Mitt Romney not only organized the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, he has a horse in this year’s game. He and his wife are part owners of a horse that will compete in the dressage competition. Comedians, satirists, and Democrats in general are having a field day with this, calling it “ballet for horses” and an example of the effete decadence of very wealthy people like the Romneys. For example, this from a snarky column by Dana Milbank:
Rafalca, a 15-year-old Oldenburg mare owned in part by the Romneys, qualified as a member of the U.S. Olympic team and will compete in London in the dressage competition — a form of ballet for horses and their riders in which the animals do pirouettes and serpentines. They also do piaffes, which, according to the International Equestrian Federation, is a “highly collected, cadenced, elevated diagonal movement” in which “the haunches with active hocks are well engaged.” Rafalca, after qualifying, flew across the Atlantic on a FedEx jet (no, they didn’t strap her to the roof) and reportedly dined on an in-flight meal of watermelon.
Understandably, Romney was wary about discussing dressage when NBC’s Brian Williams asked him in London on Wednesday about his equine Olympian. “You actually have a horse in the race. What’s that gonna be like?”
“Well,” Romney replied. “It’s — a big — exciting experience for my wife and — and for the person that she’s worked with, the trainer of the horse who’s riding the horse. And — obviously, it’s fun to be part of the Olympics in any way you can be part of them.”
Williams followed up: “When is the event, and for those of us who don’t follow the sport, what happens? Are there rounds that — of competition? Is there just one chance? What happens?”
Romney pleaded ignorance. “I have to tell you, this is Ann’s sport. I’m not even sure which day the sport goes on. She will get the chance to see it, I will not — be — watching — the event. I hope — her horse does well.”
It was arguably Romney’s worst interview since Chris Wallace asked him about Seamus. The flustered candidate went on to disparage the British preparation for the Olympics, setting off an international incident.
It’s understandable that Romney would be reluctant to discuss dressage. Seamus may have made him look odd, or insensitive. Rafalca makes him look like a super-rich playboy.
John Kerry was made to look effete in 2004 by Republican mockery of his windsurfing, his Turnbull & Asser shirts and his French fluency. Now Democrats have a chance to do something similar to Romney, with his Swiss bank account, his Grand Cayman and Bermuda tax havens, his multiple homes, his $10,000 bet, his friends who own NASCAR teams, and now the six-figure horses his wife imports from Europe. Nothing says “man of the people” quite like horse ballet.
Ann Romney takes umbrage at the criticism, saying that dressage has helped with her multiple sclerosis. That was enough to get the Democratic National Committee to back away from a video campaign showing Rafalca spliced with Mitt Romney “dancing around” questions about his tax returns.
While it’s heartening that Ann Romney has been helped by the horses, most MS sufferers don’t have the luxury of importing $100,000 horses from Europe. And the candidate’s disavowal of dressage as “Ann’s sport” isn’t quite right.
In an interview with the Web site Chronicle of the Horse, Rafalca’s trainer, Jan Ebeling, said Mitt Romney selected the music for the horse’s routine at an international competition; Ebeling, in another interview, said the former Massachusetts governor, inspired by his wife, “really enjoys the horses.” Romney joined his wife at an Olympic qualifying dressage event in April 2008, and the couple declared a $77,731 loss on their 2010 tax returns for their share of Rafalca’s care.
Very funny, I admit. But there is nothing wrong with the Romneys owning this horse! Gymnastic floor exercises to music are very difficult. Imagine getting a horse to do that. Actually, dressage is described as gymnastics for horses. And it isn’t effete. The word means “training,” and the sport grew directly out of the different moves, motions, and maneuvers that cavalrymen taught their mounts. Like other sports and other human endeavors, if you don’t know anything about it, it may seem silly, but the more you know about it, the more you can appreciate it. Here is a good explanation.
I hope Rafalca, her rider, and her owners win a gold medal! The dressage competition begins today.
Here is a video of the Romney’s horse and her rider Jan Ebeling: