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Ann Romney's horse and trainer qualify for U.S. Olympic team

June 16, 2012|By Robin Abcarian

Ann Romney’s dressage horse, Rafalca, and her trainer, Jan Ebeling, earned a place on the U.S. Olympic Equestrian team on Saturday, cementing the Romneyfamily’s already deep ties to the Olympic games. The official announcement is expected to come Sunday by the U.S. Equestrian Federation.

Rafalca and Ebeling will compete for the U.S. in the London Summer Games.

The Romneys’ involvement in dressage has raised the profile of the sport, linking it to the American presidential campaign in a way that has brought both adulation and mild ridicule as some have poked fun at dressage as a sport of the elite.

Kenneth Braddick of Dressage News said Ebeling had “the best performance of his life” Saturday at the second of two Olympic trials at the U.S. Equestrian Federation national dressage championships in Gladstone, N.J. In a post on the website, Dressage News, Braddick wrote that Ebling has also taken in stride the ribbing he’s gotten from comedians such as Stephen Colbert.

“The Romney’s horse might go to the Olympics!” Colbert announced last week. “Though one would imagine it’s going to be a long drive to London on top of their station wagon.”

In his post, Braddick wrote that dressage, which marks its 100th anniversary at the Olympics, “has never had so much attention from mainstream popular media anywhere in the world as it has in the United States this year. Good or bad, never have so many Americans been exposed to as much about the fine or funny points of the sport. And in reverse, the attention from the outside world has brought a large and much-needed dose of parody and humor to a sport that oftentimes takes itself too seriously.”

In dressage, riders wordlessly guide their horses through a precise series of movements. To the untrained eye, the movements look like effortless prancing or hopping or zigzagging across a ring. But the training that goes into such performances is intense.

Ebeling, who has not been allowed by the Romney campaign to speak to members of the political press, regularly speaks to Braddick, a one-time UPI war correspondent who covers dressage full-time now. Ebeling told the writer that as he and his wife, Amy, share ownership of Rafalca with Ann Romney and another woman, and said they also share the costs related to the horse, its training and competition. Those costs can be considerable.

Ebeling, a German immigrant, came to the United States in 1984.

“The U.S. certainly has given me a fantastic opportunity which I might not have had if I’d stayed in Europe,” he told Braddick. “I think I have had access to horses that I may not have had I stayed in Europe. This is an amazing country. I just love this country. It has always been and still is a land of opportunity if – and a lot of people forget – you work hard.”

“It's great to be part of the Olympics again,” Ann Romney tweeted this morning. “We are so proud of Jan and Team USA. Now let's bring home the gold!” Mitt Romney has said he plans to attend the first day or two of the Olympics, which begin July 27. The dressage competition, however, begins Aug. 2 and ends on Aug. 9. Ann Romney is not expected to miss it.

robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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