Dickson Varner, a professor of equine theriogenology and the Pin Oak Stud Chair of Stallion Reproductive Studies in the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), is one of three scientists who has been inducted into the University of Kentucky’s (UK) Equine Research Hall of Fame.
Varner and fellow inductees Thomas Divers and the late Steeve Giguère were recognized during a ceremony on Oct. 31 at the Hilary J. Boone Center, on the UK campus.
The three were selected by past hall of fame inductees for their contributions to equine science and research after being nominated by their peers and colleagues.
“I am so moved to be inducted into the University of Kentucky Equine Research Hall of Fame,” Varner said. “I began my veterinary career in Lexington under the tutelage of Dr. H. Steve Conboy; I recall speaking at the inaugural induction ceremony regarding my mentor, the late Dr. Robert M. Kenney.
“It is such an honor to be included in the same hall of fame as someone who was my guiding light during my fledgling years as an equine reproductive specialist and continues as an inspiration to me to this day,” he said. “The hall of fame abounds with esteemed scientists, and it is such a humbling, but fulfilling, experience to be included among them.”
Varner, an Aggie alumnus who has called the CVM his “home” for the past 33 years, has focused his translational research on understanding mammalian sperm function, identifying stallion fertility probes, expanding in vitro methods for preserving stallion sperm in both cooled and frozen forms, developing assisted reproductive techniques and assessing/managing subfertility in stallions.
Among his most recognized accomplishments, Varner identified a defect in the sperm’s acrosome, the “cap” on the sperm’s head that secretes enzymes required to penetrate the egg, which severely interferes with fertility of some stallions. He also helped develop the use of Computer-Assisted Sperm Analysis (CASA) for semen evaluation and a variety of ways to improve storage, transport and insemination of stallion sperm.
These techniques have profoundly improved reproductive success in horses.
Varner earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1976 and his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in 1978 at the University of Missouri. He also earned a Master of Science degree from Texas A&M in 1990. He is a diplomat in the American College of Theriogenologists.
He worked as an assistant resident veterinarian at Castleton Farm in Lexington from 1978-1981 before completing his residency and lectureship positions at the University of Pennsylvania.
In addition to the UK’s Equine Research Hall of Fame, Varner has been recognized with the American College of Theriogenologists’ Theriogenologist of the Year Award in 2002 and the Bartlett Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theriogenology in 2016. He has presented plenary lectures on the topic of stallion fertility at several venues worldwide, and serves an international consultant regarding evaluation and management of breeding stallions.
Established in 1990, the UK Equine Research Hall of Fame honors international scientific community members biennially who have made equine research a key part of their careers, recognizing their work, dedication and achievements in equine research. Equine Research Hall of Fame nominees can be living or deceased, active in or retired from the field of equine research.
“Induction into the UK Equine Research Hall of Fame provides the opportunity to recognize the many important contributions these individuals have made to the health and well-being of horses in the areas of pathophysiology, infectious disease and reproduction,” said David Horohov, chair of the UK Department of Veterinary Science and director of the Gluck Equine Research Center.