Political Animal


May 27, 2012 10:40 AM Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: Of Dressage and the Romneys’ Special World

By Adele Stan

Had he not begun popping up in commercials for the down-market clothier, Old Navy, Robin Leach might have found fodder for a television program in today’s front-page New York Times story about Ann Romney’s love affair with dressage.

For those, like me, who had to look up that word, let me caution you that it has nothing to do with the $1,000 tee-shirt Mrs. Romney wore on CBS This Morning. (If only her path had crossed Mr. Leach’s, he might have told her that a reasonable facsimile could be had at Old Navy for about $15.)

Dressage is a rather rarified equine sport that involves coaxing very expensive horses into committing dance moves. In what will no doubt be decried on the right as an act of class warfare, the Times gives a glimpse of the Romney lifestyle through the prism of Ann Romney’s passion for the sport in which she has won championship medals.

The piece by Trip Gabriel, focuses on the relationship between the Romneys and Jan Eberling, Mrs. Romney’s dressage coach, and an aspiring Olympian who enjoys the Romney’s support. That relationship, Gabriel writes:

…also offers a glimpse into the Romneys’ way of life, which they have generally shielded from view.
Protective of their privacy, they may also have been wary of the kind of fallout that came after Mr. Romney’s mention of the “couple of Cadillacs” his wife owned and the disclosure of plans for a car elevator in the family’s $9 million beach house in California, which prompted criticism that Mr. Romney was out of touch with average Americans.

Not to mention the car elevator and the friends who own major sports franchises.

It’s important to note that the rap on Mitt Romney is not that he is rich, but that he seems to be clueless about the way in which regular Americans live. FDR and JFK were both wealthy (though not quite in the Romney way), but both conveyed a sense that they were aware of the trials faced by everyday people.

Looking past the class issues raised by Gabriel’s article, one finds a key to Ann Romney’s personality in the ferocity of her determination to overcome her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, an often devastating disease of the nervous system. That diagnosis is what led her to take up the demanding dressage at the age of 50, and when she was quite ill. She went on to win championships and see her disease go into remission. Pretty impressive.

People diagnosed with nervous system diseases and disorders are often told to combat their pain and fatigue with demanding forms of exercise. The less privileged take up running, yoga or other physical activities. Now that her dressage story has left the barn, Mrs. Romney may want to consider a visit to the YWCA for a little hand-shaking with the women practicing restorative swimming — and consider the fate of the uninsured M.S. sufferer.


  • Tired Liberal on May 27, 2012 11:28 AM:

    My personal favorite "out of touch" moment was the suggestion that unemployed and debt-ridden new college grads should just borrow the money from their parents to start their own businesses.

  • c u n d gulag on May 27, 2012 11:36 AM:

    I'm sorry that she's got that horrible illness.
    And I'm glad she found something that helped her.

    But I'd have more respect and sympathy for her if she established and funded a "Dressage Ranch," or camp, for underprivileged kids and young adults with MS - like Don Imus' ranch for kids who have cancer, or whose siblings died of SIDS.

    You can criticize Imus for a lot - but not the charitable work he's done on his ranch.

    Having a "Dressage Camp" would have helped humanize her and Mitt. AND given some underprivileged kids some time around those beautiful animals, and maybe that exposure could lead to life-changing behaviors or careers.

    And I'm sure she and Mitt do a lot of charitable work, and contribute to many charities, but nothing speaks louder than 'doing.'

    And my impression of the Romney family, not including Mitt's father, George, is that they're more 'takers' than doers.

    Sorry, Mrs. Romney, but them's my feckin' $0.02.

  • Gretchen on May 27, 2012 11:44 AM:

    Most of their charitable donations went to the Mormon church, which turned around and spent a lot of it on Proposition 8.

  • Adele Stan on May 27, 2012 11:49 AM:

    Tired Liberal: Well, it's a perfectly logical response, if you're Mitt Romney, right? From the Associated Press report on the incident you mentioned:

    In an interview with the Boston Globe in 1994, Ann Romney said her husband sold off stock that his father had bought for him so that they had money to live on as married college student.
  • Adele Stan on May 27, 2012 11:54 AM:

    >> I'd have more respect and sympathy for her if she established and funded a "Dressage Ranch," or camp, for underprivileged kids and young adults with MS.

    That's an excellent point, c u n d gulag. I'd include uninsured middle-aged people diagnosed with M.S. and other nervous-system disorders. A lot of times, these disorders aren't properly diagnosed until a person is in her 40s.

  • jjm on May 27, 2012 12:11 PM:

    This kind of thing is just part of the way the rich "sell" themselves as modeling a lifestyle that others are dazzled by and left aching for. It's called 'identification' and it is the number one reason why the rich and powerful believe they can control the world: because the poor identify with them...

    These Romney's wouldn't dream of giving to charities to benefit the poor: the poor are their target population. The poor are supposed to dream of helping THEM to win elections on the strength of this identification.

  • DAY on May 27, 2012 12:19 PM:

    Whoever that is inside the Romney Suit, he is uncomfortable.
    Compare him to the Sage of Omaha, a man who could buy and sell Mitt a thousand times over, and lives in the same modest house bought for $31,500 in 1958.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on May 27, 2012 12:23 PM:

    The jealousy on display here is nauseating! Mr. and Mrs. Romney are just average middle class quarter billionaires and deserve respect for their success.

    Besides that, it is about time that the 1/10 of 1% had one of their own in the White House. Especially one who is not afraid to show his contempt and scorn for the peon classes.

  • Joe Friday on May 27, 2012 12:24 PM:

    "FDR and JFK were both wealthy (though not quite in the Romney way), but both conveyed a sense that they were aware of the trials faced by everyday people."

    Not to mention they also advocated policies that benefited the broad Middle-class and Working Poor, unlike Romney who wants to cut them off at the knees while throwing even more money at the Rich & Corporate.

  • Ken B on May 27, 2012 12:49 PM:

    She has to Cadillacs? No big deal,it's the same here in Maine, one is for parts.

  • Kathryn on May 27, 2012 12:56 PM:

    To add to Joe Friday's observation, Romney has also stumped on seeing that the folks too poor to pay income tax have to pony up, pun intended. We can"t have those shiftless poor folk only paying state, social security, Medicare and sales tax, they need to come up with income tax too to really be part of this exceptional nation, no free lunch for hungry children, the disabled and impoverished seniors.

  • Joyce Harmon on May 27, 2012 1:12 PM:

    I had to Google 'sage of Omaha'. Is it just me?

  • burro on May 27, 2012 1:46 PM:

    Joyce Harmon:

    "I had to Google 'sage of Omaha'. Is it just me?"

    He's been known as that for quite awhile. But not being familiar with the term just means you've been focused on more substantial topics.

    A great image of the Omaha Oracle by the great Steve Brodner:


  • Altoon on May 27, 2012 1:50 PM:

    I'm not at all rich and I practiced dressage for a few years, along with a lot of other middle class women. Owning a horse was a dream of mine for many years and I found that the discipline of working with an animal was very exciting and enlarging; you are having a sensitive conversation with your horse. That being said, after a while I could no longer afford the few thousand a year for this pursuit (a small percentage of the amount of money Ann Romney spends). As others have said, I don't at all fault her for doing this; the problem is the Romneys cluelessness when it comes to ordinary folk.

  • exlibra on May 27, 2012 2:09 PM:

    For those, like me, who had to look up that word,[dressage] -- Adele Stan

    I remember several people saying the same thing when the story first broke, and found it amazing. I suppose it's because I grew up in Poland, where we pretty much lived and breathed Olympics every four years (not much else to entertain us and the idea of the whole world coming together, in friendly competition, for those Games was enchanting). And, perhaps, because Austria -- with its famous Lipizzaner Stallion school -- is just "next door" to Poland... But I knew what "dressage" was by the time I was 6.5 and followed -- through the radio, mostly -- my first Olympic games (1956, Melbourne).

    Dressage is a rather rarified equine sport that involves coaxing very expensive horses into committing dance moves. -- Adele Stan

    That's, certainly, one way of looking at it :) But dressage, like almost all the other Olympic sports, is a highly stylised and rule-hedged remnant of some past warfare techniques. Javelin throw and archery go all the way back to the ancient Greeks. The "dancing horses" go back to the Middle Ages. A battle horse had to be highly trained to work with its rider as a team; to raise on its hind legs and turn this way and that, to protect the rider from sword and hatchet wounds.

    I don't see it as being any weirder than any other sport. I agree that it requires a lot of money to be able to train in it (though, in US, even soccer, once a game that was available to every child in Poland, because it was cheap, has become somewhat expensive, what with shin guards and cleaned shoes that even a 6yr old is now required to wear) but, when I first heard of Ann Romney engaging in it, my only question was "does she do *ladies* dressage -- side saddle and much more demanding -- or "straight" (astride).

  • exlibra on May 27, 2012 2:12 PM:

    "cleated", not "cleaned" shoes. The 'puter overrode me, when I wasn't looking.

  • Jeff in Ohio on May 27, 2012 2:31 PM:

    You know who else rode show horses and made her Tennessee Walking mare do funny steps? My granny, all 90lb, squirrel shooting, okra frying, pick out the shot your self pounds of her while her husband share cropped 100 acres of bottom land in central Tennessee.

    Get the fvck over yourself.

  • zandru on May 27, 2012 2:50 PM:


    Working with horses as therapy has been used to rehabilitate convicts in prison, help depressed people, disabled veterans returning from war zones, you name it. Typically, however, the individuals receiving treatment don't have to buy, stable, and care for the animals on their own dime, as the Romneys could - much less hire personal coaches.

    I'd kind of like to see a lot more horse therapy. Gawd knows there are plenty of HORSES who could benefit by steady meals and good, affectionate care. Why don't we all drop Mrs. Romney a line and suggest that, purely as a campaign ploy, she set up a Dressage Therapy Hospital for those less wealthy than herself?

    Seriously. All she'd have to do is pose for a few publicity pix - "the help" would do all the actual work, while she and Willard reaped the publicity. And, at least for awhile, some people might be helped?

  • j on May 27, 2012 3:37 PM:

    The comment from Rachel Maddow that resonated with me was 'Romney has more money than the last 8 presidents combined and he thinks the poor do not pay enough taxes. Romney would greatly increase taxes on the poor and decrease hugely his own tax.'

  • Lamont Cranston on May 27, 2012 3:39 PM:

    Jim Lehrer: "Candidate Romney, some have contended that your wife's dressage horses live better than thousands of human Americans. How do you respond?"

    A guy can dream, right?

  • Texas Aggie on May 27, 2012 4:48 PM:

    That people don't know what dressage is reflects on the state of our society and its lack of general connection with nature and living things. Dressage is something that many people of modest means do. I know a woman in Bolivia who does dressage on a common horse that she bought. As an undergraduate, I knew a girl who happened to have achieved the ambition of every twelve year old girl to have a pony, and she was teaching her horse dressage.

    Dressage is like jogging. You can do it $40 sneakers, gym shorts and an old t-shirt at a city park, or you can do it in $300 running shoes with a $500 outfit from some brand label on a Olympic quality track at a country club. When you are the latter, however, your dedication to the sport rather than your dedication to conspicuous consumption is questionable .

  • max on May 27, 2012 5:31 PM:

    The MS news was the first I had ever heard made me feel any compassion for this self-styled queen of Zion.I have seen a middle-aged friend (from my native Australia)with a steadily worsening case of the disease totally cured in a matter of a few weeks.We brought to Santa Rosa (where I am a personal injury lawyer)four years ago. There my good Swedish dentist-friend remover four quandrants of mercury fools with DDS degees in Oz had installed when she was in her teens.Following their removal and replacement with non-toxic fillings,she had a brief course of dimercaptosuccinic acid capsules,to remove accumulated mercury. It is no longer a prescription item, and can be bought on-line.The result was immediate. Six-hour urine samples after using DMSA and then sent to Doctors Data for analysis (by mass spectrometer)will not fail to demonstrate alarming mercury levels for anyone with amalgum fillings just removed,or left intact.You can readily find other accounts on-line,and European dentists no longer utilize this irresponsible practise.I also benefited enormously twenty years ago when I had mine replaced:chronic gum disease with constant bleeding vanished immediately and I got to keep my teeth.Ten years later when I found out about about the DMSA (then by prescription which I had a tough time convincing my regular doc. to order),the results were exponentiated,with what seemed like a return to the mental sharpness of college days,and much else.So Ann - Or anyone suffering this dread disease,read and heed. And no, your clan doesn't belong in the White House... God forbid.

  • Steve P on May 27, 2012 8:05 PM:

    Texas Aggie:

    It's not the clothes, it's the horse. In my county people are leaving dogs at shelter because they can't afford to feed them, or letting them die because they can't afford a vet's bill.
    I don't know anyone who can afford to keep a horse.

  • emjayay on May 27, 2012 8:32 PM:

    There must be hundreds of exercise programs to alleviate MS that are better than dressage. It barely makes sense.

    If only someone could get ahold of video of Mrs. Romney in action on her dancing horse....

    The Romneys are really hideous people. I only hope that the more Americans know the more they will dislike them. F 'em.

  • Bonnie on May 27, 2012 9:07 PM:

    Annette Funicello, one of the original Mouseketeers, has MS. We haven't seen or heard much from her lately, which makes me suspect it has worsened. She had money as a result of her Disney years; but, I doubt ever as much as money as the Romneys. It is a devastating disease; but, as has been stated before when you are not rich, rich, rich, it can kill you slowly if not from the doctor bills then from the disease itself.

  • cosima on May 27, 2012 9:45 PM:

    Our daughter takes riding lessons, and has for 3 years. Lessons are about $250/month for one lesson/wk. Riding clothing, boots, etc. are a few hundred more every year. We don't get the expensive stuff.

    Dressage clothing is expensive, very expensive. The intensive lessons that are involved with dressage are very expensive. Fortunately we're not there yet. At that point it becomes viable to "lease" or "half-board" a horse, which is a mere $500 or so.

    So, we have cheap lessons, little one wears pretty inexpensive clothing & boots, and it is still a lot of money. I would say that it is cost-prohibitive for the average family. Not everyone has a spare $300 or so every month for something that's done so infrequently and with no real way at this point to turn it into a recreational thing for our child. We spend the money and she puts in the effort because she (and we) hopes that she will be fabulous at it someday and get an enormous amount of enjoyment from it.

    Any sort of riding is not for the average family. There is no possible way to do it without spending more money than most people can spare. If you have friends (or family) that have horses that you can ride, and someone to teach you for free you are uncommonly fortunate.

    There is no way to go cheap on dressage. We are not an average (financially) family, we are very very lucky, and we know it. But we, unlike the Romney family, work for a living, and illness or accident or industry downturn could render us unable to pay for riding lessons, and they would be the first thing to go. They're a luxury for us. As well as we do financially we probably still earn less each year than the Romney family spends on one of those dressage horses (training, board, feed, vet, etc). They choose not to relate to people less fortunate than themselves. It is a willful choice on their parts, and it appears as though at least some of their boys follow their example.

  • cosima on May 27, 2012 9:53 PM:

    And while we're talking about MS...

    Last xmas we volunteered to buy gifts for a family in need. I told the city worker (it was a city program) that we would take the family with the greatest number of children. Their list of wants/needs was so small and heartbreaking. My daughter & I had a great time buying for them, lots & lots of things.

    The mother, about 30 yrs of age, was in the initial stages of being diagnosed with MS. Her husband had had to limit his working hours to almost nothing so that someone could care for their 4 children. She had no hair, and had just begun to be able to walk about easily again. Their house was tiny and in horrible shape. They were so thankful. And so very very poor.

    And so unlike the Romneys. That family was a prime example of what a devastating disease like MS can do to an average family.

  • Anonymous on May 27, 2012 10:21 PM:

    A commenter on the NYT story mentioned Michelle Obama's father, who suffered from MS for many many years, but continued to go to work every day. The contrast of Mr. Robinson to Ann Romney is stark.

  • MikeN on May 27, 2012 11:55 PM:

    Oh, come on, it's not like she's into elitist sports like wind-surfing or shooting pool- if she was, the MSM would be harping on it for weeks.

  • Painless on May 28, 2012 12:44 PM:

    Jeff in Ohio

    I'm betting your granny trained her own mare. And if she made her "do funny steps" by soring, which is pretty likely in show circles, then go fvck your granny.

    Here's a link for those with strong stomachs:

    Sadly, this sort of thing is all too common when you mix horses and money. And it's as far from the spirit of classical dressage as you can get. That spirit involves communicating with your horse using subtle cues, and yeah that kind can be done in your backyard for the cost of the upkeep of the horse.

    That's not Ann Romney's kind of dressage though, where the horses themselves are worth six figures, without the training. And I guarantee that she never trained a single animal she rode. My wife trains dressage horses and hunter/jumpers. The Ann Romney's of the world want "push-button" horses, and see them as commodities. One might say just like they see poor people.

  • 1father on June 20, 2012 5:51 PM:

    Hippotherapy or Dressage costs a fortune and it took years for my family to get it for my disabled daughter. It changed her life.

    It was beyond our means and insurance would not cover it.

    A rich person with MS donated her horse and her therapists to my family. God Bless rich people who are out of touch and share the bounty of their lives with people like me who can't breakout of the middle class. Because if I could have it my way I would be rich.

    There is nothing noble about poverty or making people poor. I have only had to eat of the dollar menu three times in my life and all three time there was a Democrat in the White House.

  • William on August 02, 2012 9:56 AM:

    I totally agree with the article and the majority of comments. However, I just want to point out, FDR and JFK were actually wealthier than Romney.

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