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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Humor and Horses, Not Politics, Rule at Gladstone

USEF national dressage technical advisor Anne Gribbons (left) and newly minted Olympians Jan Ebeling, Tina Konyot, Steffen Peters, and Adrienne Lyle show their foam-finger spirit. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
The New York Times photographer and political writer at the 2012 USEF Dressage Festival of Champions  expressed surprise that dressage enthusiasts have embraced comedian Stephen Colbert's "Colbert Report" dressage bit, which has gone viral, at least in the equestrian community.

No surprise there, considering the recent NYT story portraying dressage as a fusty, snooty sport populated only by the so-called 1 percent--including, of course, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann. Ann, a dressage rider herself, co-owns the Oldenburg mare Rafalca, who is  London Olympics-bound with rider Jan Ebeling.

With a "Dressage #1" foam finger in one hand, a beer in the other, and tongue firmly in cheek, Colbert proclaimed dressage his "sport of the summer" and said it was "perfect for Joe Six-Pack" (while showing footage of Rafalca passaging).

Although a few fans have expressed disappointment in Colbert's routine, most--including Ebeling himself--have embraced the unexpected publicity boost and run with it.

Quick-thinking equestrian company SmartPak has shipped a dressage outfit to Colbert, who reportedly has agreed to take a dressage lesson from New Jersey-based Olympian Michael Barisone at a yet-to-be-determined date. And after today's Olympic Grand Prix Special and the conclusion of the 2012 US Equestrian Federation National Grand Prix Dressage Championship, red "Dressage Is #1" foam fingers were distributed to audience members, who waved them enthusiastically behind an understandably volatile Rafalca and a game Jan Ebeling.
Jan Ebeling, Rafalca, and the foam-finger fans. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Ann Romney said she begged off one day of her husband's current campaign bus tour to attend the competition today. Talking to equestrian journalists who were more interested in her horse and her riding than her husband's politics seemed to come as a welcome change for the dressage enthusiast, who took up riding as therapy for multiple sclerosis.

Eliciting understanding nods and laughs from the reporters and photographers who clustered around her, Romney said: "Giving speeches is easy. Going down center line--now that makes me nervous!"

Between the political campaign and Rafalca's successful bid for the 2012 US dressage Olympic team, "It's been an incredible year," Romney said. She declined to forecast Rafalca's chances in London, saying, "You never know with horses."

The Romneys will be in London for the Olympics, Ann Romney said. An accomplished rider herself, she does get to ride Rafalca--understandably not so much these days, however. "When the day comes that she retires, I will ride her," she said.
Ann Romney (right) chats with US dressage Olympians Jessica Ransehousen and Hilda Gurney. Gurney was a member of the Olympic selection-trials ground jury, and Ransehousen owns Lord Ludger, the mount of para-equestrian champ Rebecca Hart, who received a special award from Romney. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Motherhood also may be in Rafalca's future, Romney said. No stallion has been selected yet, but "We do like Utopia," Romney said, referring to herself and co-owner Amy Ebeling, wife of Jan Ebeling.

In a final gesture of support to the dressage community, Ann Romney presided over a special presentation to Rebecca Hart, who won the 2012 USEF National Para-Equestrian Championship earlier this week.
Ann Rommey poses with 2012 USEF National Para-Equestrian Dressage Champion Rebecca Hart on Lord Ludger. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
New York Times guys, other mainstream media, Mr. Colbert: Come join us! You'll find we dressage types are a pretty decent bunch overall, and we hope you've gotten a sense of why we love our sport and our horses so much. Bring on the foam fingers and half-pass us a beer!


  1. I seriously hope USDF/USEF will sell these foam fingers to make some $$$$ - I know I'd be one!!!


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