Cow Palace’s New “Women of Rodeo” to Honor Famed Horsewoman Sheila Varian


For the first time, the Cow Palace will be presenting “Women of Rodeo,” an evening both honoring and featuring the cowgirl on October 14, 2023, at 6:00 PM at the Cow Palace in Daly City. This exciting program will feature women competitions in barrel racing, breakaway roping, and bronc riding plus performances by the winners of the Grand National Drill Team Competition and professional trick rider Madison MacDonald-Thomas.


A feature of the evening will be a tribute to Sheila Varian, the incredible horsewoman who became the 1961 Reined Cow Horse Champion at the Cow Palace, at the age of 24. Sheila grew up in a rural central California town, and was drawn to the ways of the vaquero, which focuses on developing a fine-tuned harmony between horse and rider. She added gentleness as the ingredient to nurture a true partnership. This approach led the horse and rider to victory. In spite of the roaring crowd, blinding lights, and a fall, the little five-year-old mare never lost sight of her steer and where it needed to go. “Ronteza knew what to do, and I was along for the ride” recalled Sheila about the event. “Winning the World” (as this competition was known) in the male dominated Stock Horse and Reined Cow Horse world was a triumph. Sheila was the first woman and amateur to win the competition. Ronteza was the first Arabian horse to win the title. Guests will be able to see the beautiful saddle presented to Sheila for her win, her trophy, belt buckle, and Ronteza’s bridle displayed in a concourse at the Cow Palace, graciously on loan from Varian Arabians. The Cow Palace will also honor Sheila during the “Women of Rodeo” program and showcase some beautiful Varian Arabians from the bloodline that Sheila carefully and personally bred. Guests will be thrilled to see these exquisite equine athletes!

Rodeo was one of the first sports open to women, dating back to the early 1900’s. In 1941, World War II took cowboys away from the arenas and chutes, as well as their ranches. Cowgirls took up the slack, and a group of Texas ladies stepped up to create a touring, “all girl” rodeo to bolster the troops’ spirits. In 1948 the Girls Rodeo Association (GRA) was formed and sanctioned 60 rodeos in its first year. The GRA became the Professional Women’s Rodeo Association and today, women compete for top honors and top prize money in sanctioned events, including the National Rodeo Finals. They also compete in non-sanctioned rodeos and serve as pick up riders in rodeos across the nation competing in the same rodeo events as men. The Cow Palace is proud to join other venues in hosting an all-women’s event to celebrate the spirit, tenacity, and skill of the cowgirl.


Also part of our “Women of Rodeo” program, the Cow Palace will be raising funds to benefit The Teal Foundation, a Bay Area organization working to provide support for ovarian cancer research and those who are recently diagnosed with the disease.


Join us in celebrating the past, present, and future of women’s rodeo on October 14, 2023 at the Cow Palace. Tickets are available at


The Cow Palace is an historic agricultural and entertainment venue in Daly City, and home of the Grand National Rodeo and Jr. Livestock Exhibition, celebrating its 75th year in 2023.