Group aims to conserve Varian horse ranch in Corbett Canyon

Sheila Varian has been raising award-winning Arabian horses on her ranch in Corbett Canyon for 60 years.
Sheila Varian has been raising award-winning Arabian horses on her ranch in Corbett Canyon for 60 years.

The California Rangeland Trust is working to raise $2.5 million to conserve the Varian horse ranch in Corbett Canyon between San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande.

For 60 years, Sheila Varian has been raising award-winning Arabian horses. She has offered to place a conservation easement on her 200-acre ranch.

Such an easement would allow Varian to retain ownership of the property, but the easement would permanently prevent it from being subdivided for homes and vineyards. The easement will also preserve the property’s value as agricultural land, wildlife habitat and open space.

“I could not bear the thought of if I was not capable, or I die immediately, this place would be broken up,” Varian, 78, told attendees of a jubilee held at the ranch in August. “There would be houses all over it, and the animals would have no place to go.”

Varian is working with the Sacramento-based California Rangeland Trust to realize her decadelong dream to conserve the ranch. The group hopes to raise the $2 million to $2.5 million to purchase the easement over the next six months to a year through a mix of small and large donations, said Daniel Sinton, a Shandon rancher who serves as chairman of the trust’s fund development committee.

“Our belief is that most ranches are worth conserving, but this ranch is especially important due to the lineage of Arabian horses she has there,” he said.

Arabians are an ancient breed of horse that originated on the Arabian Peninsula. They are a popular breed of riding horse and are known for their majestic beauty. The Varian Arabians website says that 70 percent of winning Arabian show horses today carry Varian blood.

Under the terms of the easement, Varian will continue to own and operate the ranch until her death. The ranch will then be managed by Angela Alvarez, who is currently the ranch’s manager and a friend of Varian.

Upon Alvarez’s retirement, the ranch will be donated to the Rangeland Trust as a planned gift. The trust will then sell the ranch to a conservation buyer, and the money raised in the sale will be used to buy more ranch easements and properties.

“Now, everything on this place will be safe and you will be safe to visit here,” Varian told her jubilee guests. “Angela and the people that work here will be safe. Now, I am comfortable and can rest easy knowing that this place will be taken care of.”

Sinton said the trust feels a sense of urgency in conserving working ranches such as Varian’s property. Not only are rural properties in danger of development, but fewer young people are carrying on the ranching tradition.

Sinton manages 18,000 acres of ranchland in the Shandon and Pozo areas that have been in the family for nearly 150 years.

“These are dying properties,” he said. “I am the one that is carrying forward for our family, but there are not many of us left.”