That year Gogan and Ebeling traveled to Europe and found Ann the perfect schoolmaster and the equine love of her life—Baron, then 12. Ann’s meteoric rise through the dressage ranks had everything to do with the partnership she forged with the horse, whom she calls “My best friend, my wonderful companion, my best boy.”
Ann competed Baron successfully at fourth level in 2001, capping off her season with the reserve fourth level adult amateur championship at the ABIC/USDF Region 5 Championships. They moved up to Prix St. Georges in December 2001.
“I was so excited to put on a shadbelly,” she recalled. “I remember riding up center line for Axel Steiner and wondering if he thought, ‘What is she doing in my ring?’ ”
Reaching the FEI levels, although a huge accomplishment for Ann, also made her realize how much work lay in front of her.
“That’s where the rubber hit the road,” she said. “I was frustrated. I pushed myself beyond my ability level, and I knew that I didn’t really know how to put a horse together.”
Sights Set On Grand Prix
After the success of the Salt Lake Winter Olympics in 2002, Ann returned home to Massachusetts, where her husband campaigned successfully and was elected Governor in November.
Although she would still fly to California to work with Ebeling, she also began working with Boston dressage trainer Maria Harrington. For the next two years, Ann went back to basics.
“Maria took my position apart, then put it back together again,” Ann said. “I learned to sit correctly, improved the effectiveness of my aids and finally began to understand what a true connection with my horse was all about.”
Competing in New England from 2003-2005, her Prix St. Georges scores on Baron regularly hit the mid 60s, and she posted a personal best Intermediaire I score of 64.37 percent at the Connecticut Dressage Association spring competition in June 2005.
One final challenge remained for Ann—the Grand Prix ring. “I knew it would take blood, sweat and tears to get me there, but Baron was getting older and people were already talking about Mitt as a presidential contender for ’08,” she said. “ I knew it was now or never.”
Ann moved her horses back to Ebeling’s California farm and committed to flying out to train with him as much as her schedule allowed. Competing in several California shows during the spring of 2006, she fulfilled her dream of competing at Grand Prix.
“I was a little overwhelmed the first time out at the new level [scoring 51.66%] but then I thought, ‘OK, next time I’m just going to go out there and ride,’ ” she recounted.
Her score jumped to 64.58 percent in only her second Grand Prix attempt with Baron at Dressage at White Birch (Calif.) in March 2006.
Ann remembered being thrilled when she looked up after one test and saw one of her own equestrian idols—Debbie McDonald—applauding her.
She Supports Others
Ann put her competitive riding on hold when Mitt’s presidential bid began in earnest in late 2006. Her next potential Grand Prix star—Sandrina—will wait in the wings until her life settles. For now her horses remain at Ebeling’s farm—all except Baron, that is—and she flies out to ride whenever her schedule allows.
“She recharges, both mentally and physically, when she comes out here,” said Ebeling. “She rides, spends time with the horses and just hangs out at the barn. She loves the whole scene.”
“Ann supports everybody in her life in everything that they do; she is so generous,” said Amy Ebeling. “She’s been a tremendous inspiration to me. She’s shown me that you can balance your life, take care of everyone else and still make room for your own passions and goals. We made her a promise that if Mitt decided to run, we would look after her horses, so she wouldn’t have to worry.”
Over the years Ann has bought other horses with Ebeling and has remained a staunch supporter of his flourishing career. In 2003, Ebeling qualified for the Pan American Games aboard Liberte, one of Ann’s horses, although he eventually competed there as the highest-placed member of the U.S. gold-medal team, finishing an individual fifth on the stallion Feleciano.
“I had to choose between the two horses, and the decision came down to the last possible moment. Not one time did Ann ever—not even a hint—urge me to take her horse instead,” Ebeling recalled.
Ann currently owns one of Ebeling’s top horses—Sandrina, a 10-year-old, Oldenburg mare. She also co-owns Ebeling’s hope for the 2008 Olympics, the 11-year-old Oldenburg mare Rafalca, with Amy Ebeling and two other partners.
“I’m 58, and there’s no way I’m going to compete at the elite level,” said Ann. “But I enjoy being closely associated with this level of the sport. I’m grateful to Jan and all the help he’s given me.”
Ann warms up Sandrina for Jan when she visits the Ebelings, but she won’t do anything more than walk Rafalca. “I don’t want to mess this one up,” she quipped.
Life On The Campaign Trail
After years in the public spotlight, Ann is used to the media’s constant presence in her life. But trying to explain dressage to journalists has not been easy, and Ann can only laugh at some of the inaccuracies that have found their way into print.
“Let’s see, one article had me buying and selling horses for profit,” Ann remarked. “Another time, I read about how I won the gold medal for the United States—I sure enjoyed that! Ninety percent of whatever I say about horses gets reported wrong, but by now I just take it with a grain of salt.”