The Inspirational Partnership of Ann Romney, Jan Ebeling and Rafalca

Dressage has been part of the Olympic Games for 100 years, but it seems that just lately the sport is getting some mainstream recognition.  This is mostly because Rafalca, a 15-year-old Oldenburg mare representing the USA, is partly owned by Ann Romney, wife of Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  However, Ann’s story with Rafalca and rider Jan Ebeling is actually more “inspirational” than “sensational.”

In 1998, when Ann Romney was 49, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a neurological disease that affects mostly women.  After a successful course of both mainstream and alternative therapies to help stop the disease’s progression, she stopped them due to their side effects.   In 2002, while in Park City, Utah with her husband, who was overseeing the 2002 Olympic Games, Ann noted that she was losing most of the function of her right side.  She decided it was time to do the things she loved before she couldn’t do it anymore.  For Ann, that meant horseback riding and she started using dressage as a type of both physical and mental therapy.

She contacted Jan Ebeling at his farm in Moorpark, California and started riding.  At first, she could barely stay in the saddle and easily tired, but eventually the muscles she used to walk, then trot, began to become stronger and helped her condition improve.  “Riding exhilarated me; it gave me a joy and a purpose. When I was so fatigued that I couldn’t move, the excitement of going to the barn and getting my foot in the stirrup would make me crawl out of bed. My desire to ride was, and is, so strong that I kept getting healthier and healthier.”

Ann continued to improve while working with Jan and she earned a USDF Silver Medal in 2005 and a Gold Medal in 2006 at the Grand Prix level.  Ann credits riding with “saving my life” and acknowledges that Jan Ebeling was one of the people who helped her the most during those difficult times.  She continues to work with Jan, who also helps her import horses from Europe and trains them for her at his Moorpark farm.  That partnership brings us to Rafalca.

Whoever said money can buy happiness certainly never owned this bay mare.  Jan agrees.  “I should mention that my journey with Rafalca has been long and emotional with ups and downs and more than a few bumps along the way.”  While preparing for the 2008 Olympic Games selection trials, Rafalca took a bad step and sustained an injury.  The recovery period put their training back almost a year.   Though they were later able to return to competition, they ranked 13th – just missing the cut to be in the national championships that were part of the 2008 Olympic selection process.

In 2009, Jan felt he and Rafalca had put bad luck behind them.  They were looking forward to the FEI World Cup in Las Vegas.   What started out as a brilliant ride turned into disaster when Rafalca became frightened and refused to go forward.  Still, he was determined not to let the ride affect his confidence.   At the 2011 World Cup in Leipzig, Germany, Jan and Rafalca scored 68.191% and finished 10th.

What about his and Rafalca’s chances at the Olympics?  “Rafalca’s done a lot of growing up,” says Jan. “I’ve learned a lot about my horse, about what I can add to my training and what I can do just for myself.”

So whether you live in a red state or a blue state or even a purple state this election, remember to cheer on the bay mare named Rafalca at the 2012 Olympic Games!