LONDON, Aug 7 (Reuters) - The rider of Rafalca, the horse
that launched a thousand political quips thanks to famous
part-owner Ann Romney, said the mare will compete for one to two
more years and then may go on to become a broodmare.
Jan Ebeling rode a smooth test for the United States in the
team Olympic dressage final, earning a good but not spectacular
preliminary mark of 69.302 percent to put him in third place
with six of 32 riders having performed.
Rafalca's trip to the Olympics has received huge mainstream
media coverage in the United States as Romney is the wife of
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Political commentators and satirists have mocked the
"dancing" mare and questioned whether dressage in fact deserves
to be a sport.
"I am really happy with it," Ebeling said of his grand prix
special test, which is more technically demanding than the grand
prix test he rode in the first leg of the contest last week.
"Wish the scores would have been a little bit higher but I'm
really happy with the horse," he told reporters.
When asked how far Rafalca might go in international
competition, Ebeling said this was likely the peak for her.
"This is pretty much the top right now. Since she's very
sound, we're going to probably see her for another year or two
and there are some thoughts about breeding her. I think she'd
make a very good broodmare."
After saluting the judges, Ebeling blew a kiss to the trio
he called "the three amigos" - Romney, Rafalca's co-owner
Elisabeth Meyer and his wife Amy Ebeling.
"She was there," he said of Ann Romney. "I didn't see her
before. The three amigos don't come to me before."
Ebeling said the fervent media attention has a positive side
and hasn't really put him off his game.
"I think having Mrs. Romney and having the visibility and
having the mainstream media report on our sport so much has been
a great thing," he said.
"If just one young kid picks up riding and makes it to the
Olympics, my job is done."
That many have also branded dressage as elitist, brandishing
Rafalca as a sign that presidential candidate Mitt Romney is out
of touch with the common man, doesn't worry him.
"I don't really see the elitism," he said.
"If you look at our team, there's nobody that's a
millionaire. (U.S. reserve rider) Heather Blitz, she is not a
wealthy person. She was in training camp without a groom. She
mucked (out) her own stalls."
The London Olympics have clearly demonstrated that
equestrian sports do attract the wealthy and privileged, as
riders as well sponsors and horse owners.
Saudi royal Prince Abdullah al Saud won team bronze in show
jumping on Monday and Zara Phillips, granddaughter of Queen
Elizabeth II, was part of the silver medal-winning British
But at the other end of the spectrum are talented riders who
get to the top through sheer hard work and ability, such as
Charlotte Dujardin, a school-leaver at 16 who has a realistic
shot at team and individual dressage gold.
Dujardin will compete this afternoon for a British team that
stands narrowly ahead of the long-dominant Germans going into
the second round of the team contest.
"Is there money in sport?" Ebeling said. "In any sport
there's money. But I don't think you can say it's an elitist
sport at all."