Ann Romney to AP: horse Rafalca's performance at Olympic dressage "thrilled me to death"

  • Article by: NICOLE WINFIELD , Associated Press
  • Updated: August 3, 2012 - 12:25 AM

view larger photos

  

LONDON - The horse with the weight of a U.S. presidential campaign riding on her back didn't disappoint.

Ann Romney said Thursday that Rafalca "thrilled me to death" with a solid performance at her Olympic debut in dressage — an ancient equestrian sport now seen as the province of the wealthy 1 percent that has been thrust into the political spotlight thanks to Romney's partial ownership in the horse.

The 15-year-old, German-bred mare has been the source of political jokes and Democratic ads questioning how U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney can presume to know the problems of ordinary Americans when he inhabits the rarefied world of dressage.

Romney's wife Ann was in the VIP section of the equestrian stadium at Greenwich Park for Rafalca's competition, watching literally from the edge of her seat as the mare completed the 7-minute Grand Prix test.

She and Rafalca's other two owners gave horse and rider Jan Ebeling a rousing standing ovation and a wave as they left the arena. Their score of 70.243 percent put them in 13th place with half the 50 competitors still to go. "She was consistent and elegant," Romney told The Associated Press. "She did not disappoint. She thrilled me to death."

Ebeling, too, was pleased with the performance.

"She felt really strong and is peaking at the right time," he said. "She was amped up, a little stronger than usual. She had more oomph. The trick is to manage that."

He said he hadn't spoken to Romney before the competition — he never does — but said her final words of advice to him were to "Do what you know (how) to do, and do what you do best."

"It was a good score. Overall it was great," he said. "Knowing my three ladies, they're probably in tears right now," he said of Romney and co-owners Beth Meyer and Amy Ebeling, his wife.

At the halfway point in the first phase of the team dressage competition, Britain and Germany were vying for gold and the Netherlands and Sweden for bronze. Britain's Carl Hester on Uthopia scored 77.72 percent in the early going, followed by teammate Laura Bechtolsheimer on Mistral Hojris with 76.839 percent and Germany's Dorothee Schneider on Diva Royal with 76.277.

Anky van Grunsven of The Netherlands, who won the individual gold in the past three Olympic games, trailed in fifth with 73.343 on Salinero, her partner in 2004 and 2008 and now considered somewhat past his prime but still a solid team horse.

"The only thing I want now is a good team score," said van Grunsven. "I'm not here for myself but for the team."

All 50 riders perform the Grand Prix dressage test — half each on Thursday and Friday. They return to perform the harder Grand Prix Special test on Aug. 7 to determine team medals. The highest scoring riders will then move forward to the freestyle competition Aug. 9 to decide individual medals.

The sport is the equine equivalent of ballet. A rider, clad in top hat and tails, takes the horse through a series of steps that look like the horse is dancing: twirling pirouettes, prancing trots and the crowd-pleasing "flying change," which looks like the horse is skipping.

In addition to Rafalca, another athlete grabbed attention at Greenwich Park on Thursday: Japan's Hiroshi Hoketsu, who became the oldest competitor at the 2012 London Olympics when he and his horse Whisper cantered into the ring.

The 71-year-old Hoketsu was also the oldest competitor at the 2008 Beijing Games. An even greater feat may be that it's been 48 years since his first Olympic appearance. He competed in equestrian show jumping at the 1964 Tokyo Games.

"The biggest motivation I have to keep competing is that I feel I am improving," Hoketsu said.

Hoketsu is currently the second-oldest Olympian ever. Oscar Swahn won a silver medal in shooting in 1920 at age 72.

Hoketsu could break Swahn's mark at the 2016 Rio Games, but he doesn't plan to do so.

"I want to but I can't," Hoketsu said. "It's difficult to find a horse, and mine is now too old."

Hoketsu's score of 68.72 percent put him out of medal contention.

Rafalca's turn in the equestrian arena put a spotlight on an equestrian sport that is popular in Europe but little known beyond, as well as on Romney's vast personal wealth. The issue has become a campaign sore spot given the tough economic times in the United States. He is worth as much as $250 million.

A topflight dressage horse can cost more than six figures. Upkeep runs a few thousand dollars a month and transport and competition fees cost tens of thousands. The Romneys own several horses; Ann Romney rides as part of her therapy for multiple sclerosis.

Yet while horse owners may need deep pockets to maintain their dancing steeds, the riders very often come from more modest means. U.S. team member Tina Konyot, for example, grew up in a family of circus performers: Her father trained circus horses and her mother was a tightrope walker. Ebeling himself emigrated from Germany in 1984 hoping to find greater financial and professional opportunities in the U.S. than he could at home.

That said, the sport does have an aristocratic background. Dating from ancient Greece, dressage was revived in European royal courts during the Renaissance as an art form. The creation of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna in 1729 eventually brought its renown outside Europe.

The school's famous Lipizzaner stallions are still performing classical dressage in exhibition tours today. In the 19th century, dressage became essential to the training of cavalry officers who then started competing as another part of their training — competition that evolved into an Olympic sport in 1912.

___

Associated Press writer Margaret Freeman contributed.

___

Follow Nicole Winfield at http://www.twitter.com/nwinfield

  • related content

  • Ann Romney, left, the wife of U.S. Republican presidential candidate M...

  • Jan Ebeling from United States reacts as he rides Rafalca in the eques...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

San Francisco - LP: J. Peavy 2 FINAL
Kansas City - WP: K. Herrera 7
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Buffalo 10/26/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
St. Louis 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Kansas City
Houston 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tennessee
Minnesota 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Seattle 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Baltimore 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Miami 10/26/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Chicago 10/26/14 12:00 PM
New England
Philadelphia 10/26/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Oakland 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Cleveland
Indianapolis 10/26/14 3:25 PM
Pittsburgh
Green Bay 10/26/14 7:30 PM
New Orleans
Washington 10/27/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
Houston 90 FINAL
Orlando 89
Brooklyn 86 FINAL
Boston 100
Washington 100 FINAL
New York 103
Cleveland 92 FINAL
Memphis 96
Minnesota 110 FINAL
Milwaukee 91
Atlanta 117 FINAL
San Antonio 107
Portland 86 FINAL
LA Lakers 94
Phoenix 71 3rd Qtr 4:57
LA Clippers 71
Toronto 0 Postponed
Ottawa 0
Philadelphia 5 FINAL
Pittsburgh 3
Washington 2 FINAL
Edmonton 3
Buffalo 0 3rd Prd
Anaheim 2
Arkansas State 40 FINAL
Louisiana 55
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Chivas USA 0 FINAL
Real Salt Lake 2
Montreal 10/24/14 5:30 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 10/24/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
Hamilton 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Toronto
Brt Columbia 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Winnipeg
Hamilton 10/31/14 6:30 PM
Ottawa
Winnipeg 11/1/14 3:00 PM
Calgary
Brt Columbia 11/1/14 6:00 PM
Edmonton

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who should get the Twins' managing job?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close