Whether it’s good or bad for the campaign, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s wife’s horse Rafalca qualified for the U.S. Olympic dressage team over the weekend.
Dressage, for the vast majority of the population that doesn’t follow it, is one of three horse-related sports in the Olympics, and the only one that doesn’t involve jumping. It DOES involve very large horses doing precise sets of movements, some of them to music. Dressage enthusiasts HATE when it is compared to ballet. (Full disclosure: I am a long-suffering practitioner of the art, which is harder than it looks.)
Rafalca, a 15-year-old Oldenburg mare, and her rider (and Ann Romney’s longtime coach), Jan Ebeling, finished third in the trials held at Gladstone, N.J., nabbing the third and final team spot on the squad. Romney co-owns the horse with Ebeling’s wife, Amy, and Beth Meyers, described by The New York Times as “a family friend.”
The Romneys’ involvement in dressage (French for “training”), often considered the snobbiest of the horse sports, has brought considerable attention to it of late, not all of it good.
For example, Stephen Colbert was his usual scathing self last week, when it appeared likely the Romneys might have a date in London this summer. Colbert suggested, tongue firmly in cheek, that being involved in dressage might give Romney some help “relating to Joe Sixpack” and teased the sport’s fans for being “high-falutin’.” (The dressage segment starts about 1 minute into the video below.)
The U.S. Equestrian Federation struck back, if not to defend Romney, at least to defend dressage. At Saturday’s last day of competition, the group handed out bottles of Budweiser (presumably to those of age) and foam fingers declaring “Dressage is No. 1,” creating what must have been one of the stranger equestrian Olympic trials ever. Ebeling and Romney (and Rafalca) even posed with the props.
But now comes the real question. The Olympic dressage competition is scheduled for the first week in August. For some voters, it will be the first introduction to the Romney family. And that first image may well be that they co-own a horse worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in a sport practiced by a fairly small and mostly well-to-do segment of the population.