Many readers are echoing this one:
I get the point about Romney's riches and his disconnect from the suffering of many in the nation. But I have to say I also saw in that video a Romney I haven't seen in the debates, interviews, or stump speeches: a relaxed Romney who seemed human. Except for the old Massachusetts governor videos, this is by far the most I've ever liked Mitt. He may own several super expensive animals, but to hear him talk about his wife (and the whole family) as having been through the ringer and needing some down time might help him connect with normal human concerns.
A lot of people in red states have horses, like horses, and like people who like horses. I think the 3000 square foot basement with a car elevator is far less appealing, far more troublesome, than being married to someone who feels rejuvenated by riding on a horse, even if it is dressage.
Several readers in horse country back up that perspective. One from Oklahoma:
Perhaps you haven't spent much time in the great swath of flyover country, but owning horses is not necessarily a rich person's lifestyle. Horse ownership cuts across all socio-economic levels here in my state.
My wife competes in eventing (dressage is one of the three disciplines), and just in our small circle, there are doctors, veterinarians, college professors, high school teachers, police officers, and nurses. In the past, we have also belonged to riding clubs where members range from wealthy to dirt poor.
Now, I suppose that you could point out that his wife rides an Austrian Warmblood, a breed that can be quite pricey. However, I doubt even you would say the same about a presidential candidate who owns Quarter Horses and whose wife competes in barrel racing, cutting, or reining. But guess what? A top flight Quarter Horse can cost every bit as much a fancy warmblood imported from Europe.
So horse ownership is open to many, not just the blue bloods. In my opinion, the biggest barrier to horse ownership is access to cheap land. Live somewhere where land is affordable and horse ownership is available to many.
I lived in England as a kid and learned to associate horseback riding with the aristocracy, as you did. My daughter, growing up in New Haven, CT, begged for riding lessons and I reflexively put her off, figuring it was out of our league.
Imagine my surprise, when I actually looked into it, to discover that weekly riding lessons were quite affordable ($20 per week in the 1990s) and that the local stables were entirely free of any kind of snob associations. All my daughters have taken riding lessons. Instructional stables offer Western, English and dressage. Most of the kids taking lessons were working-class or petty bourgeois – your basic Girl-Scout types – who would also be taking dance lessons and maybe singing in the school choir or hoping for a part in the school musical. The most ambitious girls saved their baby-sitting money and bought their own horses.
So with the wide open spaces in many sprawling American suburbs, even owning a horse is not necessarily a sign of aristocratic pretensions. Just to give you an idea: there's nothing that screams "posh" about this picture from the web site of my daughters' equestrian stable:
Finally, for a woman with multiple sclerosis, five sons, and a high-powered husband, I imagine riding is highly therapeutic for Ann Romney. For all of Mitt's obvious tin ear on class issues, this one, I think, is not the slam dunk you think it is.
Another points out that "the top hat is part of the 'uniform' for the international levels. I stick to a helmet in the interest of protecting my noggin." One more perspective:
Here in the Temecula (Ca.) , wine country horse raising is a big thing, particularly among women, and in particular among the many lesbian couples that inhabit the area, and many of whom I count among my friends. For the most part they are typical country girls, who dress in jeans and plaid shirts. However, many are passionately devoted to Dressage training and riding. On a number of occasions, the plaid shirts and steel toed boots are traded in for English outfits, complete with top hat and crop.
I would venture to say that this devotion to dressage is even more pronounced in the counties surrounding San Francisco and San Jose. And no, I am not talking about the born with a silver spoon types. These are average people who love horses, and in particular, the challenge of Dressage.
I stand corrected. My English class bias led me astray.