Ann Romney, the wife of Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney, joined some 20,000 equestrian fans in a crowd waving foam fingers declaring “Dressage is #1” as her horse Rafalca made its debut at the London Olympics today.
“Elegant, consistent, fantastic,” she said of the 15-year-old mare’s performance, wearing a raincoat as she left the open-air arena in Greenwich Park. She declined to comment on her husband’s recent European tour, which included criticism of the London Olympic organizers.
“I’m just here to see the horses,” Ann Romney said. She didn’t have a foam finger or a baseball cap given out by the U.S. Equestrian Federation.
Rafalca, which Ann Romney owns with two other women, was in 13th place at 70.243 with rider Jan Ebeling after the first day of the dressage, which involves horses carrying out controlled movements and has been compared to ballet. Uthopia and rider Carl Hester of Britain were first at 77.720.
Ebeling said Ann Romney was in contact with him to offer support.
“Ann’s given me so many words of encouragement, we’ve communicated but not this morning because before the dressage I won’t talk to anybody,” said Ebeling, who was wearing a navy tail coat and top hat. “Knowing my three ladies, they’re probably up there in tears right now.”
Rafalca took a while to settle at the start, lacking in contact with the bit and her rider’s reigns in the extended trot. In the passage -- an elevated, powerful trot -- the German-bred bay mare made some uneven steps. Halfway through the performance, she settled down to show accurate flying changes, or lead changes at the canter in the air between two strides.
What she lacked in expression and movement, she made up in obedience and accuracy in the second part. Ebeling clenched his fist after the test was over, waved to the crowd and patted his horse on her neck.
“My second pirouette started off a little bit large, she jumped off the line a bit, but overall it was great, my piaffes were really nice and that’s something that’s really improved,” Ebeling said. “I had a really good ride, I’m very happy with it.”
Staff from the equestrian federation handed out more than 1,000 red foam fingers of the type seen at Nascar races and U.S. football games, and plastic-backed caps that Jim Wolf, the team’s leader, called “trucker caps.”
“We want people to know it’s not an elitist sport and it’s fun,” Wolf said in an interview. “We have a specific dressage trucker cap and when else have you seen a dressage fan with a foam finger?”
Romney won’t know until tomorrow if her horse has qualified for the next stage of the competition on Aug. 7. Half of the 50 horses competed today, with the rest tomorrow. The best seven teams go through.
Canadian David Marcus was eliminated from the competition because he lost control of his horse, Capital.
“Things were going fine until he spotted a TV camera in the corner, and the crowd were moving around in their seats due to the rain, and it all went wrong,” Marcus told reporters. “He doesn’t normally do anything like that. It was totally out of character and I am desperately disappointed.”
Also riding today was 71-year-old Hiroshi Hoketsu, the oldest competitor at the London Games,
“As long as I feel I am still improving, I will carry on riding,” he said after ending the day in 17th place. “When I do not improve I will give up.”
Hoketsu also told reporters he is happy staying in the Olympic Village, “but the young people don’t bother me. I have a single room.”