Mitt Romney talks to his wife, Ann, as they attend the men's 400-meter… (Martin Bureau / AFP/Getty…)
First, there was the headache over the dog.
Now, the horse.
When it comes to animals, the Romneys can’t seem to win.
In what many felt was a disastrous interview with NBC’s Brian Williams on the eve of Friday’s opening ceremony for the Olympics, Mitt Romney first insulted the British people by expressing concern about security preparations and the excitement level of the citizenry. (That led to widespread mocking in the British media, a poke by London Mayor Boris Johnson and a sideways swipe by Prime Minister David Cameron.)
PHOTOS: Romney's travels abroad
He then strained the credulity of the folks back home when he declared that he didn’t know a thing about the competition in which his wife’s horse, Rafalca, will be participating, starting Thursday.
Many wondered whether it’s possible that a devoted husband and Olympics expert like Romney could spend millions of dollars buying, training, feeding and transporting a horse and its world-class rider around the world to dressage competitions -- of which the Olympics is the pinnacle -- and have no idea what is going on.
Sure, Romney is busy. And yes, it is a fine line he walks, portraying himself as the presidential candidate who best understands the travails of average Americans while embracing the reality that he is a multimillionaire (whose wife happens to be deeply involved in what can be one of the costliest sports in the world).
But when Williams asked Romney how it felt to actually have a “horse in the race,” Romney would not even acknowledge that he has an emotion about it. “It’s a big exciting experience for my wife,” said Romney, “and for the person that she’s worked with … the trainer that’s riding the horse.”
When Williams asked Romney to tell viewers a little bit about what happens in the sport -- “Are there rounds?” -- Romney continued to disavow any knowledge, even though he has said in the past that he has picked out competition music, and, in an off-camera moment, spoke knowledgeably with Sean Hannity about his preference for the smoother gait of his “Missouri foxtrotter” over the “warmbloods” that compete in dressage.
“I have to tell you,” Romney told Williams, “this is Ann’s sport. I am not even sure what day the sport goes on. She will get the chance to see it. I will not be watching the event. I hope her horse does well.”
After accompanying her husband to Israel and Poland, Ann Romney plans to return to London to watch Rafalca compete, the realization of a long-held dream for her. In 2010, in a deposition for a lawsuit involving a horse sale, Ann Romney said it was always her hope that one of her dressage horses would make it to the Olympics.
Meanwhile, after turning down requests for interviews by reporters writing about Rafalca’s rider and trainer, Jan Ebeling, who is also Ann Romney’s dressage instructor, has finally opened up. Ebling’s Moorpark ranch, The Acres, is home to Rafalca, who is co-owned by Ebeling’s wife, Amy, Ann Romney and a third woman, Beth Meyer, a friend of Romney’s.
Amy Ebeling and Ann Romney are also partners in a horse-buying venture, Rob-Rom Enterprises. On their 2010 tax return, the Romneys declared a $77,000 loss associated with the horse business.
Jan Ebeling spoke with a New York Times reporter who is covering the dressage competition in London and defended the sport against its elitist image to a Bloomberg reporter.
He also recently launched a Twitter account, and took time to tweak a satirist who tweets as @RalfalcaRomney: “Don’t you forget who is boss.” On July 9, he announced on Twitter that Rafalca had been FedExed to London.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney has left the United Kingdom, and has found a far warmer reception in Israel. After visiting Poland, he will return to the States on Tuesday and is not expected to step foot in England for the remainder of the Games.