San Francisco’s Famous Cow Palace Honors Sheila Varian


By Evie Tubbs Sweeney

The same stadium that has borne witness to legends such as the Beatles, John F. Kennedy, the Rolling Stones, Martin Luther King Jr., Elvis Presley, and so many others, also paid tribute to a well-known Arabian horse legend. In a special tribute on Saturday, October 14, 2023, during a special “Women of Rodeo” evening, the historic Cow Palace honored the late Sheila Varian – along with her gritty, talented Arabian mare, Ronteza – as the first woman to win the World Reined Cow Horse Championships in 1961.

The tribute opened with a narrated video that walked viewers through that remarkable weekend in 1961, as the young high school teacher competed on her Arabian mare against the best professional cowboys of the day to ultimately “win the world” against all odds.

Following the video, five decorated Varian-bred champions from Dick and Nan Walden’s Rancho Soñado Arabians (Tucson, AZ) entered the ring in a special performance, representing the quality and versatility of the Varian Arabian:


  • Picante Jullyen V+ (Jullyen El Jamaal x Precious V+) ridden by Lane LeClair (Reining National Champion)
  • Renegade Mac V++ (Maclintock V x Ravvens Skylark) ridden by Shea Johnson (Show Hack National Champion)
  • Romance V+++// (Maclintock V x Ravvens Skylark) ridden by Griffin Alexander (Sport Horse Reserve National Champion)
  • May Flower RS (Monticello V x Flower Girl V) ridden by James Fehr (Sport Horse JTR National Top Ten)
  • Pandoras Seekret V (The Seeker V x Pretty Pauline V) shown in hand by Raeann Haley (Sport Horse In-Hand National Top Ten)
Picante Jullyen V + and Lane LeClair
Renegade Mac V++ and Shea Johnson
Romance V+++// and Griffin Alexander
May Flower RS and James Fehr
Pandoras Seekret V and Raeann Haley

“Dick and I bought our first horse from Sheila in 2003, Kay Pasa V,” said Nan Walden. “My Quarter Horse-loving husband was immediately won over by her horsemanship & her horses. It was an honor for us to pay tribute to Sheila by showcasing a group of our National & Scottsdale Champion Arabians that are winning across a wide array of disciplines from trail to ranch riding to show hack to dressage to reining and cow work.”

A beautiful floral display representing the Varian V presented by Nan Walden to Kristy Gillot, who accepted on behalf of Varian Arabians and the Varian family in attendance concluded the special tribute.

Special thanks to Nan and Dick Walden and the Rancho Soñado Arabians team for bringing horses and adding additional magic to the evening. Thanks also to the Allison Keaney, CEO of the Cow Palace, for making the tribute possible.


It was an unforgettable evening honoring one of the Arabian breed’s brightest guiding lights, Sheila Varian.


Long live the V!

Photos by Bozena Hagen.