According to NPR’s Julie Rovner, dressage is often labeled the “snobbiest” of the horse sports, and Ann Romney's love of it could be politically awkward in an election year focused on economic loss and hardship.
Dressage’s reputation as dainty, elite and (gasp!) French, has provided ample comedic fodder for both comedians and Romney critics.
As Stephen Colbert snarkily put it, “There is no better way to dispel the myth that Romney is a detached patrician elite than competitive horse prancing.”
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In response, Mitt Romney told Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation that they began participating in dressage to combat Ann’s Multiple Sclerosis symptoms.
“[It’s] something for which she has a passion and frankly, her getting back on a horse after she was diagnosed with MS, was able--she is convinced to help her regenerate her strength and renew that--that vigor.”
“I joke that I’m going to have to send her to Betty Ford for addiction to horses,” he added.
So what is dressage?
According to the U.S. Dressage Federation, the sport measures a horse’s “ability and willingness” to make tiny, precise movements, often set to music.
Competitive dressage can include musical freestyling and group dressage tests, where more than one horse-rider pair perform.
Dressage judges look for horses that work well with their riders, remain calm and relaxed, make absolutely no sound, and keep at a “a tempo so obvious you could sing a song to it.”
Judges also look for white foam around a horse’s mouth, additional physical proof that the animal is relaxed and comfortable.
According to an explainer in The Daily Beast, the best dressage horses can cost up to seven figures. Romney bought a horse in 2003 that reportedly cost around $100,000.
To its credit, the USDF is having fun with Stephen Colbert’s ambition to make dressage the “sport of the summer,” breaking out decidedly untraditional foam fingers for last weekend’s Dressage Festival of Champions in Gladstone, N.J.
For Kenneth Braddock of Dressage News, who welcomed light mocking of the sport, Ann Romney’s hobby is a boon to dressage.
“Good or bad, never have so many Americans been exposed to as much about the fine or funny points of the sport,” Braddock wrote.
“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.”