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A Cowboy and a Researcher:

by Sara Carney

The Adventures of Dr. Dickson Varner a serious researcher and a bit of a daredevil, but Varner’s wild streak is no surprise when you hear about his roots.

Born to be a Cowboy

A young Dickson Varner and his family. It’s not immediately apparent from his calm demeanor, but Dr. Dickson Varner is fearless. Not only is he is an avid horseman, but he regularly participates in mountain man challenges. As a certified American Mountain Man, Varner heads to the Rocky Mountains each year to live in remote areas for about a month, outfitted in buckskins and moccasins, with only the resources available to the mountain men of the early 1800s. Varner rides horseback with a couple of friends, covering several hundred miles across the wild Rocky Mountains with a pack mule, compass, knife, tomahawk, and flintlock firearms. When not conquering rugged terrain and embracing the outdoors, Varner serves as professor and Pin Oak Stud Chair of Stallion Reproductive Studies in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences. He is largely responsible for shaping the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science (CVM) equine theriogenology, or reproduction, program and developing its reputation as an international leader in stallion fertility research and patient care. “I wonder nearly every day how I reached this lot in life—that of an academic theriogenologist,” Varner said. “Certainly the path to my current position was unpredicted by me and nothing short of incomprehensible to the loved ones that offered guidance during my formative years.” It may seem somewhat unexpected that someone can be both

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“Born the son of a bona fide cowboy and cowgirl,” Varner was destined for the life of the Wild West. His parents, Victor “Tex” and Hope Carol Varner, were rodeo producers in the Ozarks of Missouri. There, they started a Wild West show named the Ozark Stampede, filled with a multitude of trick acts, musical entertainment, and animal acts involving such animals as horses, ostriches, llamas, buffalo, and even high-diving mules. The facility also offered trail rides daily, with up to 30 horses per ride, and hay rides with an eighthorse hitch. Varner described the show as “a sight to behold.” It included typical rodeo events—bareback broncs, and bull riding. But, there were more unusual events as well, including jumping horses, mules, trick horses, trick dogs, and chariot races. His parents even produced some of the first all-girl rodeos in the mid 1950s. “I reckon it was this very upbringing that inspired my fascination for animals. I was exposed on a daily basis to an assortment of animals that most youth could only read about in books or visit at the zoo,” Varner said. Before Varner even said his first words or took his first steps, he spent time with animals, particularly horses. “From the time I was an infant, my parents immersed me and my two sisters in animal-related activities,” he recalled. “As an infant, I spent much time in an Indian cradle board that was hung in a tree over the watering tank where the horses would water off after the trail rides.” Harry the Educated Mule—named after Harry S. Truman, who was the president at the time—was the first in a long line of equine pals for Varner. “When I became old enough to ride on my own, I was mounted on Harry

Jumping stock rehearsing for rodeo.

CVM Today - Winter 2017  

A semi-annual publication for the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical...

CVM Today - Winter 2017  

A semi-annual publication for the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical...