It goes without saying that there are many beautiful sights at Varian Arabians but the one that resonated with me the most wasn't from the amazing museum filled with trophies, photos and memorabilia from Sheila Varian's legacy. My wanderings led me to discovering the round pen (and I knew there had to be one!) complete with working gear ready for the next horse and this was IT for me! Those trophies and awards didn't come without wet saddle blankets. Before there was silver, there was ropes and leather and sweat.
I've always been interested in the history of the Arabian horse because no matter their station in life, all horsemen all feel like "kin". Whether it's the high fliers of times past (like Lady Ann and Wilfred, WK Kellogg, Albert Harris, William Randolph Hearst and PK Wrigley) or people like myself—those whose families gave up other pursuits in order to be able to have a horse in their "back yard—we share a common bond of the love of the animal and found a way to enjoy them.
That's why a visit to Varian Arabians was quite near the top of our "to visit" list in California. It was a beautiful day as we headed north to Arroyo Grande. I had contacted manager Angela Alvarez several days before to determine if we needed an appointment to visit and she responded very quickly letting us know the hours the ranch was open for guests and that we were free to come on over and stroll around the ranch and see the mares and foals!
But for a "history nerd" like myself it was walking around the main barn that was really cool. Wall after wall of vintage photos and memorabilia showing not only the history of Varian Arabians, but the Arabian horse in the west as well. Knowing my history, I was pretty sure that Bay-Abi++ had won his National title while the National Championship classes were held in Estes Park (hosted by the Colorado Arabian Horse Club) and having shown at the CAHC Estes Park show many times, I was pretty sure that if there was a photo of that win, I could spot it—and I did! I'm pretty sure that anyone who has shown in that arena would recognize the background! But there wasn't any caption next to this photo on the wall, so I took a quick photo so that I could confirm with Angela and ask her if that trophy was part of the exhibits in the museum and the answer was yes and yes! This is the win photo from Bay Abi's 1962 National Championship win in Arabian Stallion Halter, a class with 45 entries that took over 4 hours in the ring to complete with the end result that Bay Abi was named National Champion over horses that were much better known at the time.
Having confirmed that the trophy was part of the Sheila Varian Museum exhibit, Mike and I prowled the rooms of Sheila's home, continually distracted by one item after another. For lovers of vaquero horsemanship, equestrian art and books it's easy to linger a long, long time. I could spend an entire afternoon browsing through the books to see what I'd like to have on my wish list. First up is Cowboy Island and then I spotted the reference book on spade bits a couple of shelves below. Need I say more?
After a very slow crawl through the rooms, there it was—no longer on it's original 2 foot wooden pedestal, but identified with his name, title and year.
If you ever have the chance to visit Varian Arabians, we highly recommend it. It's a beautiful, peaceful spot and we'll visit again. This time with picnic lunch in hand so that we can spend more time in one of the beautiful shady spots overlooking the grounds.
Contact Angela Alvarez to arrange your own visit to Varian Arabians