The Varian Equestrian Center : Polishing the Gem

The gem of Varian is being polished into The Varian Equestrian Center. Varian is a well-known and much-respected name in the Arabian horse world. The recent purchase of Sheila Varian’s iconic home and barn in Arroyo Grande, CA brings many new upgrades to meet the needs a variety of equestrians and their horses.


Come ride along with me! Get your riding the SLO County Trails Hotsheet to get started and join the SLO Horse News Herd!


Polishing the Gem of The Varian Equestrian Center Means Many New Things:

New Trails

The Varian Equestrian Center : Polishing the Gem
New Trails at Varian Equestrian Center

One of the first things polished up and made new were horse trails on the property. The existing trails were overgrown and unpassable. These trails have recently reopened, thanks to the tractor and hand work by Mike Perez. Riders now enjoy going up hills to scenic vistas and through shady oak tree groves. New trails in the back area of the property will be extended from these revived trails.

New Pastures

The Varian Equestrian Center : Polishing the Gem
Private Pastures

To answer the demand, a number of “private pastures” along the famed Bay Abi Lane now house new boarders. These pastures are very popular, so more are being added. Subdividing the existing pastures with new fencing, created a boutique experience supporting one, or up to four horses. Private pasture boarding comes with twice per day feeding and cleaning. Each pasture sports a new watering and feeding station. Overhanging trees along the gorgeous Bay Abi Lane provide natural shade and shelter.

New Expanded Pipe Corral Boarding

The private pipe corrals with no climb fencing are a high-demand boarding option. Therefore, building more of these horse housing options are in the works.

New Arena

Work commenced on the new arena in October 2023. Visitors attending the November 2023 Open House got a view of a new arena across Corbett Canyon Road in the existing “Sand Lot”. This new arena will host all types of events – from clinics to haul-in training and barrel racing.

Plans are also in the works for upgrading and expanding the current arena on the main property. This will help support more horses and more disciplines.

New Trainers

Ismael (Mike) Perez has been a constant here at Varian Equestrian Center, for many years. Sheila Varian passed on to Mike specific training techniques from her own experiences as well as from others which she lovingly approved for her horses. Mike was a key figure in Sheila’s program with specialties ranging from ground training to desensitizing and halter breaking of the foals. He truly embraces the Varian Way of training and makes it available to all boarders at Varian Equestrian Center. Read more about Mike Perez or schedule a lesson.

The Varian Equestrian Center announces the return of Jaime Hernandez who recently moved his business back to this beautiful facility. Jaime has dedicated his entire life to working with horses.  His journey in horsemanship took a significant turn in 1992 when Sheila Varian extended an opportunity to him to embark on horse training. For an impressive 28 years, he contributed his expertise to her ranch, mastering the art of working with English, Western, and Trail disciplines. Jaime’s skills extend beyond Arabian horses; he is proficient in handling horses of any breed. Recently, he has also taken up the role of providing one-on-one riding lessons for individuals eager to forge a deeper connection with their equine companions. Read more about Jamie Hernandez or schedule a lesson.

Sophie Arkell is a new addition to the team. Sophie has been riding since she was two years old, competes in rodeo at the college level as a barrel racer, and works horses under saddle, puts trail miles on horses and teaches students of all ages from beginner to intermediate. Read more about Sophie Arkell or schedule a lesson.

New Vibe

The Varian Equestrian Center : Polishing the Gem
The new vibe is magical Photo credit: Sharon Jantzen Photos

With all these new changes there is a new vibe at Varian Equestrian Center. The vibe being felt by boarders, staff and the new owners is nothing short of magical. New horses and their daily-visiting owners have been arriving regularly since the word has come out that VEC is open to boarding all horses. Arabian love is still here, but the new energy being felt in the arenas and on the trails has created a wonderful community of passionate horse owners of all breeds. Boarders enjoy each other’s company, while helping each other out and trading stories.

Laughter fills the barns and friendships are developing as riders hit the trails together, watch each other work out in the arena, and bond over their horses while grooming and bathing them. Every member of the staff has a new bounce in their step and are truly feeling part of the team as they continue to provide exceptional service to the VEC clients while improving the facility with new fencing, trails and building new facilities.

New Owners

The Varian Equestrian Center : Polishing the Gem
The Arkell Family – Photo Credit Sharon Jantzen Photos

The Arkell family is passionate about preserving the history and success of Sheila Varian. Simon describes the impact this property has had on their family, “We have fallen in love with this amazing property over and over again. Not only is looking over the physical beauty of The Varian Equestrian Center from the trails above a “pinch me” moment, we have also grown to really admire and love the passion and hard work put in by the team working here to preserve and grow this spectacular space.”

Simon Arkell

Simon is a former athlete and technology startup founder, so learning the horse boarding business has been a departure for him, but one that he has really enjoyed. The business now runs with a focus on business metrics and performance indicators (just ask Kristy!). As a result, the tangible benefits of turning around this business and now growing it have been a wonderful experience because the results have been immediate.

Simon, a two-time Olympian, battled to become the first person in 16 years to represent his country (Australia) at an Olympic Games. He did this by moving across the world to the US from Australia to try a “path less trodden” to see if he could improve enough to be selected. It worked and the risks he took resulted in national records and the Olympic Games. He relates to the barriers that Sheila had to overcome to win her world title and feels a bond to Sheila and this remarkable property as a result.

Caprice Arkell

Caprice is an incredible communicator and relationship builder who is the perfect promoter of this incredible piece of history. More people and their amazing horses need to experience just how special it is to board at Varian Equestrian Center. Caprice is just the talent capable of getting the word out.

Caprice has really enjoyed bringing the skills she has developed over a long career in sales and consulting and applying those to the local community to build enthusiasm for this amazing property. Those efforts have already resulted in some fantastic awareness of Varian Equestrian, and she is just getting started. The Arkells feel a deep sense of responsibility to the local horse community, the world-wide Arabian community, and the talented VEC team to grow the business. The plan is to invest back into it – not only bringing it back to its former glory, but also making it better than it ever was!

Open House Welcomed the Local Equestrian Community

Official Ribbon Cutting at the Varian Equestrian Center Open House Photo Credit: Sharon Jantzen Photos

The Arkell family welcomed the local equestrian community to stop by and take a look at all the new goings on at Varian Equestrian Center. They hosted a well-attended and appreciated Open House on November 12, 2023. Attendees enjoyed museum barn tours, trainers exhibiting their talents, music, food and drinks. It was a great way for the community to get to know the team and the Arkells, experience the beauty of these hallowed grounds, and learn about the incredible history that sits on the doorstep of our great county.


Photo Credit: Cover – Sharon Jantzen Photos, Others unless noted- Varian Equestrian Center


Get going! Looking for trails to ride in SLO County? This hotsheet will get you going on a few of the top rides. Get this delivered to your e-mail and join the SLO Horse News herd to stay up-to-date on herd happenings. Click here > SLO County Trails Hot Sheet to get going!

More from Sharon Jantzen
Yes, English Riding Boots CAN be found in SLO County!
When I was younger we clunked around in those tall English boots...
Read More

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.