Romney's friends have explained that, despite a thrifty streak that has run through much of his life, the Republican presidential hopeful has a soft spot when it comes to spending money on his wife. Close friend Tom Stemberg, the Staples founder, explained it that way to the New York Times in December. "Mitt is the cheapest guy in the world, except when it comes to Ann," he said, "because he loves his wife more than anything."
Over the years, Ann Romney has owned herself, or with partners, at least eight horses for dressage competitions. Among them are Waterford, Mai Schone Maestro, and Happy Day, Rafalca, Sandrina, and Breitan, according to official dressage competition records.
The Romneys investment in dressage is as much emotional as it is financial. The Romneys have long shared a fondness of horses -- the news website Gawker obtained tape of Romney speaking lovingly about the animals with Sean Hannity in an off-air exchange, praising the bloodlines of his wife's Austrian Warmbloods, but also noting his preference for the "smoother gait" of his own Missouri foxtrotter.
Braddick said the Romneys were regulars at dressage events and traveled to Europe together to purchase horses for their California stables. When Ebeling was preparing a dressage routine to try and qualify for this year's World Cup, one of the sport's major annual events, Braddick said it was Mitt Romney who selected the music that would accompany the horse and rider's performance -- selections from the soundtracks to "Rainman" and "The Mission."
"Jan told me, 'Mitt picked the music … that was his contribution, and we love it,' " Braddick said. He added that this was not an insubstantial contribution -- many riders have music specially composed for competition, and some even hire an orchestra to play a version that will precisely fit the footfalls of the horse in question.
Ilyse Hogue, a Democratic political consultant, said she fully expects Obama allies to draw attention to such details as a means of provoking questions about Romney's "relatability." And they will do so, she said, not simply because the candidate is so wealthy.
"Americans don't hate rich people," Hogue said. "Some of our most popular presidents came from personal wealth. [But] his series of missteps … reinforce a common feeling that Romney is so far removed from most people's daily reality that he couldn't address their concerns even if he cared to."
Braddick said he is certain Ann Romney, and probably her husband, too, will be heartbroken to miss the competition, which gets underway today in the picturesque village an hour north of Amsterdam. But he's sure her decision is intended to spare the 6,000 or so spectators the hassles of security, including campaign staff and Secret Service protection, that would likely be required if she were to attend.
"There are a lot of people who are very, very wealthy who do travel with entourages, but not like that," he said. "Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang own [the competitive horse named] Ravel. They're very wealthy. Akiko is very active. I could not imagine Akiko ever not being at a show when Ravel is competing. I'm sure Ann feels the same exact way."