The London Olympics have swung a glaring spotlight onto dressage, with the entry of U.S. horse Rafalca into that genteel event. Rafalca is a 15-year-old Oldenberg mare. What makes her London debut so noisily newsworthy is that she is co-owned by Ann Romney, wife of Republican U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who vocally opposes same-sex marriage. Rafalca and the Romneys will go up against an 11-year-old Netherlands gelding named Glock's Undercover. Though a newcomer to grand prix competition, Undercover will be ridden by one of the world's great dressage artists-- Dutch rider Edward Gal, who is openly gay.
The gods and goddesses of Olympian sport do have a sense of humor.
When Rafalca made the U.S. team, Democrats had a field day with ads accusing the Romneys of "elitism" for their participation in this sport. The ads backfired and put President Obama in the position of saying that he'd root for Ann Romney's Rafalca, as she represents the United States. But the Dems and the press seem to have missed the real irony of that upcoming "duel in the sand" -- between the Romney's Rafalca and the Dutch entry, ridden by an openly gay Olympian.
I just wish the gods and goddesses hadn't let Gal's world-champion mount, Moorlands Totilas, be sold from under him. I would give my eyeteeth to see Rafalca and rider Jan Ebeling go up against Totilas and Gal.
Totilas and Gal were described by some as perhaps the greatest horse/rider combo ever in modern dressage. Totilas, a Dutch warmblood stallion, stood out even as a young competitor. In Gal's hands, he rose to new levels, and broke all records -- becoming the first in dressage history to score higher than 90. With Totilas now competing for Germany, Gal had to move on. And he did it impressively -- qualifying four horses for the Dutch team. Undercover may be young, but Gal has such a gift for developing a horse that the pair may emerge as a serious contender in London.
Unfortunately the amazing Totilas won't be seen in London -- his new rider has been ill.
Not surprisingly, the British press has brimmed with discussion of gay dressage riders. "'Dressage is Full of Queens!': Masculinity, Sexuality and Equestrian Sport," is the title of a scholarly article by Katherine Dashper of Leeds Metropolitan University. Meanwhile, the UK publication "Horse & Hound" has a lively forum headlined "why are the majority of dressage riders gay?"
Isn't it time to get over the notion that gay male riders are found only in dressage? And the notion that dressage is one of those "effeminate sports" (like figure skating) that attracts the "more effeminate type of gay man?" Dressage may have its facade of social tradition, but the rider, male or female, must have a rugged body and spirit to deal with the daily grind and discipline of schooling. Gay men are also found in the more overtly risky equine sports like eventing, show jumping, polo and horse racing.
Besides, the sport has also attracted the wife of a Presidential candidate who opposes the very relationships of some of the men in the sport. Who will come out on top -- the out gay Gal or the gal of an anti-gay-marriage Presidential candidate? I know for whom I'll be cheering.
Find more about Patricia on her Web site. Copyright (c) 2012 by Patricia Nell Warren. All rights reserved.