Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Barn drama: No one is spared, according to the NYT

Romney on Super Hit in 2006
 Well, the New York Times showed us that (despite a reputed liberal bias) its writers can still deliver the news.  In this case they wrote a thoughtfully researched article on Ann Romney and her dressage "adventures." Here is the full  New York Times article, dated 5/27. Unlike almost every other Ann Romney-dressage article I've read to date,  they  interview authoritative folks.

Like Robert Dover.  Like Ann Gribbons. Like Mary Phelps.

The writers aim, rather successfully I think, to bring the world of dressage -- at least for those with oodles of money and a BNT -- to the masses. Frankly,  it gives me a few insights into this world (and it ain't all dancing hooves).

Quotes to remember
The article doesn't change my opinion of Ann, but I guess I'm a little -- let's say "disappointed" -- in Jan Ebeling. Best quotes ever in a dressage news article intended for mass consumption:

"Asked if she was ever unhappy with Mr. Ebeling’s instruction, Mrs. Romney said in a deposition in the lawsuit, 'I think that is not a fair question because we all get upset at certain times with anybody that is — you know, especially a German.'”
 I love the above quote because it's such a human, disarming thing to say. Part of me wonders what she could mean by this reference to his nationality, and the other part of me knows exactly what she means. I'm sure she's a smart lady, but perhaps she may have had a blonde moment under duress.

"Mr. Dover, a former Olympic rider, recalled Mr. Ebeling’s offering him a glass of a Harlan red [wine] one night: 'As I was about to take my first sip, he said, ‘That’s like a $4,000 bottle.’ ”
Ann Gribbons says early in the article that Ebeling "came over here with empty hands," suggesting that we should be impressed with all he has achieved. Later, the NYT writer lets it slip that Ebeling   built his wealth in the time honored tradition of marrying into affluence -- a former dressage client -- after divorcing Lisa Wilcox.


To preface quote #3, the Romneys were named in litigation recently. Through Ebeling, they sold a horse (Super Hit) to another client of Ebelings, Jan Norris. Apparently Ebeling's vet wanted to curry favor with the Romneys and was less than honest about the significance of a coffin joint problem.  Ebeling wasn't telling either. 
"Ms. Norris, who could not be reached for comment for this article, continued to board Super Hit at the Acres, paying some $2,400 a month. But she was soon complaining that 'he looks funny on his left front,' she testified in a deposition. According to her, Mr. Ebeling replied, 'It’s your riding.' "
Ebeling's reaction is priceless and speaks for itself. The horse is now out to pasture, and Norris had an expensive life lesson about trust and protecting one's own interests.

A former worker at the Ebeling facility stated that she left that barn because of "a feeling of general dishonesty” between the Ebelings and their clients largely over a failure to openly communicate."

Kinda makes me glad I'm flying under the radar in the dressage world!  Reminds me: I need to get back to that "series" I was writing on dressage trainers.


  1. What do I think? I think that given a seven figure horse I could achieve my gold medal,too. I started riding dressage 18 mos ago at 50 years old.

    This is a never ending issue. Those with the cash get the honors. I hope their charitable contributions match their lifestyle.

  2. "He looks a 'little off' but it's probably the way you are riding him." *sigh*

    Sounds as if some of the pros involved are not exactly on the up and up. (No names need be mentioned.) I'm not at all sure I'd still be comfortable dealing with them myself.

    The article still drifts in the rarified air of the upper levels of dressage compeition and give off that sense that the sport is only for the wealthy. Too bad the money doesn't flow in both directions. Then all of us who ride dressage would, by that reversal of fortune, be rich too.

    It is a good article, though.

  3. I come from the classical music world, complete with orchestras, operas, egos and massive wealth underwriting it all. I naively thought I'd left a certain type of character behind when I traded my violin for reins. In the end, people are the same, wherever you go. Makes me appreciate the honesty of my horses that much more!!!

  4. I agree with Jean i do not think that i would still be comfortable dealing with them that is one thing that I can not stand dishonesty, i do not understand why people cant just be up front and honest.

    its a good article :)

    i also agree with one eyed jack about the honesty of horses, i find these days the main to things that are honest is ourselves to ourselves and our horses! xx

  5. The world is the same -- a small one -- whether you're into dogs, cats, antiques, writing, cars, decorating, real estate, etc. Honesty does not always get you what you seek, but dishonesty will come back to bite you in the butt every time. I observe the world of dressage from the VERY outside fringes and see this stuff go on all the time. And Kidsmom: GOOD FOR YOU!! Go for it! As many instructors have said to me and to others, "It's all about the journey." All horses have to remember to alternate feet so they don't fall down, and some less than stellar examples of breeding have done very well in dressage ranks. To me a horse with an honest work ethic and a heart full of "try" is worth all the money in the world.

  6. An expensive life lesson... or a lucrative one? The parties settled last fall outside of court for a significant amount of money. So was the vet "less than honest" or did Norris ignore the pre-purchase details and/or did the injury occur after purchase? (She did bring the suit about 2 years after the purchase of the horse; btw, this info I learned from the LA Times article, no personal relation to the case).

    I'm not entirely clear why you are disappointed in Ebeling... though in the vein of the recent rash of trainer-control posts around the web, I assume its in that vein....

    hmm, interesting stuff to ponder, thanks for picking out your favorite quotes :)

  7. Was that article supposed to be a hit piece on the Romney's? Even people who scrimp and save to get training from less exclusive less famous coaches sometimes put up with enormous egos. I've run across the same kind of ego as Ebeling's in small town community theatre. They just need a venue to bloom like one of those Rafflesia giant stinky flowers.
    And who doesn't know a wine snob!?
    And I love that "German" comment! anyone who has experienced being taught riding by a German knows exactly what she means. Or just taught anything by a certain generation of German. I saw a documentary about opera singer Elizabeth Schwarzkopf teaching a master class and she treated a bass so harshly he walked out of the class. I doubt if she gave refunds.
    Jackie Kennedy loved fox hunting. The real thing back in those days. Not some piddly fake drag hunt. Oh, and Dan Quayle's wife hunted. Those horrible republicans and their fancy horses!
    I don't know why Mrs. Romney needs *such* a fine dressage horse for herself and I don't care. How many horses does she have? My next door neighbor had MS and her dressage horses were all OTB's and she had lots of money.
    How about finding out how many shoes and handbags Mrs Romney owns? Then compare to Mrs. Obama's collection? It's just a trivial.

  8. The fate of the country doesn't hinge on Mrs. R's expensive horses, or Mrs. O's expansive collection of designer bags and shoes. It doesn't even matter if the first lady is "out of touch with ordinary people". I'm sure by the time they get to that exalted position, they are out of touch, and so are their husbands. The most down to earth first lady of recent decades was Barbara Bush, and they made fun of her indifference to pomp and designer togs. They can't win.
    BTW yesterday I noticed Stacy had 468 members and today there are 576. Is this true? Impressive!


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