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On a trail of her own

Ann Romney's testimony in a lawsuit over a prized horse opens a rare window into her private world.

May 22, 2012|Robin Abcarian
  • Ann Romney is a partner in the Acres, a ranch in Moorpark where she keeps her dressage horses.
Ann Romney is a partner in the Acres, a ranch in Moorpark where she keeps her… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)

It was the end of a long day in a stuffy Simi Valley office building. Ann Romney had been under oath for more than four hours, testifying in a sometimes contentious deposition about a pricey horse she sold that may or may not have been afflicted with a condition that made him unrideable.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, May 25, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 60 words Type of Material: Correction
Ann Romney: An article in the May 22 Section A about Ann Romney's equestrian activities said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's daughter was a dressage rider. She is a show jumper, a different discipline. The story also said Romney has taken the train from Del Mar to Moorpark. The rail station is in Solana Beach, just north of Del Mar.

In the airless room, Romney was getting annoyed.

"That really is -- that really is irritating," she said when the opposing attorney implied she didn't know who looked after her horse in Moorpark when she was at her home in Boston. "Of course I know who was looking after my horse. You're just trying to irritate me."

It was a rare moment of pique for Ann Romney, not meant for public consumption, and one that opened a window onto the private world of the would-be first lady.

Though Romney was dropped from the case after 18 months of litigation, the deposition reveals her passionate engagement in a rarefied sport that she believes helps her deal with a debilitating chronic illness. It also displays her fear of privacy loss, and a depth of feeling for a handful of extraordinarily expensive horses that she compares to maternal love.

"It's like children," Romney, a mother of five, testified about Super Hit, the horse at the center of the lawsuit. "You don't ... say one is better than the other, but I loved him."

Romney, who rode horses as a girl, began riding seriously as an adult after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998. "I was losing most of the function of my right side," she testified at her deposition on June 3, 2010. "And I decided I needed to go back and do what I loved before I couldn't do it anymore."

She soon fell in love with dressage, a fussy Olympic sport that is also called "horse ballet." In dressage, a horse moves in delicate, dance-like steps to music as the rider, formally clad in top hat and tails, imperceptibly guides the animal.

Because it requires tremendous muscle control, dressage also provided Romney unexpected therapeutic benefits.

"Riding exhilarated me; it gave me a joy and a purpose," Romney told the Chronicle of the Horse magazine in 2008. "When I was so fatigued that I couldn't move, the excitement of going to the barn and getting my foot in the stirrup would make me crawl out of bed."

For nearly 10 years, Romney has trained and ridden with Jan and Amy Ebeling, who own the Acres, an immaculate, Mediterranean-style ranch in Moorpark, about 45 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Romney is a partner with the Ebelings in the Acres, and she and Amy Ebeling own Rob Rom Enterprises LLC, a foreign corporation registered in Delaware that buys and trains dressage horses.

Jan Ebeling is a world-class dressage rider. Romney sponsors him on Rafalca, a mare she co-owns with the Ebelings and another friend. Jan Ebeling plans to compete with Rafalca next month in New Jersey at the U.S. dressage team trials for the London Summer Olympics.

Starting in 2003, coinciding with her purchase of Super Hit for about $105,000, Romney said she would frequently visit Moorpark from her Boston home, staying either in hotels or in a guesthouse on the ranch. When she is at her La Jolla beach house, she takes the train up from Del Mar.

Romney, who frequently takes riding breaks as she campaigns with her husband, Mitt, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, regularly ferries at least one of her horses, a mare called Schone, between Moorpark and Boston. But moving horses can be dangerous as well as costly.

In 2003, a newly purchased horse, Marco Polo, was flown from Germany to Boston, where his container tipped on the runway. The horse tore a hind ligament and spent a year recuperating. But the accident might have been much worse, Romney revealed in her deposition. "Somebody in the container almost got killed we found out later. It was terrible."

Dressage is not for the faint of wallet; it requires healthy outlays of cash for upkeep, training, transportation and veterinary care. It attracts some of the world's richest people -- the daughter of billionaire New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg competes. Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang and his wife own dressage horses.

A spokeswoman for the Romney campaign would not discuss the costs associated with Ann Romney's horses. "We are not required to disclose this information," said Amanda Henneberg in an emailed statement.

The woman who bought Super Hit, Catherine Norris, testified that it cost $2,400 a month to board him at the Acres.

Insurance documents in the court file indicate that from November 2006 to November 2007, Ann Romney paid $7,800 to insure five horses against mortality and theft for amounts ranging from $50,000 to $135,000 per horse, which she said was far less than their value. "I self-insure for the rest," she testified. "Just expensive to have insurance."

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