Republicans continue to insist, against all objective data, that Ann Romney's horse sport isn't weird. They are wrong.
Joe Scarborough included The New York Times' feature on Romney's love of horses in his tirade about the paper's "embarrassing" coverage of the prosperous couple. Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour complained to Politico last month, "The New York Times does a huge exposé that Ann Romney rides horses. Well, so does my wife, and a few million other people. Watch out for equine performers!" Oh, snap.
But Ann Romney does more than just "ride horses." She competes in dressage -- wearing funny fancy clothes while making the horses do dance moves to music. This has nothing to do with cowboys. Romney rides fancy horses so much that her husband wants to "send her to Betty Ford for addiction to horses," so much that the Romneys spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on the hobby. This weekend, her horse qualified to the Olympics in dressage. What is dressage? Allow us to explain Ann Romney's horse sport via GIFs.
This is dressage, an elaborate dance routine in which you can't see the rider using his or her body to direct the horse to do fancy footwork. They wear elaborate outfits: a top hat, tails, white gloves, as you can see in Elsabe Fourie's GIF.
In a competition, the rider's routine is called a test. Only one rider competes at a time, and his or her test is graded based on a common standard. The test consists of a series of movements, and each movement is graded from 0 to 10 -- 0 being "not performed" and 10 being "excellent." Competitors are tested in an arena that's divided into segments and graded as they pass through them.
Dressage is not about making a horse run fast, or jump over things, or ride around while you hit a ball with a stick. Dressage is about making the horse change its gait to music, as you can see in this GIF posted by Elsabe Fourie.
There are a couple kinds of movements. This is the piaffe -- a calm trot in place.
A tempi change is really hard. It's sort of like skipping, and it happens when the horse changes canter in the air between strides. Dressage enthusiast Gandalf Leroy Brown posted the GIF at left to explain his amazement at a rescue horse being able to do this movement: "[W]hen she trots out, she just fucking MOVES. like, her front legs are real flashy and her hind end is right under her like it should be. Also, she was cantering on the diagonal of the arena and did TEMPI CHANGES every fucking stride. For non horse people who may not be able to appreciate the amazingness of this."
A half-pass is when a horse goes across the arena diagonally, moving forwards and sideways at the same time.
Like every sport, dressage has its own memes. For example:
This the technical side of dressage. For judges it involves scrutinizing hooves and legs. But to really appreciate the sport, silent animated GIFs won't really do the trick. For that you really need to hear the music.
As a fan of a different obscure sport, I understand the frustration some dressage fans might have in reading this post about their often-neglected sport. Send corrections or better GIFs my way, please!