Originally appeared in Silent News, February 2002.
Council Bluffs, Iowa – Robert Patzner always dreamed of facing what seemed to be his biggest challenge: owning race horses and training them on his 10-acre hobby farm in the countryside of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Many of his friends warned him, saying that it wouldn’t be a good idea. He didn’t listen to them, and bought his first horse approximately 26 years ago.
Patzner, who grew up on a farm in Guttenburg, Iowa, and graduated from the Iowa School for the Deaf in 1951, says his love for horses began when his brother gave him a toy that looked similar to a horse track with a string of marbles that were in lanes between barriers. By pulling a rope, the marbles would take off. “This toy was my favorite, and obviously where my spark for horses began,” he says.
It wasn’t until the mid-1970s that he was introduced to racing, when friends took him to a racetrack in Omaha, Neb. There, he decided to pursue his dream of owning racehorses.
With the purchase of his first horse, Patzner learned how difficult the first years would be. “At first, it was a struggle for me to keep my business running by not earning winnings from my first few horses.” But in 1978, Patzner had his first taste of sweet victory when one of his racehorses, Tousty George, gave Patzner his first victory. The victory also helped boost his confidence and belief in his abilities in training his horses to become winners.
Owning racehorses isn’t a cheap hobby. Patzner, who worked for 42 years in production for the Serta Mattress Company, is not a rich man, nor is he close to becoming a millionaire. “I can’t recall ever having a hobby that did not cost a dime to actually maintain or be involved in,” he says. “So you see, there are a great deal of expenses to cover before one can say they truly have a hobby that, number one, you truly enjoy and number two, you can afford.”
Besides, he says, “Financially, for many years, we have been in the black. So if I can at least win from here on out, then my wife lets me keep the horses and even sleep inside the house and not in the barn with the horses.”
Racing horses isn’t the only sport that Patzner has been involved with. A standout athlete at the Iowa School for the Deaf in basketball, he once played against St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Bob Gibson – and even was involved in a fistfight with Gibson. Patzner later played basketball for local clubs, and continues to attend both local and national deaf basketball games as a fan cheering on his deaf sons.
He currently owns six horses, two of which are mares expecting foals this spring. “It’s one thing to own a thoroughbred and another whole ball game just to raise racehorses from a filly and/or foal to a full-fledged healthy racing thoroughbred,” he explains. “This is not a small task; it’s taken a long time, patience, and a lot of sorrows to get where I am in my life now. But this is what I love.”
Patzner’s countless racing victories, mostly held at Nebraska and Iowa racetracks, stretches over 26 years. “It is not possible for me to keep track of the number of victories I have had since 1978,” Patzner says.
One of his biggest career disappointments was losing one of his best racing horse, April Flyer, in an automobile accident as he was driving a truck with a horse trailer in 1996. “April Flyer was my most favorite horse with a great possible future after multiple racing victories before the accident.”
Patzner continues to challenge the loss of April Flyer by turning his other horses into winners. He hired a horse trainer, W.F. Conyers, to help take care of his racehorses, and his most recent victory happened in Prairie Meadows, Iowa on Oct. 1, 2001, with his current racehorse, Miss Shares.
“Sure, of course I dream of making it rich in the horse business some day so that I may retire and maybe one of my five children would like to take over my business. Then I could just sit back, relax, travel all over the world and maybe even watch the horses win the Kentucky Derby or something big like that,” Patzner says.
He quickly adds, “But…then again, it wouldn’t be my hobby anymore, would it?”
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