have.”

-Carol Steppe, Arabian horse breeder & Sheila’s friend

What was Sheila Varian’s dream?

Sheila’s dream was to halt the seemingly inevitable encroachment of vineyards and housing on the land upon which she worked and bled and sweated for her entire life—the land that gave life to and supported the horses and the people she loved. She also dreamed of impact; of not only preserving her own land, but other properties at risk of development.

Why California Rangeland Trust?

California Rangeland Trust holds an easement on the 16,000-acre V6 Ranch owned by Jack Varian, Sheila’s cousin. Sheila became acquainted with Nita Vail, CEO of the Rangeland Trust, through mutual friends in the Western world. Over years of deepening friendship, Sheila became convinced that California Rangeland Trust could make her dream a reality.

What is a conservation easement?

A conservation easement limits the exercise of certain rights, such as those associated with development, otherwise held by the owner of a specified land area, in order to achieve preservation goals. It “runs with the land,” is documented in the local public records, and becomes part of the chain of title for the property.

Why is California Rangeland Trust fundraising? If Sheila was planning to donate the property after Angela’s retirement, why are funds needed for a conservation easement?

When Sheila approached the Rangeland Trust with her dream, she wasn’t planning to die so soon. Her plan was to use the proceeds from the sale of the ranch development rights as a
“retirement fund” to cover ranch expenses during lean times as she grew older and after she passed. While Varian Arabians Ranch has been self-sustaining for the past 60 years, Sheila wanted security during these times of transition to ensure her lifelong work would not only endure, but thrive and even grow under the leadership of Angela Alvarez. Funds are being raised for the purchase of the ranch’s development rights in order to place a conservation easement on the ranch. Its solvency is not in question.

How much needs to be raised to ensure the conservation easement is in place?

According to an appraisal conducted in 2014, the conservation value of the ranch development rights is $2.5 million—40% of the property’s taxable value, along with transaction, monitoring, and fundraising costs. The market value of the ranch with development rights is over $5 million.

What makes this project unique?

In most cases, California Rangeland Trust utilizes funding from public agencies or private sources to place conservation easements on ranches that will remain in their owner’s family. The fact that Sheila arranged for her ranch to transfer eventually to the Rangeland Trust, and that the proceeds from it will be used toward the purchase of conservation easements on other working ranches, make this project exceptional.

What is Angela Alvarez’s plan for the future of Varian Arabians Ranch?

Angela Alvarez, who has been with Varian Arabians for over 30 years, will continue as the ranch’s General Manager until she retires. During this time, the estate’s attorney and trustees, carefully selected by Sheila for their knowledge of the Arabian horse business, will support Angela and act on Sheila’s behalf in making trust decisions. When Angela retires, the ranch—with the conservation easement in place—will be gifted to the Rangeland Trust, which will then sell it, as stipulated in Sheila’s will. Every effort will be made by the Rangeland Trust to find a conservation buyer who is involved with Arabian horses. Proceeds from the sale will be used to conserve other working ranches in California.

Why is Angela qualified to take over the farm’s operation as General Manager?

It was Sheila’s decision to have Angela step into the role of General Manager for Varian Arabians Ranch, based on her 30 years of experience and friendship. In March of 1986, Angela came to Varian Arabians. Her nursing degree and medical background served her well when she started in the breeding department as a mare care technician. Over the years, Angela has worn many hats out of her dedication to and love for the farm and its mission. She brings a wealth of knowledge with which to carry out her job responsibilities of continuing the annual breeding program and daily operation and management of the farm. When Sheila found out how serious her illness was, Angela sold her Harley because she knew that Sheila was really worried about her riding it, and if something happened to Angela, what would Sheila do? Angela didn’t want to take any chances that might jeopardize the future of the ranch. Sheila was counting on her, and didn’t need one more thing on her mind. As Sheila’s trusted friend, Angela will continue to honor Sheila’s legacy, and act in the capacity of General Manager for the ranch until she retires.
In the past, Sheila had been the public face of Varian Arabians Ranch, and Angela will now step into a leadership role with decision making, sales, and educational programs. With Sheila passing the torch to her, Angela will continue to carry on the traditions that Sheila developed over the years, as beautifully evidenced at the Varian Jubilee this past August. Angela is wholeheartedly dedicated to continuing Sheila’s vision for The Varian Way, as it touches both horses and people.

Does Varian Arabians have an additional income from Varian Associates? Has Varian Arabians EVER had any outside income from Varian Associates?

Sheila was a self-made woman, and never received any income from her relatives’ successful electronics business, Varian Associates. Her humble beginnings, along with her parents’ values, taught Sheila the importance of focusing on planning for the future and saving for the unforeseen when needed, and her equine business remained self-sustained throughout the years. As a young woman, she received emotional support from her mother, Wenonah, along with advice about breeding and showing her horses. Sheila also gained valuable background from her experience as a physical education teacher at Arroyo Grande High School, which laid the groundwork for her to instruct and ultimately share her equestrian knowledge with so many others in the industry.

How will the farm continue to support itself?

Did Sheila leave any money to her estate for operations? In her estate plan, Sheila did set aside some financial assets within her trust to continue the operations of the ranch, as needed. Under the leadership of Angela Alvarez, the farm will continue to be self-sustaining through horse and breeding sales, equine related educational endeavors at the ranch, and proceeds from the sale of Varian Arabians boutique merchandise.

Would Sheila have supported similar conservation projects like this one? Did Sheila contribute within her own community?

Sheila was not a wealthy woman, and was fondly known for being frugal in order to independently support her own ranching operation. However, she was able to give back to the Arabian horse community in many different ways. As a breeder of nearly 900 horses, Sheila had vast experience, and freely shared her time and advice with many individuals just entering the Arabian show world. At a time when others were too busy to take the time with “newcomers,” Sheila took great pleasure in mentoring many new enthusiasts who became long-time friends and supporters of the “V.” With her encouragement, many of these individuals went on to become accomplished breeders in their own right. Sheila had a remarkable influence on the international Arabian community and dedicated her life to advancing the stature and love of the Arabian horse. Along the way, she received multiple “Breeder of the Year” awards from various equine organizations, including the Arabian Horse Times Readers’ Choice Awards and the Arabian Breeders Association’s coveted Lifetime Achievement Award. 
In the final years of her life, Sheila was able to execute a carefully thought-out plan with California Rangeland Trust to ensure that ranch conservation was the main beneficiary of her estate. She not only designed an agreement with the Rangeland Trust to preserve her beloved Varian Arabians Ranch as a lasting gift for future generations, but she made the ultimate decision to donate a majority of the remaining assets from her estate and the proceeds from the sale of her ranch to benefit the preservation of other working ranches in California. Sheila Varian’s legacy will live on through the generous contribution of her planned gift to support the future of rangeland conservation.

How can I help?

Telling your friends and helping to identify potential donors is extremely helpful, but monetary donations still have the biggest impact. An extraordinary outpouring of generosity from Sheila’s friends and supporters launched this campaign, and continued commitments of more sizable donations will allow us to reach our goal.

Each and every gift is critical to meeting the challenge and preserving this cornerstone of the history of the Arabian horse in America. YOUR SUPPORT WILL MAKE SHEILA’S DREAM A REALITY.