Ann Romney: How horses helped my multiple sclerosis battle

Ann Romney and Donatello, who won an Intermediate II class at this month's Adequan Global Dressage Festival.
Ann Romney and Donatello, who won an Intermediate II class at this month’s Adequan Global Dressage Festival.

Bestselling author and former First Lady of Massachusetts Ann Romney is the recipient of the Premier Equestrian Award for the third week of the Adequan Global Dressage Festival at the National Horse Show in Wellington, Florida.

The wife of former presidential candidate Mitt Romney,  Romney balances a hectic schedule and her equestrian life with grace and enthusiasm — despite also dealing with multiple sclerosis.

This past week, Romney’s zealous attitude, seemingly boundless energy, and sincere love for her horses and the sport of dressage were recognized by Premier Equestrian, a leading provider of dressage arenas and world-class footing. The company presented Romney with a tri-colored Premier Equestrian Award ribbon, an engraved plaque, and the title of “Premier Equestrian.” Awarded each week of the 2016 Adequan Global Dressage Festival, the Premier Equestrian Award honors competitors who demonstrate exemplary sportsmanship and admirable qualities.

Despite Romney’s upbeat spirit, she has experienced difficulties that many equestrians cannot imagine. Romney turned to equine therapy after being diagnosed with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis in 1998. She became involved with dressage after finding that the subtle motions of the sport, such as leg squeezes and weight shifts, helped her to gain lasting muscle strength, balance, and flexibility. Since then, she has owned and worked with several horses, including Olympic dressage star Rafalca, who competed with rider Jan Ebeling for many years.

Ann Romney has received the “Premier Equestrian” title at the 2016 Adequan Global Dressage Festival.
Ann Romney has received the “Premier Equestrian” title at the 2016 Adequan Global Dressage Festival.

Romney is currently competing in the Prix St. Georges and Intermediate II classes with her horses Donatello and Darling. This past week at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, Romney placed first with Donatello in the FEI Intermediate II.

“This was the second time I’ve gone down the centerline with Donatello in an Intermediate II class, and he was really, really good,” Romney said. “I was really pleased. He had great changes and pirouettes. He was a little tense with the passage and piaffe, so he wasn’t as good as usual, but he was still pretty great!”

She added: “Darling is new to me and I am just learning to ride him. Yet he is terrific, and he is my next up and coming horse that I’ll be riding.”

Getting to know her horses can be a bit of a challenge, Romney explained, because her intense schedule means that she is not able to consistently spend time with them. Her political and medical endeavors, including the Ann Romney Center for Neurological Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, which she launched in 2014, keep her traveling across the US several times a week. After receiving the Premier Equestrian Award on Friday, Romney said she would be flying to Washington, D.C. for lunch and dinner appointments the following day, then flying to Boston on Sunday for a meeting about her research center’s new partnership with Google.

“We’re rolling out the fact that Google is going to help us with research, and they are going to attach me with all of these instruments and watches that I will wear for months and they will track,” she said. “We’ll do this with 2000 MS patients.”

Ann Romney hosts a book signing on Friday for In This Together: My Story.
Ann Romney hosts a book signing on Friday for In This Together: My Story.

The Ann Romney Center for Neurological Diseases uses a collaborative approach to accelerate treatments, prevention, and cures for five of the world’s most complex neurologic diseases, affecting about 50 million people in the US: multiple sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer’s disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, and brain tumors.

Romney heads back to the show on Wednesday for competition on Thursday, and on Friday will host a book signing for In This Together: My Story, her book released last year about her battle with Multiple Sclerosis and how important equine therapy was to her recovery.

The book signing is from 6-7pm in the Global Pavilion at The Stadium at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.

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