Story by Sadie Fowler | Photography by Shane Shiflet

Many walking horse enthusiasts might assume Robert Deutsch was born in North Carolina — his face is as familiar as it is friendly on the Carolina circuit and his demeanor radiates warmth and charm like one would expect from a polite southern gentleman.

But Deutsch is not a Carolina native at all and in fact his journey began in a location that many would consider as opposite of sweet Carolina as it gets — New York City. Yes, the southern gentleman the walking horse industry has come to know and love for his generosity, dedication and commitment to the industry is a natural born Yankee.

If you joke with him about that ironic little tidbit, he’s more than likely to laugh right along with you, because, after all, life is all about having fun and enjoying the ride.

While born in the Big Apple, make no mistake … Deutsch prefers the Big Oval when it comes to his spare time, and the South … well, even though he wasn’t born in the South,

it played a significant role in shaping the man Deutsch became and it started at age seven when his family moved to North Carolina.

Thankfully, “growing up” included exposure to walking horses, thanks to his father, and that exposure made a lasting impression on Deutsch, to whom this book is being dedicated. He has been named the Year In Walking Horse 2019 Owner of the Year for his steadfast support of the breed as both an owner and exhibitor, as well as his devotion to the industry via the leadership roles he’s filled.

Like many kids, Deutsch got out of the horse industry for many years to pursue his family and professional goals, but he never forgot it. In fact, fond memories of horses and the entire experience tugged at his heart strings long and hard enough for him to eventually get pulled back in and not only was he pulled back in; he was pulled back in big time.

It was about 10 years ago that Deutsch made a return to the sport; and he takes his favorite hobby very seriously. He practices hard, rides often, shows — and he wins a lot.

It’s “his” thing, his alone time … the thing he does to achieve balance and get away from the stressors of everyday life. “I am very happy to currently call my number one hobby that of riding the Tennessee Walking Horse,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoy showing, I truly love the breed, the industry, and the wonderful friendships that I have made throughout the years that I have been involved in the horse business.”

It’s fair to say Deutsch has done well in the horse business, but he’s also succeeded in his regular life, both professionally and personally. 

“I have been married to the love of my life, Anne, for 38 years, and we live in Greensboro, North Carolina,” said Deutsch, adding that his family is perfectly rounded out by their two grown sons Stephen, a professional poker player in Baltimore, Maryland; and Philip, a freelance sportswriter in Greensboro, North Carolina. “We also have one very special granddaughter named Camilla who is turning a year old soon.”

A graduate of the University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill, Deutsch is a life-long alumnus and supporter of the school that opened doors for him, most notably the door to his loving wife, Anne, ironically a stranger to many in the horse industry. It’s kind of a running joke among Deutsch’s close friends about whether Anne truly exists or not as she does not attend horse shows, but Deutsch brushes it off and accepts and appreciates it for what it is, and all the good it brings to his life.

“My wife is the balance to all this — she is not into horses,” he said. “So I go solo with the horses. When back home, it’s no horses, (just the DVDs from Dean Johnson and Bob Roach), so everything balances out. My horse world is somewhat my ‘fantasy world,’ an escape from my real world responsibilities, and it’s always a reminder of my good times with my parents and horses as a young rider.” 

Fun is the primary reason that Deutsch is in this, and he thoroughly enjoys traveling to the shows, meeting up with trainers, and riding hard for the blues on his horses as well as sometimes horses owned by his friends. Another key aspect of involvement in the industry has been active participation in the North Carolina Walking Horse Association, which includes serving as President for three terms.

Again, touching on his point about balance, horses are an outlet for Deutsch, who has a very busy life professionally so to speak as he heads up human resources for an international automotive textile manufacturer of airbags and airbag modules. He is grateful to have worked for the same company for over 35 years, a company formerly owned by Burlington Industries, where he started his career in human resources back in the 1980s.

Deutsch loves what he does and enjoys the excitement that comes as a result of his position requiring him to travel to plants in Virginia, as well as Germany and other parts of Europe, Mexico and Asia. Whether he’s tasked with an international work assignment or hanging with his granddaughter, it’s fair to say Robert Deutsch gives whatever he’s focused on at any given time his full attention and that includes his horses.

“I have been blessed with very competitive horses, mostly selected for me by the trainers that I have been associated with who work hard and always try to put me in the ring at my best,” he said. “I am fortunate to have a loving wife who is always three steps ahead of me, and I love it — It certainly helps keep me organized!”

Upon marrying at age 25, it was Deutsch’s wife who urged him to leave a family owned business to start another career, that of human resources management, and it has certainly been a very rewarding profession.

After starting out working in human resources for Burlington Industries in Shannon, Georgia, the young couple moved to many other places throughout the country before landing in Greensboro, North Carolina at the company’s corporate office. Here, Deutsch had the great opportunity to serve as VP/HR for Burlington Menswear/Womenswear and Burlington House (Home Furnishings).

For the last 12 years, Deutsch has been on the automotive side as opposed to apparel and home furnishings, and it has been a very rewarding experience to date.

Taking a deeper look down memory lane as it relates to his horse hobby, Deutsch credits his father, Ralph, with introducing him to the walking horse when he was 11 at C.A. Bobo Stables in Thomasville, North Carolina. At the time, he was not that interested in riding and showing, much to the dismay of his father, as he preferred other sports.

Soon enough, however, he had a chance to ride a quarter horse at a camp in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. This was a positive experience and served as a step closer toward his breed of choice, the walking horse, where he got a lot of practice via rides at Kenny Price Stables.

Later on, Deutsch had the opportunity to work for Price for two summers at his barn while in college and it was an invaluable experience. Following his tragic death, Deutsch was introduced to trainer Howard Roberts, who was based in Chapel Hill, where Deutsch was attending college. He had the opportunity to ride some greats such as WC Go Boy’s Country Jake, WC My Tennessee Honey and WC Son Of Panola. Thereafter, he had the good fortune to show juvenile and amateur under trainers such as Burke and Kenneth Myers and BM Bullis, who worked for Jack Johnson for several years. 

Following his graduation from college, Deutsch left his interest in horses behind in order to start a career and family. More than 30 years later, in 2010 he reentered the horse business — looking back he says he wishes he did not take such a long break.

After his long absence he bought a filly advertised in the Walking Horse Report by Wayne Dean in August 2010 named She’s Lady Antebellum. By the end of that month, he got lucky again and scored two reserve world championships with her in the two-year-old amateur and open divisions.

“Needless to say, I was hooked again,” he laughed. “Since then, it’s been non-stop with some wonderful horses that I have had the opportunity to own and show.”

Fast forward 10 years and Deutsch’s current string of horses includes Zeta, a two-time world grand champion and seven-time world champion; The Country Lineman, a world and world grand champion pony trained by Philip Trimble; and Mr. Country Gentleman, a horse in training with Tyler Baucom and Hayden Burks.

“I am a lucky guy in that I acquired the special mare Zeta in early 2018 and we have been fortunate in winning 14 blues in 2018-2019 with two world championships and a world grand championship this year in the amateur division,” he said under the training and direction of Philip Trimble. “The Country Lineman won six blues last year and three plus a world grand this year … this colt is just getting started.”

Mr. Country Gentleman is one of his all-time favorites. Since his two-year-old year in 2013, he has earned seven world championships and four world grand championships, something for which Deutsch is very grateful. “This horse has been very good to us,” Deutsch said.

Ready To Play, a show pleasure horse with several reserve world titles under his belt, has a spot on Deutsch’s fine slate as well, and he’s in training with Jeff Laughlin at R&S Stables in Unionville, Tennessee and is the current WHR Readers' Choice Amateur Gentlemen Show Pleasure Champion.

Deutsch admits his two favorite horses are Mr. Country Gentleman and Zeta, with other favorite rides through the years being I’m Moonlighting, Jammin The Blues, Ted Who?, Memphis Raines, The Memphis Blues, He's Pure Poison, Be My Baby, He’s A Superstar General, Go Boy’s Country Jake, My Hometown Girl, She’s Lady Antebellum, Walk With Me, Perfection’s President and Go Boy's Blaze.

“The last two on that list taught me a lot about showing as a young juvenile rider,” he said.

Reminiscing about those two horses brought back memories of Deutsch’s first experience in the show ring, which came at a show in Dobson, North Carolina and proved to be a blast. "Kenny Price coached me at the gate to a reserve win in a class of 10 juvenile competitors," he said. From there, there were many more special moments. “The year was 1969, the class was Juvenile Riders age 12-14 with 52 horses, two workouts, cantering, and a ninth place win, and the horse Go Boy’s Blaze. It was the only ribbon that year for Kenny Price Stables so it was special.”

It was particularly special because Deutsch’s father had received third and fourth place ties with this same horse in previous years in the amateur gelding class behind World Champion Confederate Raider and Shirley Schleicher, and World Champion Magic Knight with Maxine Johnson, both riders from Vic Thompson’s Stables in Shelbyville.

“My first Celebration was in 1964 and I was mesmerized by the running walk on Perfection’s Carbon Copy and Joe Webb,” he said. “I also remember Shaker’s Shocker and Betty Sain, along with Go Boy’s Chatterbox and Bud Seaton going at it in the stake class in 1966.”

Memories from the Celebration are countless and wonderful at the same time. Many of them include time with his parents in the west grandstands.

“Every year since being back in the industry I currently sit in the West grandstands on several nights of the Celebration with several families from Virginia that we sat with at the Celebration in the 1970s,” he said. “They are some of my biggest supporters when I show … Another memorable moment from the Celebration was the year the lights went out during the stake class during a terrible storm, and Marvin Wilson and The Senator won the world grand championship and my dad and K. Price had a horse in the class that tied 10th.”

Deutsch’s first Celebration win came with Mr. Country Gentleman as a two-year-old and it was a great experience with much support and coaching from good friend and trainer, Chad Baucom, along with Tyler and the Baucom Stables team. 

“This special little horse with a big way of going has given us over 40 blues in his career so we have been very fortunate in having him as part of our show string, and he is only eight years old, still in his prime,” Deutsch said.

Of course, this year's Celebration ranks right there close to the top, which will be forever tucked away with his stash of Celebration favorites. Having won two world championships and two world grand championships, on top of having several other great placings, Deutsch described this year's event as being a ball.

Explaining the importance of the relationship between owner and trainer, Deutsch is grateful to have several good ones and he appreciates each of them tremendously.

“I have learned so much about showing from all of the trainers that I have ridden under, probably the most from Chad and Tyler Baucom, Philip Trimble, Clay Sanderson and Kenneth Myers. “These trainers taught me more about being a rider, such as using your hands, legs and voice when needed vs. just being a passenger.”

All of Deutsch’s trainers have respected his opinion as it relates to any questions or comments that make him a better rider in the ring. He says there has always been mutual respect and open relationships between himself and his trainers and that is something that allows him to learn and grow as an equestrian.

“I’m a competitor so I’m always trying my hardest to be the best I can be,” he said. “This, I also feel, translates
into my job responsibilities as I think I am very dedicated to being successful in my profession, and also in maximizing my important time with my family.”

Deutsch spoke about what drew him to the breed in the first place, While his mom played her role as his star cheerleader, his father introduced him and really nudged him along throughout his younger years.

“It was my dad that I feel I gained my competitiveness from in the show ring as well as with other sports,” he said, adding that his father’s presence remains close to him for every performance, even today. “Every time I go into the show ring, I have one of Dad’s handkerchiefs in my pocket as a reminder that he introduced all of this fun to me many years ago.”

After spending a bit of time reflecting about the past, Deutsch paused for a moment when asked about his thoughts regarding the future of the breed. Overall, he said he feels as though the 2019 season reflected positive trends compared to previous years.

“We have been able to show our horses with success and still endure the stringent inspection process, which is fine,” he said. “In other words, I interpret this as more support from the government than in previous
years to allow us to police internally and address accordingly."

“I sometimes step back and compare in my mind the horse of yesteryear that many of us recall and then compare to the free flowing gaited horse we have today,” he said. “It’s very positive from my perspective.”

While the industry is experiencing positive trends right now,, Deutsch says there is always something challenging in front of the industry and currently the issues relate to possible legislation that could be very detrimental to the breed as well as public perception challenges.

He believes the industry must remain steadfast in finding ways to positively promote the breed so that it can flourish and ultimately attract new owners and riders. The good nature and temperament of the horse, the
smoothness of the gait and the diversification of the classifications for the horse to show are just a few of the reasons Deutsch lists as reasons the walking horse is appealing to families.

Like many, he believes there is a type of walking horse that can suit most any horse lover’s desire if need be. This is a message he not only believes in his heart, but it is a message that drives him to serve as an advocate for the walking horse through the various leadership roles in which he serves.

Deutsch is often described as being one of the most supportive owners in the industry; one who shows hard, cheers hard and definitely puts forth a great amount of his time and resources to enjoy the horse he loves. What drives him? 

“I love showing, I love watching my trainers show, and the friendships and respect from others are very meaningful for me,” he said. “As long as I have the good fortune to remain healthy, I will keep coming back … showing my horses has been so much fun.”