2016 Varian Arabians Christmas Group

Varian Arabians Staff Christmas Photo 12/16

From Left to Right

Jaime Hernandez (Varian Arabians Performance Trainer), Jaedyn ( Angela's granddaughter), Major Mac V, Ryah Alvarez ( Angela's daughter, Jaedyn's mom), Dave Jensen, DVM, (our Vet from San Marcos Equine Clinic) Edgar Serrato (grooms & tacks for Jaime), Ismael Perez, Jr ( works in Maint. & the son of Mike Perez), Armando Calderon   (Mantenance Dept), Tony & Angela Alvarez, Shelley Rice & her dog Jake ( Breeding/Foaling Dept.) Miguel Murillo ( Maint. Dept.) Carlos Ruiz ( Foreman of Maint. Dept), David Arteaga ( Maint. Dept.) Kristy Gillot & her dog Jax ( Breeding Manager), Audacious ps & Mike Perez ( Varian Arabians Halter Trainer)  


Sheila Varian

Sheila Varian

1937 - 2016 | The Guiding Light of Varian Arabians

The Varian broodmare line is into its 9th generation, which started with the three Polish mares Sheila imported in 1961. Her stallion line is currently in its 5th generation tracing back to the original Varian stallion, Bay Abi++, who was purchased as a 2 year old in 1959 by Sheila. Starting with a Morgan/Percheron when she was 8 years old, Sheila has build Varian Arabians into the Nationally and Internationally known Arabian horse farm that it is.

Sheila was honored to receive the Arabian Breeders Association Breeder of the Year Award in 2005 at the US Nationals and was inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, a rare and much deserved honor, in 2003. Sheila is one of the few people who is knowledgeable in the old time California Vaquero techniques of training a horse and is much sought after to share this knowledge. Sheila enjoys sharing her stories and anecdotes about her 50+ years of breeding during the annual open house events, the Varian Spring Fling and the Summer Jubilee.

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Farm Staff

  • Angela Alvarez
  • Ryah Alvarez
  • Jaime Hernandez
  • "Mike" Ismael Perez
  • Kristy Gillot
  • Shelley Rice
  • Edgar Serrato
  • Carlos Ruiz



Angela Alvarez


Jaedyn with foal


Angela Alvarez
General Manager

In March of 1986, Angela came to Varian Arabians. Her medical background served her well when she started in the breeding department as a mare care technician.

Though the years, Angela has worn many hats out of her dedication to the farm and its mission. She was the breeding manager from 1987 - 2016, after Sheila's passing and the increased responsibility handed down to her she released that title to Kristy Gillot in 2017 who has been her assistant for several years. She also has been foaling out the mares at Varian Arabians since 1986, she has foaled over a 1000 mares & still feels it is important for her and the farm that she be there at every birth. 

Angela also is one responsible for the beautiful History Wall that wraps around the inside of the Show Barn and the new addition to the farm "Sheila Varian's Museum".

With Sheila passing the torch to her, Angela now resides as General Manager of Varian Arabians, overseeing all staff, breeding, foaling and training decisions, events, and more. Angela is wholeheartedly dedicated to continuing Sheila’s vision for The Varian Way, as it touches both horses and people.

Angela has been married to her husband Tony since 1974, they have lived across the street from the farm since 1987, raised their family there and have made it a very special place they call home.

They have two daughters, Ryah and Leah. Ryah made Angela and Tony proud grandparents on December 4, 2006 with a beautiful girl, Jaedyn, who can be seen helping at the farm if she is not out on the softball field.


 2017angela and tony arabian oaks breeders jamboree

ryah alvarez

Ryah Alvarez
Office Manager

Angela and Tony’s oldest daughter, Ryah was officially added to the Varian Arabians staff roster in 2015. She will likely be the voice the greets you when you call the ranch, and is in charge of records, office management, website and other marketing platforms, events coverage, and more. She shares the same warmth as her mom, and has been a loved figure in the background for many years.

Pictured is Ryah with her daughter Jaedyn. You may recognize Jaedyn as being Kristy and Angela’s shadow at Varian events, evening wearing a “staff” badge. She’s a pretty lucky 9-year-old, living at Varian Arabians and learning the ropes with the best of them.



Jaime Hernandez

Jaime Hernandez
Head Performance Trainer

Jaime Hernandez came to Varian Arabians in 1991. He started out cleaning stalls and grooming horses. Bill Flemion’s wife Karen had given him a good referral and he’d had some experience working at a few other horse farms. He’d come to the farm with Greg Gallun. Sheila asked him when he could start. “Right away,” he said, and he’s since been an integral part of the Varian horses.

He was born in a small village near lake Chapala in Jalisco, Mexico. He remembers riding his little donkey to school every day with his brother Felix. He also remembers riding the same little donkey miles away, alone, to take food to his Dad while he was working when he was about six years old.

After cleaning stalls for a while, Sheila had him help Phillip Keisner, who was her assistant trainer at the time. She must have seen something special in Jaime, and soon she had him up on a horse in the round pen, bareback. She had the horse on a lunge line and had him walking in a circle.

“Now hold your arms out to the side.” She told him. “no hands, just your legs.”
Then she clucked the horse up to a trot, then up to a lope.
“You’re pretty good” she said, “now, close your eyes.”   
“No.” Jaime said, “my eyes are my balance, if I close my eyes, I fall off!”

She started giving him horses to ride at that point. His first horse show was in Paso Robles on a horse named Cadizjaberry V. Jaime’s English was very limited. He’d never shown before and he was nervous. Sheila told him that every time the announcer said something, for him to look up and find her in the stands. She would make hand signals to tell him what he said, walk, trot, lope, canter, turn around. After the class, they called out the top ten. Then they called out the winner. Jaime didn’t understand the number they called out, but he knew when they called out “Cadizjaberry V, Grand Champion!” Looking up in the stands, he saw Sheila, jumping for joy and clapping her hands, laughing.

“Don’t be afraid of the big trainers or the big horses, just do your best.” Sheila taught him. “Go sit in the stands and imagine your ride. Go through it in your head, how you’ll move, how you’ll show. Keep yourself where the judges can see you.”

 After gaining some recognition in the horse world, Jaime was approached by  other farms, offering him to come work for them. He told them no, Sheila gave him a chance when no one else would. For twenty-five years, he learned from Sheila and combined that with his own instincts, how to help a horse to understand his place in the world and to be a trusting partner.

He is a U.S. citizen today and lives in Arroyo Grande with his wife and four children.

View the embedded image gallery online at:

Mike Perez

"Mike" Ismael Perez
Head Halter Trainer

Mike Perez has been a part of Varian Arabians in 1995 after Bob Battaglia suggested Sheila was looking for help. At the beginning, he helped Felix Hernandez getting the horses ready for sale. Sheila liked his attitude and the way he worked with the horses. He helped in the lab for a while and rode the horses with Jaime, but after going to the Scottsdale show with Sheila, it became his dream to work with the halter horses.

He recalls his first time in the show ring, in Paso Robles, with a horse named Brandy Jullyen, winning the Grand Championship. Next show was Pomona, where Sahara Jullyen won Grand Champion and Moon of Jullyen won Reserve Champion. His second year showing, he was in Scottsdale, with five horses. Of those five, four of them made the top ten.

“Sheila taught me that every class, at every show, even if you win the Champion every time, there is always more to learn. She was always right beside me always giving me more ideas, how to show, where to face.” She taught him to go slowly with these babies, to give them time to figure things out, she taught him a softer way with the horses and to always work at improving his technique.

Mike’s been training babies for fifteen years, halter breaking around thirty horses a year. He gives them their first introduction to how to behave and how things work for the rest of their lives. He works with them until they graduate up to Jaime and go under saddle.

View the embedded image gallery online at:


Kristy Gillette

Kristy Gillot
Breeding/Health Care Manager

Kristy has spent about half of her life at Varian Arabians, starting out when she was about sixteen, right after getting her driver’s license. She started with a summer job bathing and grooming the horses. She graduated from Cal Poly with her major in Animal Science, focusing on Equine Reproduction, and her minor in Agribusiness.  Soon she became Angela’s assistant in the breeding barn. “I went through a lot of phases at Varian Arabians, Angela was always willing to teach me everything and to be disciplined. She was very good to me.”

Kristy was born in Pittsburg, PA. When she was four years old, her Dad, a Chemical Engineer, came to California to work at the Diablo Power Plant. That same year, she started taking riding lessons at Sun King Farms in Arroyo Grande. When she was seven, on her birthday, she got her first horse, a little Arabian Mare named Rainbow’s End. She competed with “Bow” in everything from Hunter to Western Pleasure to Team Penning. 

It was at the Foal Festival in 2014, when she showed a couple foals for Sherry Conrads and Keith Krichke, that she and Sheila really started to get to know one another. “Sheila taught me to never give up on myself or what I believe in. She showed that over and over in her life with the horses and even more so through her illness. Almost every horse lesson she taught me could also be applied to a life lesson. She made me think outside the box.”

Today, she has stepped up to the role of Breeding manager at Varian Arabians and she loves her job. “You get to know all of the horses, they’re like family to me. If I’m having a rough day, I go visit the horses and they always make me feel better. I am so blessed to have grown up out here.”

2018 staff kristy gillot web


Shelly Rice

Shelley Rice

Assistant Health Care Manager

Shelly has had a connection to Varian Arabians from the day she was born. “I’m a twin,” she says, “when my Mom went into labor five weeks early, they had to find my Dad, who was out fixing fences at Varian Arabians.”

Shelly didn’t grow up around horses, but was always that horse crazy kid. At nineteen, while working at a summer camp, she had her first interaction with horses. She stayed up nights reading everything she could get her hands on about equine science. After graduating from Cal Poly with a degree in Animal Science, she went to work at the San Juan Ranch. There she really learned to rope and ride. She earned her National Board Vet Tech license.

She remembers going on vet calls and hearing all about Sheila. “She was a real Rock Star but I didn’t realize just how much of a big deal she was till later.”

She came to work at Varian Arabians full time in 2016. She loves being able to use her veterinary technical skills while at the same time, learn from Angela, Kristi, Mike, Jaime and Edgar.

“The people here at Varian Arabians are the most kind, gentle, intuitive, and compassionate people who treat the horses so well. The horses here are exceptional because of that and because they get to be horses at the same time. Everyone takes pride and care of the job that they do.”
She lives on the property and is in constant motion, helping Kristy in the breeding barn, supplementing horses, moving them from pen to pasture.

“This is the most peaceful place,” she says, “if there is ever a problem, well, it’s in the trailer on the way to Alamo Pintado Clinic.”


Edgar Serrato

Edgar Serrato

Head Groom

Edgar came to the United States from Mexico City when he was only eight years old.  He is in charge of keeping all the horses washed and groomed and he always knows who goes where.

He learned how to handle the horses from Sheila, Jaime and Mike, especially the stallions. “Some stallions will go against you,” he said, "but I've never been intimidated by any of the horses at Varian Arabians. Varian horses are so polite”.

He admired Sheila and learned a lot just from watching her and how she was with the horses.
“I love working here, it’s better than any place else. It’s peaceful, with fresh air, and these beautiful animals. It’s the best of the best.”


Carlos Ruiz

Carlos Ruiz

Maintenance Foreman

Carlos joined the ranks at Varian Arabians in 2013. As a kid in Mexico, he helped his grandfather with his cattle and horses. “I used to ride in Mexico, but it was totally different than here.”  He came to the U.S. with his Dad when he was fifteen years old. They moved around a lot. San Francisco, Chicago, Santa Ynez, working at various jobs.

When he first came to apply for work at Varian Arabians, he’d heard about Sheila. “I’d heard that she was really tough, but when I came here she was different than I’d expected. She called me into her office and asked me some questions to see if I knew how to do things. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she’d researched on line and already knew the answers, so it was a test”. He was on the right track, so she hired him.

Carlos takes care many areas of the farm, from feeding to fixing fences, tractors, trucks, and electrical problems as well as being on call at night during foaling season.  He’s a quiet man, capable and hard working.
“I like working here because there is always things that need to be done and I can pretty much set my own schedule.”
Carlos is a U.S. citizen, he’s married with three children.



Veterinary Staff

  • Dr. Doug Herthel DVM
  • Dr. Mark Rick, DVM
  • Dr. David Jensen, DVM

Doug Herthel

Dr. Doug Herthel DVM

Owner and founder of Alamo Pintado Equine Clinic in Los Olivos, California. Starting his clinic in 1972, Sheila was one of his first clients, and the relationship continues today. Alamo Pintado is one of the top 10 equine clinics in the nation, having state of the art equine surgery and recovery department as well as a neonatal unit for foals. Dr. Herthel pioneered equine techniques that are now used routinely all over the world.

Dr. Herthel also started Platinum Performance Inc., which manufactures mineral supplements for both equine and humans. We use both here at Varian Arabians. You can find more info on this at: PlatinumPerformance.com.

Announcement: July 12, 2018

The Santa Ynez Valley and equine community was shocked to learn that Doug Herthel, veterinarian and co-founder of Platinum Performance, passed away yesterday from Lewy Body Dementia.

“Doug succumbed to a 17-month long, hard fought battle with Lewy body disease, a progressive and aggressive form of dementia,” his sons Mark and Troy Herthel wrote on their Facebook pages.

Herthel is an alumni of U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and founded the Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center with his wife Sue in 1972. Herthel has made numerous breakthroughs in abdominal surgery, fracture repair, regenerative medicine and nutrition therapy. In 1996 Herthel developed and founded Platinum Performance, a supplement which helps heal equine patients after surgery. His line of products have expanded in the past three decades to include health supplements for other domestic animals and humans. His son Mark now runs the company based in Buellton. Herthel’s youngest son Troy works at Alamo Pintado as an equine surgeon.

Herthel was notably the veterinarian for President Ronald Reagan during his tenure at Rancho del Cielo, commonly known as the Western White House at the top of Refugio canyon.
Doug Herthel with wife Sue and son Mark and President Ronald Reagan at the Western White House.
Photo courtesy of the Herthel family.

“The horses roamed 680 acres on the President’s ranch. There were a lot of opportunities for them to get hurt out in nature,” said John Barletta, one of Reagan’s riding partners and Secret Service members in an excerpt from the blog post on the Platinum Performance website. “I remember one time,” he continues, “I was looking at the horse that I rode, Gualianco, which was one of the President’s horses. He was a gray Arabian, and he looked just like the President’s horse. That was on purpose of course, so someone couldn’t tell us apart from a distance,” says Barletta. “I’m looking at him one day, and there’s a drop of blood at the back of his mouth. I open his jaw and his jaw was loose. I called Dr. Herthel, and he was pretty sure the horse had a broken jaw,” Barletta remembers. “The road to the President’s ranch is very treacherous. So Dr. Herthel said, ‘instead of bringing him down, if you’ll assist me, I’ll come up, and we’ll treat him on the ranch.’ I thought, ‘dear Lord, me assist you? Well, OK.’ I called back to the White House to get the President’s permission, and he said, ‘do whatever you have to do. Whatever the vet says.’ The President had a tremendous respect for his veterinarians,” says Barletta. “He always went to the experts for the care of the horses and let them do their jobs. He knew people like Dr. Herthel knew best.”

The Mayo clinic describes Lewy body dementia, also known as dementia with Lewy bodies, is the second most common type of progressive dementia after Alzheimer’s disease dementia. Protein deposits, called Lewy bodies, develop in nerve cells in the brain regions involved in thinking, memory and movement (motor control).

The Herthel family asks for privacy at this time and when services are arranged they will announce the details.

Dr Mark Rick DVM

Dr. Mark Rick, DVM

A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Mark obtained his undergraduate degree at Montana State University, continuing on to Washington State University for his veterinary education. Following his doctorate degree, he completed the Surgical Intern/Residency Program at UC in Davis. There he met his wife Kathy and together moved into the valley, where they have resided in the town of Ballard with their two sons Jonathan and Carson.


David Jensen DVM

Dr. David W. Jensen, DVM

Dr. Jensen is an equine practitioner and owner of the San Marcos Equine Practice.  He completed his doctorate in Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida in 1982.  He then traveled to the San Luis Rey Equine Practice, a surgical and imaging referral practice in southern California.  After completing his internship he moved to the central coast with his family.  Dr. Jensen has been providing mobile veterinary care since 1985 for Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties. Dr. Jensen will be our reproductive veterinarian and all around farm veterinarian.  We welcome Dr. Jensen and his enthusiasm for working with Varian Arabians.