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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

Despite her relatively late start, Romney, 63, won silver and gold medals in 2005 and 2006 at the highest level of competition from the U.S. Dressage Federation. She rode Baron, a gelding she has described as "my best friend, my wonderful companion, my best boy." She credits Jan Ebeling, who emigrated to the U.S. from Germany, with vaulting her into the top tier of amateur dressage.

Ebeling's demanding nature, Romney said, sometimes causes a strain.

"We all get upset at certain times with anybody that is, you know, especially a German," Romney said. "He pushes me harder than I would ever push myself. So at times I can honestly say that he frustrates me but ... you know, I'm happy with the training I get."

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.

Super Hit, the subject of the fraud lawsuit, is no ordinary animal. Affectionately known as Soupy, he is an Oldenburg gelding, purchased in Germany in 2003. He trained with the Ebelings for five years. Norris then paid Romney $125,000 for him, about a $20,000 premium over Romney's purchase price.

"I wasn't interested in making a lot of money," Romney testified. "I frankly think he was a very, very good price for that, for what he was capable of doing."

The horse's gait, she said, caused her physical distress.

"I have numbness on my right side, and I also have issues with my low back," Romney testified. "And I was frequently getting back spasms when I rode Soupy. ... It was hard for me to even put him up for sale, so I would think about it and decide I couldn't."

Romney maintained that the horse was sound when she sold him in February 2008. She was reluctant to part with him but was certain she'd found the right buyer in Norris, a former physical therapist who aspired to ride the animal in upper-level dressage competitions.

"I wanted him to go to a happy home," Romney testified. "She was so happy with the horse."

But Norris claimed she'd been misled about the horse's condition, and on April 28, 2010, sued Romney for fraud. She also sued the Ebelings, who took a commission from the sale, and the veterinarian who gave the horse a clean bill of health. The case settled last September.

The horse, now 15, was moved to a barn in San Marcos after surgery and other costly medical therapy. "He is to be permanently retired to pasture," Norris asserted in the court record. "He cannot be ridden and obviously has no future as a dressage horse."

The Romney campaign would not allow interviews with Romney, the Ebelings or Romney's attorney. Super Hit's owner could not be reached.

Romney's lawyers wanted to keep the case out of the public eye. In December 2010, one of her attorneys sent a letter to Robyn Ranke, the attorney for Norris, expressing dismay that Ranke refused to sign a confidentiality agreement.

"You can be assured we are not going to give any records ... to the L.A. Times," replied Ranke, "and are at a loss as to why you would even suggest such a thing."

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robin.abcarian@latimes.com

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