―Story and Photos by Charlene Strickland
Amateur rider Ann Romney has competed at Grand Prix since 2006. Ann started riding in 1999 the 2000 Olympics inspired her to ride dressage. Her Utah trainer, Margo Gogan, started her in the discipline and she’s now also a student of Jan Ebeling’s.
Ann thrives on her time in the show ring, as she’s familiar with the spotlight of being First Lady of Massachusetts when her husband, Mitt Romney, was governor. Now she stands by his side while he serves as a U.S. Senator―she and Mitt have been married 52 years.
Since 2019, Ann’s Grand Prix partner is the 2005 Dutch warmblood Ambience (Trento B x Metall). At the Desert Dressage I show in October, Ann talked about her horse saying, “The thing that’s nice about him is that his nerves serve to enhance his movement. He’s a very good boy, safe for me. He doesn’t do anything really naughty.” Ben Ebeling said, “Ambience (barn name “Alfie”) is a machine. He’s very calm, and a perfect mix of electric and calm in his mind—the perfect amateur horse. [Ann] loves riding him, and horses are kind with her.”
Ann added affectionately, “He’s very obedient. He’s really sweet. He’s got a lovely passage and piaffe, and the transitions are good. I could feel a tiny bit low in the canter. He wants to fall a little bit onto the forehand. I was having to really work the seat and get him back up. Other than that, he felt super!” She went on to explain, “[Ambience] likes to take over in the left pirouette, always. That’s something we’ve been working on where we do a volte and then have him come back and forth, so that we have him thinking that he’s maybe going to have to do a volte not a pirouette.”
Ann’s test earned her a score of 66.467 under the watchful eyes of Stephen Clarke and Mike Osinski; she commented, “Man, those judges were tough.” She added, “I feel, if I can get a decent score from them—they are the best judges in the world―I’m happy with that. Stephen Clarke is honest and has a good eye. I told him when I rode by, ‘I was more nervous riding under you than speaking at the Republican convention!’ I wasn’t really, but it was intimidating to know that I would be riding with these judges. It’s also that you know the scores will be correct.”
Ann celebrates her show ring scores. At November’s Desert Dressage II, she and Ambience were the first riders in an early morning test at 8:15 AM. They earned a score of 67.717 (judge 4* Cesar Torrente).
Ann started her dressage schooling to help her deal with multiple sclerosis, which she was diagnosed with over 20 years ago. Horses have been her partners in healing. “Margo [Gogan] started me in this journey,” said Ann. “It’s an amazing journey, because when I started with her, I was close to being in a wheelchair. I had no use of my right leg, and my right arm was starting to go. All the way up my body to here, below my knee was completely numb. I was deteriorating so fast. That’s when I said, I love horses, and I hadn’t ridden since I was 15 or 16 years old. I need to start riding.
“Margo took me under her wing, and I didn’t even know my posting diagonals, and I was 50 years old. This is an encouragement to those amateurs out there, that you can start whenever. Get good instruction, have good help, and I’ve been so lucky to have Margo in my life, and then Jan. Between the two of them, they have been kind and patient.” Margo trains at Hilltop Dressage in Provo, Utah. Ann said, “Margo is still one of my best friends. We stay in touch all of the time. We live in Salt Lake a lot of the time, so I go up to her barn.”
Riding has been more than therapy for Ann—the sport has brought her joy and achievements. She earned her Silver and Gold USDF medals in 2006, and in 2016 rode her horse Donatello to the USDF Horse of the Year award in Adult Amateur Intermediate II.
Amy Ebeling said, “She’s come a long way. She’s riding out of her mind, at 72 years old. She is really the epitome of an amateur: Veni, vidi, vici. Really, I came, I saw, I conquered. She is such an inspiration to all of us and I am proud to call her my best friend and business partner. We’ve had so much fun through the years and more to come.”
Ann is always aiming to improve. She described Jan’s instruction this way: “The last few years, Jan’s been pretty strict. In our lessons, he knows he can push me now and he knows he can get after me. Get that heel down. Get those elbows back. Get that seat sitting better. It’s all those little cues. If you ride with him long enough, every time I come into a corner, I’m thinking ‘bend, inside leg, flexing,’ getting that correct bend before I start the half-pass in the corner, and then I don’t have to work on it. All those little things. I don’t need him telling me what to do because I’ve heard it so many times.”
Ann owns other dressage horses, which compete with Jan and Ben Ebeling. She delights in their success. Ben and Jan talked about the new horse they found for Ann this summer through Jan Brink, Jubi’s Tenacity, a 2010 Danish warmblood (Tailormade Temptation x Blue Hors Don Schufro). “She is a lovely horse. Ann has ridden her, and the mare just arrived from Europe,” explained Jan. Ann’s opinion of her new ride: “She is unbelievable and will be my best horse!”