Ann Romney and the Summer of Dressage
By Leslie Potter
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Big news for the world of equestrian sport. Television personality Stephen Colbert has declared dressage the Official Sport of Summer. Of course, as with just about anything that comes from Colbert, this declaration came with a healthy dose of mockery. (If the video below doesn't play, you can watch the clip on The Colbert Report website: www.colbertnation.com)
Now, I understand that as a candidate for office (or the spouse of one) you just have to accept that you are going to be scrutinized and made fun of. I also realize that it’s Stephen Colbert’s job to bring humor and absurdity to the often grim world of political news (and he's good at it—this bit got more than a few laughs out of me.) Furthermore, the Romneys and I don’t share much common ground politically. All that being said, I always cringe a little when Ann Romney’s Olympic contender shows up in the mainstream media.
Ann Romney co-owns Rafalca, the Oldenburg mare who finished third at last weekend’s USEF Dressage National Championship, with Amy Roberts Ebeling. Ebeling’s husband, Jan, trains and rides Rafalca. Let’s not kid ourselves, here. This is an expensive undertaking that most of us would never be able to participate in, and since one of the recurring criticisms aimed at multi-millionaire Mitt Romney is how out-of-touch he is with regular people, it makes good fodder for Colbert and others.
What is starting to get on my nerves, though, is the constant characterization as dressage as some unattainable pastime of the one percent, closed off to commoners behind gold-plated doors. At that level, it may seem that way, but the Romneys probably have throw pillows that cost more than what I paid for my horse, and that doesn’t stop me from attempting dressage with him. But the news reports and comedy bits never make a distinction between dressage and Olympic-level dressage. Again, it’s not their job to do that, necessarily, but look at it this way. Most American kids learn to ride a bike. There’s a minimal cost barrier to entry for cycling. Just about anyone can do it. But if you want to go to the Tour de France, you can’t get there on your $25 yard sale bike. You’d spend thousands of dollars on the bike, your helmet, the latest technical clothing. Heck, you can spend $65 on socks specifically for biking if you want.
People know that there are different levels of riding a bike (or running, swimming, playing tennis, etc.) But dressage? If Stephen Colbert tells them that it’s a sport that requires six-figure horses, then that becomes their entire knowledge of that sport. That’s how they’ll know dressage (or horseback riding in general.) And that’s sort of a bummer for the rest of us.
Secondly, I think it is worth mentioning that Ann Romney has Multiple Sclerosis and took up dressage in the late 90s to help ease her symptoms. The characterization of her sitting back and throwing money at Ebeling while he competes her horse isn’t really fair to her. She rode as a kid and has become an accomplished rider in her own right. It’s not quite as good for comedy to bring that part up, though.
And finally, if you’re going to allude to the Romneys’ horse ownership of evidence of how they’re not like the rest of us, I feel that it’s important to point out that Ann has the warmbloods, but Mitt has a horse of his own, too. Apparently he’s got a Missouri Fox Trotter for trail riding. Is there any horse that could be more unassuming and middle-America than that? If I were his political strategist, I’d tell him to play that up.
Regardless of your political affiliations, what do you think about the mainstream characterizations of equestrians? Do you think Ann Romney’s involvement will bring more positive attention to dressage, or is it just going to reinforce the idea that riding is for the rich? Click “Submit a Comment” below and let me know what you think (but keep the politics out of it, please! There are plenty of more appropriate places on the Internet where you can discuss your feelings about the looming presidential election. Let’s stick to horses here.)
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