Mitt Romney's missus Ann cheers her £1m tap-dancing wonder horse

No major gaffes from horse owned by Republican candidate's wife
  • @tompeck

It would be fair to say that the United States presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's recent visit to London will not be remembered for its light-footedness.

That a tap-dancing horse should have come to play such a significant role in the battle for the presidency of the US is not as surprising as it should be. Rafalca, a dressage horse owned by the Republican candidate's wife, Ann, has become the subject of much derision across the pond.

Those with an interest in the rather expensive and rather odd sport of dressage, in which horses are commanded to prance up and down to music, under the judges' critical eye, might not, it has been suggested, have all that much in common with the man on Main Street.

Either way, Ms Romney, who watched from the stands at Greenwich Park, could be confident that Rafalca's performance couldn't possibly go as badly as her husband's on the "Romneyshambles", as his visit to the capital last week has been dubbed.

Rafalca, a 15-year-old Bay Oldenburg, pranced, piaffed and pirouetted its way to a score of 70.243 per cent, to leave it 13th in the overall standings, marginally better than had been expected. "She was consistent and elegant," Ms Romney told the Associated Press. "She did not disappoint. She thrilled me to death."

There was not a star-spangled banner to be seen among the 25,000 people at one of the London Olympics' most stunning venues, which looks out over the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf. So the spectators may have been unaware of the political ballet that has been dancing around Rafalca.

The hugely popular US satirist Stephen Colbert took dressage lessons from a former US Olympian on his show, The Colbert Report, this week, saying: "Dressage is the new American pastime!"

But there were a couple of US Army soldiers, stopping in London on their way back from Afghanistan, who attended. "Romney's wife's here?" one said.

"I didn't know he was into this. That's hilarious. I don't even understand what's been going on. It's like, dancing horses. It's just weird. We're leaving now anyway."

A leading dressage horse can cost more than £1m and, unlike race horses, there is no real prize money. The bizarre movements the horses perform take upwards of 10 years to learn. The twisting, tapping and prancing began as things horses learnt as movements to be used defensively in battle. But in the northern European winters the horses were brought indoors and their skills cum dance moves were shown off at court.

Rafalca's rider, Jan Ebeling, welcomed the attention the Romney association has given the sport. "The biggest misconception is always that people think that you just sit on a horse and they just kind of trot around in circles," Ebeling said.