Most Americans associate the Olympics with swimming and gymnastics and young, agile bodies, but at the Romney house, all the attention goes to a horse named Rafalca ridden by 53-year-old Ebeling wearing a top hat and tails.
She's part-owned by Ann Romney. And the sport is dressage.
"There will be sobbing and crying."
That's how foremost dressage expert Kenneth Braddick describes what the Olympic competition will be like for the 20,000-plus attendees. Those watching will be "awash in tears," he added, when they hear the patriotic music each rider dances to, and even "hard bitten guys in the horse business are literally sobbing away."
Although it is celebrating its 100th year as an Olympic sport, dressage, a.k.a. horse ballet, was until recently relatively unknown in the U.S. Not anymore. Stephen Colbert named dressage the "sport of the summer." The equestrian discipline gained more attention that any of its enthusiasts could have anticipated when Rafalca, made the Olympics cut in June.
It's rider Jan Ebeling's, as well as Rafalca's, first Olympics. Ebeling and Romney co-own the German-born 15-year-old Oldenburg mare with another woman, Beth Meyer. Ebeling, a German native, became a U.S. citizen in 1998. He is not letting anything shake his focus—not the campaign, not Mitt Romney's overseas trip gaffes, not the media attention.
Braddick says Team USA may be an underdog compared to Germany and Britain for the team medal, but says that the individual contest is wide open.
Keeping the Focus Off Politics and On Dressage
Braddick, a former war correspondent for UPI who now runs Dressage News, is impressed with how well Ebeling is handling the pressure. Braddick says Ebeling texts Ann Romney and the other owner, telling them, "I don't want to hear any stress, any emotion. I don't want anything to break my focus." They did not speak Thursday before the performance.
"Having that visibility is really adding something to the sport, and does it affect me? No," Ebeling said in an NBC News video. "Once I get into my zone, I don't see anything, I don't hear anything. Everything is shut out."