DANA MILBANK: Man of the horse people

By Dana Milbank

The animal kingdom has been inhospitable to Mitt Romney in this election cycle. First there was the damaging story of Seamus, the Irish setter the Romneys strapped to the roof of their car on a family trip.
And now it seems that, when it comes to Romney’s political aspirations, Seamus may not be the most dangerous animal in the family menagerie. This past week belonged to Rafalca, the dancing horse.
Rafalca, a 15-year-old Oldenburg mare owned in part by the Romneys, qualified as a member of the U.S. Olympic team and will be competing in London in the dressage competition – a form of ballet for horses and their riders in which the animals do pirouettes, serpentines and Piaffes.
Understandably, Romney was wary about discussing dressage when NBC’s Brian Williams asked him in London Wednesday about his equine Olympian.
It was arguably Romney’s worst interview since Chris Wallace asked him about Seamus.
It’s understandable that Romney would be reluctant to discuss dressage. Seamus may have made him look odd, or insensitive. Rafalca makes him look like a superrich playboy. Nothing says “man of the people” quite like horse ballet.
Ann Romney takes umbrage at the criticism, saying that dressage has helped with her multiple sclerosis. That was enough to get the Democratic National Committee to back away from a video campaign showing Rafalca spliced with Mitt Romney “dancing around” questions about his tax returns.
While it’s heartening that Ann Romney has been helped by the horses, most MS sufferers don’t have the luxury of importing $100,000 horses from Europe. And the candidate’s disavowal of dressage as “Ann’s sport” isn’t quite right.
In an interview with the website “Chronicle of the Horse,” Rafalca’s trainer, Jan Ebeling, said Mitt Romney selected the music for the horse’s routine at an international competition; Ebeling, in another interview, said the former Massachusetts governor, inspired by his wife, “really enjoys the horses.” Romney joined his wife at an Olympic qualifying dressage event in April 2008, and the couple declared a $77,731 loss on their 2010 tax returns for their share of Rafalca’s care.
That’s a lot of hay (and another possible reason for the candidate’s disinclination to release more tax returns), but consider what the Romneys get for their money: A horse that can do not only a Reinback, a Shoulder-in and a Travers, but a Flying Change of Leg, a Renvers and a Half-Pass.
Sounds as if this is worth seeing. For the record, the dressage events begin Aug. 2 at Greenwich Park. You can bet Mitt Romney won’t be there.
Dana Milbank writes for The Washington Post. His email address is danamilbank@washpost.com.