BY: KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
ELGIN, Texas - Gary Warner had just graduated from the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine when he and his father G. Dale Warner were walking across campus.
It was May of 1980, and the elder Warner was talking to his son about the future.
G. Dale said there was an auctioneer school in Missouri about to start summer classes, and that he would pay Gary's way through the program if he chose to enroll.
"I stopped and looked at him," said the newly minted Dr. Gary Warner. "I said, 'Dad, I just graduated from veterinary school and I have a job at one of the best practices in the southwest, and you want me to go to auctioneer school? Thank you, but no thank you.
"I'm going to be a doctor."
More than 30 years later, he is widely regarded as one of the best bovine veterinarians in the country, and the most experienced in the world when it comes to bucking bulls.
Warner is largely responsible for helping the reigning World Champion Bushwacker return to competition this weekend in Arlington, Texas, at the Iron Cowboy III.
The Warner family came to the United States from Germany, where Gary's forbears were cattle traders.
His grandfather G. Lee Warner eventually settled along the Mississippi Delta in Ferriday, La. The delta provided rich farmland, and Gary's grandfather and father were cowmen who ran a local auction barn.
He grew up showing calves, and by the time he was 10 years old, he was working for his father doing everything but auctioneering.
His father bought him a truck and trailer, and soon he was making extra money on the side, hauling cattle to and from the barn.
'The sixties and seventies were an interesting time all over the country, but it sure was interesting in Louisiana'
He was set on pursuing a career as a veterinarian by the time he was in sixth grade. One of his earliest influences was an old vet who worked at the local sale barns.
"I enjoyed that time," said Warner. "The sixties and seventies were an interesting time all over the country, but it sure was interesting in Louisiana."
Following high school, Warner enrolled in Northeast Louisiana University (now known as University of Louisiana at Monroe), where he played college football for three years before being accepted to veterinary program at LSU.
Warner applied to LSU in the spring of junior year, at the same time the football program hired former Texas A&M standout and Heisman Trophy winner John David Crow as its next coach. Warner was afraid that once Crow heard of his decision that he would be kicked out of the athletic dorm, but Crow had other thoughts.
He told Warner he could stay, and that the young scholar would serve as an example of what it meant to be a student-athlete.
In the fall of 1976, Warner left Monroe for Baton Rouge.
FINDING A NICHE
Warner first became affiliated with the Elgin Veterinary Clinic during the summer between his second and third year in grad school.
Once he returned to campus and resumed classes, he and some friends would make the 400-mile drive every Friday to work weekends sowing up wire cuts and dehorning cattle. Upon graduation, the clinic offered him twice what any of his fellow classmates had been offered.
Elgin Veterinary Hospital, the working home of Dr. Gary Warner.
He jokes that he was expected to work three times the hours, though.
Initially he worked in the equine division of the clinic. It wasn't until the late 80s that he began helping out bovine clients. He focused fulltime on bovines beginning in 1990.
"I took what I had learned working on racehorses, cutting horses and performance horses, and took it over into the cow deal," Warner said. "We took that and massaged it into a fairly unique practice that has taken us on into bucking bull medicine."
According to Warner, veterinary school teaches students physiology, how animals work, how they're put together, and disease processes.
What it doesn't teach is how to package that knowledge and understand the animals simply by observing them.
'I like cows, the only hobby I have in the world is cows, and I have, I guess you could say, a real passion.'
"My dad - of course I'm partial - is the best cowman I've ever known," Warner said. "He taught me a lot about the cowman's logic, cowboy logic, and how to look and understand the cow best. This is something that can't be taught in school. You have to grow up and be with them to understand them. That's where I feel like I've always had an advantage."
"I have cows," he continued. "I like cows, the only hobby I have in the world is cows, and I have, I guess you could say, a real passion."
'THERE'S A GOOD VET RIGHT THERE'
"I don't own bucking bulls," said PBR Livestock Director Cody Lambert when asked about Dr. Warner, "but I see it day-in and day-out, and I deal with the guys who do own them. And it looks to me like they count on Dr. Warner the way the bull riders count on Dr. Tandy Freeman."
"It's very kind of him to say that," Warner said.
Kent Cox, Bushwacker's handler, agreed with Lambert. "Dr. Warner is the best vet we have in our industry - bar none," he said.
Cox and Bushwacker co-owner Julio Moreno know all too well what Warner has to offer.
They relied on him once they recognized something was wrong with Bushwacker. "This hasn't been discussed before," Cox said, "but there were thoughts all the way to major broken bones to who knows what."
Warner eased their anxieties and assured them he would find out what bothered Bushwacker. After careful examination, he discovered bone chips in both back legs from over-flexing his athletic body.
The reigning champ returns this Saturday in Arlington, Texas.
Warner not only performed the surgical procedure, he also provided two weeks of aftercare before Bushwacker returned home to nearby Dublin, Texas.
Throughout the process, he never got caught up in medical terminology, and was able to communicate with both Cox and Moreno in a way they could understand.
"He's just an ol' country boy himself, who happened to go to vet school," Cox said, "and now he's one of the best bovine vets in the world. He hasn't forgotten where he comes from, and he's involved in his own cattle operation.
"He's passionate about it. Like I say, you cannot be good at something without being passionate about it."
He cares about contractors - noting they work long hours and travel regularly on tight schedules - which is why if a contractor calls in the wee hours of the morning, he'll get out of bed and meet him or her at the clinic.
Warner said it's about providing customer service along with medical service.
"He's not afraid to work," said Lambert. "I've seen him when he's had to put in really long days."
Doctors aren't known for making house calls, but Warner once flew from Texas to California to tend to the now-retired Troubadour.
It was 2008, and Troubadour was in no shape to make the 1,800-mile trip in a trailer, so Warner saw him at a clinic on the campus of UC Davis.
"I knew then," said Moreno. "Even the vets who were at UC Davis said, 'There's a good vet right there.'"
Warner is arguably the third most famous resident to come from Ferriday. Mickey Gilley and Jerry Lee Lewis are the other two.
Warner grew up with Lewis' oldest son, the late Jerry Jr., and said the elder Lewis was at the pinnacle of his career while they were in high school.
But as fond as he is of the memories, Warner is focused on the future.
He said doesn't know that he'll ever retire, but that he'd like to scale back his involvement at the clinic. When asked when that might be, he joked, "I don't know … until they throw dirt on my face."
'I just hope I can leave a mark on my profession and be a mentor for the younger generation.'
Warner has a ranch that he'd like to be more involved with, and his two daughters are both pursuing veterinary careers.
His eldest daughter Jenna recently graduated from the Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences program at Texas A&M, and is currently pursuing her MBA. Kelly is in her third year of veterinary school, with hopes of being involved in performance medicine.
He'd love nothing more than to have one of both of his daughters carry on the Warner name in Elgin.
"Perhaps I can gradually turn things over to another generation," he said.
"To know me is to know I have a love of and a passion for veterinary medicine, and I just hope I can leave a mark on my profession and be a mentor for the younger generation."
WATCH BUSHWACKER'S RETURN at the Dickies® Iron Cowboy III Invitational, live at 9 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC Sports Network.
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