Paul Harshman, a military veteran and longtime claims superintendent with State Farm Insurance who raised champion Arabian horses, died Dec. 18 in his sleep at his home in Glen Ellen.

He was 90.

Harshman worked 40 years for State Farm, starting in Southern California and moving to Redding before joining the company in Santa Rosa and later working out of its regional headquarters in Rohnert Park.

He was born and raised in Sterling, Ill., a farmtown in the northwest part of the state, and he studied for several years at North Central College near Chicago before enlisting in the Army Air Force, where he served as a bomber plane navigator at the end of World War II.

Not long after moving to Sonoma County in 1965 he purchased a 30-acre ranch in Glen Ellen that became the base for his successful Arabian horse breeding and showing operation.

He owned horses that won titles at the national and international level in the United States and Canada. The honors, combined with the many years he spent on the show circuit, made him a well-known figure in West Coast horse circles, family and friends said.

"If people knew him, they knew he loved his horses," said daughter Barbara McElroy of Glen Ellen.

Arabian horses — named for their origin on the Arabian peninsula — are one of the oldest breeds and are prized for endurance and good temperament.

"He loved their beauty and their friendliness and their versatility," McElroy said.

Harshman's father owned a small dairy and grew corn in Sterling, and his own passion for horses likely developed from those agricultural roots, his daughter said.

"He was a farmer at heart," McElroy said. "He loved being outside working with animals."

He was a longtime member of the Golden Gate Arabian Horse Association. His champion horses, including "Chief Whitefoot" and "Chief Windsong," earned titles in categories ranging from trail and western riding, to horsemanship and working cattle.

He was a hands-on owner with a critical eye for showmanship and a competitive fire, said Gretchen McDaniel, who together with her husband Mike trained and showed Harshman's steeds for 15 years.

"He had every buckle and trophy that his horses ever won. And he won a lot," McDaniel said.

He married Marilyn Bell in 1949 and the couple had three children.

In addition to his daughter Barbara and wife Marilyn, he is survived by sons Don Harshman of Littleton, Colo., and Jay Harshman of Glen Ellen; and by sisters Lois Harding of Rockford, Ill., and Vera Boone of Twin Lakes, Wis.

A funeral service is set for noon Friday at Santa Rosa Memorial Park, 1900 Franklin Ave. Donations may be made to the Redwood Gospel Mission, P.O. Box 493, Santa Rosa, 95402.

--Brett Wilkison