Monday, February 11, 2008

Dressage Queen in the White House 2012?

Disclaimer: I have no political motivations for featuring Ann Romney (wife of Mitt Romney). It sounds like he's out of the race, at least this go-round, but perhaps in 2012. As it happens, he's not my political cup of tea.

Ann's dressage dream
If you don't already know, Mitt Romney's wife Anne is a dressage rider. She was diagnosed with a debilitating illness -- multiple sclerosis -- in the late 1990s. When the disease was under control, she decided to pursue her childhood dream to learn dressage. Ann threw her leg over her first dressage horse at age 50. Now, at age 58, she is now competing at the Grand Prix level, having achieved her silver and gold USDF medals. She rides with Jan Ebeling and she has taken on the role of sponsor, buying several horses from Europe for him to compete internationally.

Dressage on the campaign trail
George W. Bush was able to use Texas cowboy imagery to appeal to the average American. As for dressage, I'm not sure that it will play in Peoria. The word "dressage" elicits a narrow range of responses in my non-horsey social circles: a) blank stares, b) references to watching paint dry/grass grow, or most often, c) "Isn't that very expensive????" The New York Times Dec 16, 2007 article on Romney made a few pointed observations on Ann's riding:

"Dressage is a sport of seven-figure horses and four-figure saddles. The monthly boarding costs are more than most people’s rent. Asked how many dressage horses she owns, Mrs. Romney laughed. 'Mitt doesn’t even know the answer to that,' she said. 'I’m not going to tell you!'"
It would have been easier if she hadn't picked a sport that was so--well, European. The Dallas Morning News described Ann Romney's dressage demonstration ride at a Salt Lake City rodeo.
[Mitt Romney's] wife, Ann, is a competitor in dressage, the equestrian event that features a variety of often-indistinguishable trots, canters and walks. She and two others demonstrated the sport, dressed in traditional dressage breeches and riding horses with names like Gucci. It's more Rodeo Drive than rodeo. The audience applauded politely. 'I guess the fancy horses get to be in the Olympics, but the working horses don't," said Tom Corrin of Salt Lake City.'"

And then there are two comments on the New York Times Blog. In response to an article on Ann Romney's bio, two posters offer their impressions of dressage:
"Dressage is just fancy horse riding. Jumping gracefully over fences and stuff like that." — Posted by Patricia B.
"Thank you Patricia. I thought it was a fashion thing." — Posted by thebigmancat
Dressage is misunderstood, or at least misinterpreted. If Mitt makes it past the primaries, Ann will have to overcome some negative perceptions, fueled by her wealthy background and her "frivolous" horse hobby. And then there is the Stepford Wife thing, and the Mormon thing, and for folks like me, the fact that she can sit the trot with her heels down. Wow, that's a lot. But from what I've read about her, she's up to the task. She doesn't shrink from her background or who she is. She handles the press gracefully and her sense of humor is front and center in every interview.

Entirely too accomplished?
What should we think of Ann Romney? Yes, getting to grand prix is an accomplishment by any measure, although money does give one a leg up. She has young prospects and schoolmasters and ample access to training. She battles MS, but she has the time and resources to and time to explore pricey alternative therapies in addition to all modern medicine has to offer. She rubs elbows with dressage luminaries (Jan Ebeling rides her horse Liberte, left). Part of me wants to dislike her because she is living the life I dream about. She leads a life of privilege.

But then again, by a lot of standards, so do I. My parents paid for my undergrad education. I've never lacked health insurance (unless you count a one year period when I was too dumb to realize I needed it). I have two horses and take riding lessons. My husband and I live comfortably, and if we live in a dumpy half twin, at least it's paid for. I can buy beaded/jeweled browbands and goofy pink bits.

Down to earth diva?
So I'm cutting Ann some slack. You can't really fault her for having good fortune, or for loving a sport that we know all too well is pretty expensive. And she certainly has done her share of good works. The tough crowd on the Chronicle of the Horse bulletin board has given her a thumbs up--she's considered a nice person, good rider, self-deprecating, and most endearingly, totally in love with her old schoolmaster, Baron. In a sort of backhanded compliment, one COTH poster suggested that we not vote for Mitt so that Ann can get back to her riding :-).

What the heck. Forget Mitt, go, Ann! Here are some articles about Ann and her dressage journey.

Dressage Helps Romney Cope with Multiple Sclerosis from the May 2004 issue of Dressage Today magazine.

Eldridge, A. Dressage Makes Ann Romney's Soul Sing. Chronicle of the Horse. January 4, 2008


  1. I'm so glad you wrote this post. Here I sit, judging this woman as an empty-headed "gal" wearing special underwear. Little did I know she has good judgement about working on a dream. Yes, she has opportunity. But you have to admire the dream in the first place. A toad can't ride a dressage horse no matter how expensive that horse is.

  2. I'm no better. I do know a few lightweights that have bought their way into upper levels (though not grand prix). AR does not seem to be one of them. A good friend of mine is a lower level dressage rider with MS. She never mentions it, but one day I was showing her how to braid her horse. Her fingers just could not hold the hair with any tension. I felt awful. But you would never know she had any limitations to watch her ride.

  3. this is another really super post, I had no idea about Anne Romney, nor the dressage illiterate comments that were flying about. thanks. I'm getting addicted to your blog!

  4. I'm sure people will flame me for this, but I don't feel sorry for Ann at all. There are plenty of people who have talent but never get to the Grand Prix level because they just don't have the money that gives them access to training or the free time that lets them pursue it to the exclusion of other things. Yes she is very priviledged. Perhaps she has talent, but would she have gone from nearly zero to GP in 8 years without money? No.

    1. If money was no you think you could make it to GP level????
      I bet not. It takes a very positive person and that you are not. Leave Anne alone.

    2. Actually I have several friends on modest budgets who have gone to GP level in 5 years. What concerns me on the internet is the most negative commentary on equestrian sport comes from equestrians themselves. offers an eBook on Social Media, and their advise is: "the virtual world has real consequences." From my perspective as a person seeking sponsorhips for equestrian sport, I am always looking for great, motivating content, not bashing.

    3. From zero to grand prix in 8 yrs? With a physical limitation? This is a lot more than keeping your heels down. I'll be she has a trainer ride her horse 5 times for every one of her rides. I wish there was a way to level the field in this sport.

  5. As a Dressage rider, I certainly understand that money helps. But, rest assured Ann Romney is a skilled rider, no matter the horse or training, she has had to make her body do what is necessary to correctly ride a Gran Prix test. Her scores aren't stellar but she has only been riding 8 years, and, she has MS - it takes most humans 20 or more to ride Gran Prix. Even though their politics are 180 degrees off mine I respect her. It is not easy to keep your heels down - if you think it is, try it!

  6. Anon, have you MET people who ride grand prix? It takes determination and lots of other things, but certainly it does not take "a very positive person." If you think that post was a downer and negative you need to get out more.


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