Ann Romney pleased with Rafalca's 'fabulous' ride
By NICOLE WINFIELD,
Updated August 7, 2012
LONDON (AP) Ann Romney said her horse Rafalca had another "fabulous" ride at the Olympic team equestrian dressage competition and that she's thinking of breeding the German-born mare when she stops competing in a year or two.
Rafalca, the 15-year-old bay that has inspired political jokes about Mitt Romney's wealth and Republican presidential ambitions, had a solid performance Tuesday, although rider Jan Ebeling said he wished the score of 69.302 percent could have been higher.
The low score confirmed that Rafalca won't advance to the individual medal competition Thursday.
"It was wonderful," Mrs. Romney said. "She was elegant and consistent again. We just love her."
Mrs. Romney, who rides as part of her therapy for multiple sclerosis, was back in the VIP stands at Greenwich Park - just as she was when Rafalca made her Olympic debut last week.
One of the biggest secrets in the U.S. political campaign has been whom Mitt Romney will select as his vice presidential candidate. With the Republican National Convention just weeks away, some political reporters have been charting Rafalca's progress in London to determine when Mrs. Romney might return home, since her husband probably won't announce his vice presidential pick without her at his side.
After a lunch break, Mrs. Romney returned to the stands in a blue jacket with "U.S.A." on the back.
Ebeling waved and blew a kiss to his "three amigos" as he left the arena - Mrs. Romney, Ebeling's wife, Amy, and Rafalca's third co-owner, Beth Meyer, all of whom clapped and gave horse and rider a standing ovation.
"They were very loud and waving," he said. "I couldn't miss them."
Ebeling welcomed the attention Rafalca's appearance at the London Games has given the sport, even though some of it has focused on the impression that dressage belongs to the wealthy 1 percent. Some critics have questioned how Mitt Romney can say he understands the problems of middle-class Americans when his wife is involved in the expensive sport.
"If one kid picks up the sport and makes it all the way to the top, to the Olympics, I will have done my job," Ebeling said.
"In my sport there's money, but in any sport there's money. You can't say it's an elitist sport at all. I have wonderful clients who support me and want me to succeed," Ebeling said.
Ebeling said after he finishes competing with Rafalca in a year or two, her owners might try to breed her, including transferring her embryos - meaning Rafalca could have more than one foal a year.
"I think we might try that," Mrs. Romney said.
A mare as famous and accomplished as Rafalca could be valuable on the horse breeding market.
In dressage - or "horse dancing" to Romney's detractors - horse and rider perform a carefully choreographed routine of movements that showcases the animal's training: prancing trots, twirling pirouettes and a move called the flying change, which looks like the horse is skipping.
Tuesday's Grand Prix Special event was a harder and more intense test than last week's competition and will decide the team medal. Rafalca and the rest of the U.S. team were in fifth place in the team standings going into Tuesday's event, while Britain was seeking to end Germany's domination of the sport.
The British may be buoyed in dressage by their first team equestrian show jumping medal in 60 years. Led by Nick Skelton, who returned to the sport after breaking his neck in a 2000 competition fall, the British team rode clear rounds in a jumpoff Monday to give the host team victory over the Netherlands. Saudi Arabia, a relative newcomer to the sport, was a surprising third.
Germany has won every Olympic team gold in dressage since 1976, with the exception of the boycott year in 1980, and Britain has never won a dressage medal, period. The 18 highest scoring individuals in the team dressage competition advance to perform a freestyle test on Thursday, with movements and music of the rider's own choosing, similar to freestyle ice skating or the floor exercise in gymnastics.
Even during Tuesday's Grand Prix Special, soft elevator music played in the background as the horses walked, trotted and cantered in the arena. A handful of the riders wore helmets instead of the typical top hat and tails that are the norm for upper level dressage competition. This is the first Olympics where helmets have appeared in the dressage arena. Two years ago, Courtney King-Dye, an American dressage rider in the 2008 Olympics, sustained a devastating head injury while not wearing a helmet.
The Romneys' visit to London was clouded by the GOP candidate's gaffe upon arrival at the start of the Olympics, when he said Britain's preparations for the games were "disconcerting."
The comment rallied the British behind their games and forced Romney to backpedal.
In an indication his sin was not yet forgiven, the Guardian newspaper headlined its coverage of Rafalca's debut: "Ann Romney's Horse Fails to Win Dressage but Avoids Offending British."
Margaret Freeman contributed.
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