Late last week, I drew attention to a Joan Vennochi column in the Boston Globe that drew the connection between Ann Romney’s musings on health and wealth—her implication that having the latter matters less than the former—and her husband’s pledge to do away with the national universal health care law modeled on the law he signed in Massachusetts, both of which are geared to help people who, like Ann Romney, suffer from preexisting conditions like Multiple Sclerosis but who lack Romneyesque resources to care for their conditions. But in doing so I forgot to mention the clearest example of what Ann Romney’s wealth allows her to do for her health that most other Americans cannot avail themselves of: her horse-riding. Mitt Romney has said the family bought its deluxe new house in La Jolla, California so that Ann could rise horses on the beach, which has done wonders for keeping her M.S. in check. “My horses rejuvenate me like you can’t believe,” she told Fox News last week. “They give me balance. They give me energy. I think it’s because I love them so much.”
Well, my oversight was more than made up for today by Ned Martel’s fascinating piece in the Washington Post taking a closer look at Ann Romney’s passion for horses and dressage, the highly-exclusive sport that traces back to the ancient Greeks and whose purpose, according to the U.S. Dressage Federation, “is to develop the horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to work making him calm, supple and attentive to his rider.” (The name, pronounced dress-AHGE, derives from a French term that means “training.”) Martel reports that the Romneys co-own at least four horses, that they sink tens of thousands of dollars into the veterinary care of each of them, and that she frequents a high-security, state-of-the-art stable run by a German expat, Jan Ebeling, north of Simi Valley. He continues:
The best gift her husband ever gave her was a horse, Ann Romney told the New York Times late last year. Her son Josh told another New York Times reporter in 2007 that he had given his dad a rubber horse mask so that if he wore it, “maybe Mom will pay as much attention to you as she does to the horses.” In other interviews, both she and Jan Ebeling have jokingly described her as “horse crazy.”
Should she become first lady, Romney told Parade magazine last fall, she would certainly bring horses to the White House lawn. She even “slipped away” on the day of the Michigan primary to ride, telling Fox News that “some people have lovers in every port. I have horses in every port.”
“I think that everyone in my life recognizes I can’t be off a horse for longer than about two to three weeks, because then they see me actually start to fade,” she told Parade. “It’s an interesting thing for me how much they feed my soul and feed the thing I need, which is to have the quiet time, the balancing time, the exercise and everything else that is part of my therapy for staying strong.”
I’ll leave for another day what the political resonance will be of having a potential first lady who plans to have high-price horses at the White House; I’m guessing it’s not exactly the image that Romney advisers already dealing with their tone-deaf client from Bain Capital want to project. In general, I think most are inclined to give Ann Romney more benefit of the doubt on this than her husband, since she is not the candidate and since for her, horses are truly a matter of health and well-being. But again, this only underscores Vennochi’s point. Ann Romney is able to stabilize her health by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on horses, stables, vets and a beach house, while her husband is vowing to do away with a law that would help others stabilize their health by far more modest means. That is the real disconnect here.