Does Ann Romney have horse problems? Super Hit, her old dressage horse wonders. So do we.
Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Thursday, June 28, 2012
Who or what’s that?
Oh… just another dressage horse the Romney’s once owned – and tried to sell.
Selling horses is not illegal, immoral, or unethical.
However, to attempt to sell a horse that is so doped up in an effort to masquerade, conceal or hide a defective, sick, injured or wounded condition… well, now, that’s a horse of a different color.
Ann Romney was named as a defendant in such a case.
“In my 38 years of practice, I have never come across a drug screen such as this where the horse has been administered so many different medications at the same time.”
This was not some long-ago issue, for the complaint was filed February 10, 2010 in California Superior Court, Ventura County, is case number 56-2010-00372707-CU-FR-SIM, and was set for trial September 12, 2011.
Here’s the nut of the case:
In 2010, a San Diego woman – Catherine Norris – sued Mrs. Romney, dressage trainer Jan Ebeling and his wife Amy for fraud, claiming that the severity of a foot defect in Super Hit, a dressage horse she purchased from Mrs. Romney for $125,000, was concealed.
The expert equine veterinarian, Dr. Stephen Soule, stated in the record that, “In my professional opinion, based on 38 years of experience in equine veterinary medicine and in conducting nearly 2000 pre-purchase examinations during this time, the HA-VETALOG injections to the left front coffin joint coupled with Super Hit’s inconsistent show record, decline in test scores, consistency in the remarks of different show judges on score sheets that Super Hit was “tense,” had “tension” and “tight” and “stiff,” and the fact that he was not shown for nearly 2½ years prior to the sale in February 2008, Super Hit was more likely than not chronically lame prior to Catherine Norris’ purchase in February 2008.”
A pre-purchase drug screen/toxicology study performed February 13, 2008 by Center for Tox Services, Inc. – an Arizona lab – on 6 blood collection tubes drawn from the horse Super Hit found Butorphanol (a synthetic opioid pain killer), Detomadine (a α2-adrenergic agonist, used as a sedative in horses), romifidine (another sedative mainly used on large animals such as horses), and xylazine (a medication used in horses for sedation, anesthesia, muscle relaxation, and pain relief) in the horse’s system.
Also named in the suit was Dr. Doug Herthen, DVM, the veterinarian who treated Super Hit, and who purposely failed to disclose the nature of his relationship with Ann Romney and Super Hit to the purchaser, Mrs. Norris. In his testimony, Dr. Soule wrote that, “The professional ethics standard in veterinary medicine is to disclose any implied, apparent, or actual conflicts of interest before agreeing to conduct the pre-purchase examination. In other words, there is no such thing as dual representation without disclosure. In my professional opinion, the failure of Doug Herthel to disclose to Catherine Norris his existing and/or prior professional relationship with the defendants Amy and Jan Eberling, prior to the pre-purchase examination, was a breach of his professional duties and ethics.”
For very nearly a decade, Mrs. Romney has held a financial and ownership stake in The Acres, a horse training ranch about 45 miles northwest of Los Angeles, which is also owned by Jan & Amy Eberling. Mr. Eberling is a dressage trainer from Germany. With the Romneys, the Eberlings own Rob Rom Enterprises LLC, a foreign corporation registered in Delaware, which buys and trains dressage horses.
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous is nothing new for the Romneys, because in a 1994 interview with the Boston Globe while Mitt was campaigning for Massachusetts governor, Ann described their years as “struggling students,” saying that “neither one of us had a job, because Mitt had enough of an investment from stock [from his father] that we could sell off a little at a time.“
Yeah. That’s gotta’ be a struggle.
Of course, it goes without saying – but here it is, anyway – that, in an interview with Neal Cavuto of Fox News in March 2012, Ann Romney said, “I don’t even consider myself wealthy, which is an interesting thing.” Many people would probably find that interesting, too – particularly given that Mitt’s estimated wealth is in excess of $250 Million. Perhaps $100,000 horses are but chump change to that crowd.
The New York Times covered the issue with the following story, which also mentions the $77,000 tax deduction the Romneys took in 2010 for Rafalca, another of the Romneys’ expensive dressage horses.
Other newspapers covering the story included the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. Because of the location of the case – Ventura County, California – the LA Times had a superior article & coverage of the issue. It follows the NYT story, which is next.
May 26, 2012, By TRIP GABRIEL
As Ann Romney immersed herself in the elite world of riding over the last dozen years, she relied on Jan Ebeling as a trusted tutor and horse scout. In her, he found a deep-pocketed patron.
A German-born trainer and top-ranked equestrian, Mr. Ebeling was at ease with the wealthy women drawn to the sport of dressage, in which horses costing up to seven figures execute pirouettes and other dancelike moves for riders wearing tails and top hats.
A taskmaster, Mr. Ebeling pushed Mrs. Romney to excel in high-level amateur shows. He escorted her on horse-buying expeditions to Europe. She shares ownership of the Oldenburg mare he dreams of riding in the Olympic Games this summer. Mrs. Romney and her husband, Mitt, even floated a loan — $250,000 to $500,000, according to financial records — to Mr. Ebeling and his wife for the horse farm they run in California, where the Romneys use a Mediterranean-style guesthouse as a getaway.
“He came over here with two empty hands,” Anne Gribbons, technical adviser of the United States dressage team, said of Mr. Ebeling. “He had a lucky break to get to know the Romneys.”
The relationship has given the Romneys “the ability to enjoy the horses in a very safe and private haven, along with enjoying the people who provide them the service,” said Robert Dover, who knows the Romneys and Mr. Ebeling and his wife, Amy. “That friendship has stood the test of time.” It also offers a glimpse into the Romneys’ way of life, which they have generally shielded from view.
Protective of their privacy, they may also have been wary of the kind of fallout that came after Mr. Romney’s mention of the “couple of Cadillacs” his wife owned and the disclosure of plans for a car elevator in the family’s $9 million beach house in California, which prompted criticism that Mr. Romney was out of touch with average Americans.
Mrs. Romney took up dressage at age 50 as a therapy for multiple sclerosis, but it soon became her passion. Riding, she has said, “sings to my soul.”
Mr. Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, was also drawn in. He chose the music that Mr. Ebeling has ridden to in competitions, from the movie “The Mission.” He also took up trail riding. In a recent conversation with Sean Hannity of Fox News not meant for broadcast but leaked to the Internet, Mr. Romney showed a familiarity with expensive, esoteric breeds, mentioning his wife’s Austrian Warmbloods and his own Missouri Fox Trotter — “like a quarter horse, but just a much better gait.”
The couple’s ties to Mr. Ebeling, 53, have also led to a legal entanglement. In 2010, a San Diego woman sued the trainer, his wife and Mrs. Romney for fraud, claiming that the severity of a foot defect in a horse she bought from Mrs. Romney for $125,000 had been concealed. The case raised questions about whether the Ebelings, who acted as sales agents, intentionally covered up the animal’s condition, and if so, whether Mrs. Romney, a largely absentee owner, knew.
Lawyers for Mrs. Romney and the Ebelings argued that the buyer was aware of the defect, a condition disclosed by a veterinarian who conducted a prepurchase exam, and denied any effort to deceive her. They pointed out that she continued to ride the horse, named Super Hit, for more than a year after the purchase in 2008.
Last September, on the eve of a jury trial, Mrs. Romney was dropped from the lawsuit before it was settled out of court, according to the Romney campaign. “The lawsuit was frivolous,” said Gail Gitcho, a Romney spokeswoman. Lawyers for the Ebelings did not return calls.
One thing is certain: the suit has done nothing to shake Mrs. Romney’s faith in Mr. Ebeling, who continues to enjoy her support as he has competed in international dressage competitions this spring and prepares for the United States Olympic selection trials beginning on June 8 in Gladstone, N.J.
Should he win one of the three spots and ride at the London Games this summer, Mrs. Romney has said she would like to cheer him on from the stands.
Turning to Riding
Mrs. Romney, who declined to be interviewed for this article, returned to horseback riding, a sport she loved as a girl, after receiving a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis in 1998.
The Romneys were then living in Utah, where Mr. Romney had been recruited to organize the 2002 Olympics. At first Mrs. Romney could not stay on a horse for more than a few minutes without tiring, but it made her “joyful and exhilarated,” she once recalled. “I’d sit on a horse and forget I was even sick.”
She met Mr. Ebeling, currently ranked No. 9 among American dressage riders, when he visited Utah to offer clinics. Mr. Ebeling, who did not respond to requests to comment for this article, recalled in a 2007 interview with The New York Times that Mrs. Romney overcame her fatigue by sheer force of will. “Boy, she was determined,” he said.
As her disease went into remission, she began regularly traveling to Mr. Ebeling’s stables in Moorpark, Calif., an hour northwest of Los Angeles. Friends and acquaintances described the trainer as patient and low-key but capable of driving students hard. Asked if she was ever unhappy with Mr. Ebeling’s instruction, Mrs. Romney said in a deposition in the lawsuit, “I think that is not a fair question because we all get upset at certain times with anybody that is — you know, especially a German.”
She said she was grateful for his rigor, which helped her win gold and silver medals in the show ring. “He pushes me harder than I would ever push myself.”
Mr. Ebeling trained in dressage as a young man in Germany, a world leader in the sport, and immigrated in 1984 to pursue his career in the United States.
A brief first marriage ended in divorce when his wife, Lisa Wilcox, an American-born Olympic rider, wanted to live in Germany to train and he preferred to stay in California. He later married Amy Roberts, who hired him as a trainer in 1995 at the stables she called the Acres, which she had bought a few years earlier and is now assessed at $1.6 million.
The Ebelings built the property, amid avocado and lemon groves, into a premier dressage barn with stalls for 40 horses. Besides Mrs. Romney, it has drawn other wealthy clients, including the daughter of William Harlan, the founder of Harlan Estate, a boutique California winery. Mr. Dover, a former Olympic rider, recalled Mr. Ebeling’s offering him a glass of a Harlan red one night: “As I was about to take my first sip, he said, ‘That’s like a $4,000 bottle.’ ”
A Powerful Supporter
Mr. Ebeling denied in his deposition in the lawsuit that Mrs. Romney was his financial sponsor. “Not really,” he said.
But Mrs. Romney was clear on the matter: she supports him in his competitive career. “It gives Jan an opportunity for him to present my horses at upper-level dressage,” she said.
On the Romneys’ 2010 tax returns, they reported a loss of $77,000 for their share of the partnership that owns Mr. Ebeling’s top mount, Rafalca. Mrs. Romney owns the horse with Ms. Ebeling and a Romney friend, Beth Meyers. Sponsorship arrangements are not unusual in dressage, where riders who want to climb to the top look to wealthy backers.
“Having people like that is very important to the success of this sport and our country being represented,” said Mary Phelps, the publisher of an online dressage news site, who estimated that the costs of exhibiting a horse on the international circuit could run to $200,000 a year.
Mr. Dover, who during visits to the Acres has helped coach Mr. Ebeling for international dressage, often with Mrs. Romney looking on, recalled a meeting to plan Mr. Ebeling’s European season. “She was very attentive to what he said, and what I thought, and had her own remarks and really wanted to be a part of the decision-making,” Mr. Dover said of Mrs. Romney.
Mr. Ebeling has been Mrs. Romney’s guide on trips to Germany since 2000 to buy horses for upper-level competition, known as Grand Prix. Over the years, she acquired nearly a dozen, both for herself and Mr. Ebeling. Although a champion horse can cost seven figures, Mr. Ebeling, like most competitors, sought younger, less expensive horses and invested years to train them to respond to the rider’s subtle squeezes and weight shifts in the show ring, where using one’s voice draws a penalty.
Although Mrs. Romney once stabled horses near her homes in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, all are now at the Acres. She spent most of the winter of 2005-6 there, riding Baron, one of her early purchases, in amateur classes at the Grand Prix level.
Mr. Ebeling praised her drive. “People who start dressage later in their life,” he said in 2007, “you don’t get to Grand Prix. You just don’t get there. It’s extremely difficult in that short time.”
Super Hit, the horse that became the subject of the lawsuit, was bought in Germany in 2003 for about $100,000. At the time, X-rays showed that he had a small abnormality in his left front coffin joint. Mrs. Romney consulted three veterinarians and was told it was “not significant,” according to her deposition in the suit, which was previously reported by The Washington Post.
With Mr. Ebeling training Super Hit and riding him in competitions, he progressed and did well at shows. The horse also regularly received injections of anti-inflammatory drugs to prevent any problems with his coffin joint, which is where the hoof attaches to the lower leg. Veterinary experts say the drugs are commonly given to top-level sport horses.
Selling the Horse
Though Mrs. Romney loved the horse, calling him “Soupy,” she decided to sell him in late 2007. Riding him, though meant to soothe her multiple sclerosis, had in fact become painful. “I frequently was getting back spasms when I rode Soupy,” she said.
The eventual buyer was a horsewoman named Catherine Norris, who lived near Seattle at the time. Mr. Ebeling, she later said, called Super Hit “the soundest horse in the barn.”
Before writing a check, Ms. Norris sought a standard prepurchase exam. The Ebelings recommended a veterinarian they knew, Dr. Doug Herthel, who identified the joint abnormality on an X-ray. He informed Ms. Norris of it but assured her it would not bar him from the upper-level show ring.
But Dr. Herthel apparently did not mention that a toxicology test reported four tranquilizers in Super Hit’s blood at the time of the exam. His records showed that he injected two of the drugs — to steady Super Hit during X-rays, he testified — but there was no documentation of the other two tranquilizers.
Dr. Herthel sent an e-mail to Ms. Ebeling asking if the horse had been sedated before the exam; she replied that he had not. How the additional tranquilizers got into the animal was never fully established. A lawyer for Dr. Herthel, Steve Schwartz, said the drug laboratory’s tests were not definitive.
But veterinary experts unconnected with the case questioned the circumstances. “The presence of all those medications makes interpretation of the exam null and void,” said Dr. Carolyn Weinberg, a board member of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She and others said tranquilizers could mask problems.
“They can affect the gait of the horse,” said Dr. Harry Werner, the chairman of animal welfare for the equine association. “They have the potential to obscure a subtle lameness.”
Ms. Norris, who could not be reached for comment for this article, continued to board Super Hit at the Acres, paying some $2,400 a month. But she was soon complaining that “he looks funny on his left front,” she testified in a deposition. According to her, Mr. Ebeling replied, “It’s your riding.”
When she moved Super Hit to a stable near San Diego in April 2009, a new veterinarian reviewed the X-rays Dr. Herthel had taken and diagnosed lameness, and Super Hit subsequently became “a pasture horse” unfit for riding, Ms. Norris said.
Jontelle Forbus, a trainer who had gone to work for the Ebelings shortly after Super Hit’s sale and rode him at the Acres, said in court records that she, too, thought he had an irregular step and told this to Mr. Ebeling.
“It was a horse sale where the seller wasn’t honest about the product they were selling, and the buyer wasn’t smart about looking into the whole picture,” Ms. Forbus said in an interview recently.
In testimony, she said she quit working at the Acres in part because she perceived “a feeling of general dishonesty” between the Ebelings and their clients largely over a failure to openly communicate.
In interviews, other dressage clients of Mr. Ebeling’s vouched that they trusted him. There is no record of other lawsuits filed against him or his wife in state or federal courts.
A spokeswoman for the Romney campaign, Amanda Henneberg, said, “Mrs. Romney has, and always had, full trust and confidence in Jan and Amy Ebeling.”
Nine days after ending her case against Mrs. Romney and the Ebelings, Ms. Norris settled with Dr. Herthel. The veterinarian’s lawyer, Mr. Schwartz, said his client paid no money. “They did not have a viable case and they quit,” he said.
Before it ended, Ms. Norris’s lawyers accused Dr. Herthel of being more interested in gaining favor with Super Hit’s famous seller, at a time when Mr. Romney was making his first bid for the presidency, than in protecting Ms. Norris’s interests.
On the day Ms. Ebeling had made the appointment for the prepurchase exam, Dr. Herthel confirmed it in an e-mail. It was Feb. 5, 2008: Super Tuesday, when California was holding its Republican primary. “We are telling everybody to vote Romney today,” the vet wrote.
Jodi Kantor and Stephanie Saul contributed reporting.
On a trail of her own
Ann Romney’s testimony in a lawsuit over a prized horse opens a rare window into her private world.
May 22, 2012, by Robin Abcarian
It was the end of a long day in a stuffy Simi Valley office building. Ann Romney had been under oath for more than four hours, testifying in a sometimes contentious deposition about a pricey horse she sold that may or may not have been afflicted with a condition that made him unrideable.
In the airless room, Romney was getting annoyed.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, May 25, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 60 words Type of Material: Correction
Ann Romney: An article in the May 22 Section A about Ann Romney’s equestrian activities said New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s daughter was a dressage rider. She is a show jumper, a different discipline. The story also said Romney has taken the train from Del Mar to Moorpark. The rail station is in Solana Beach, just north of Del Mar.
“That really is — that really is irritating,” she said when the opposing attorney implied she didn’t know who looked after her horse in Moorpark when she was at her home in Boston. “Of course I know who was looking after my horse. You’re just trying to irritate me.”
It was a rare moment of pique for Ann Romney, not meant for public consumption, and one that opened a window onto the private world of the would-be first lady.
Though Romney was dropped from the case after 18 months of litigation, the deposition reveals her passionate engagement in a rarefied sport that she believes helps her deal with a debilitating chronic illness. It also displays her fear of privacy loss, and a depth of feeling for a handful of extraordinarily expensive horses that she compares to maternal love.
“It’s like children,” Romney, a mother of five, testified about Super Hit, the horse at the center of the lawsuit. “You don’t … say one is better than the other, but I loved him.”
Romney, who rode horses as a girl, began riding seriously as an adult after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998. “I was losing most of the function of my right side,” she testified at her deposition on June 3, 2010. “And I decided I needed to go back and do what I loved before I couldn’t do it anymore.”
She soon fell in love with dressage, a fussy Olympic sport that is also called “horse ballet.” In dressage, a horse moves in delicate, dance-like steps to music as the rider, formally clad in top hat and tails, imperceptibly guides the animal.
Because it requires tremendous muscle control, dressage also provided Romney unexpected therapeutic benefits.
“Riding exhilarated me; it gave me a joy and a purpose,” Romney told the Chronicle of the Horse magazine in 2008. “When I was so fatigued that I couldn’t move, the excitement of going to the barn and getting my foot in the stirrup would make me crawl out of bed.”
For nearly 10 years, Romney has trained and ridden with Jan and Amy Ebeling, who own the Acres, an immaculate, Mediterranean-style ranch in Moorpark, about 45 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Romney is a partner with the Ebelings in the Acres, and she and Amy Ebeling own Rob Rom Enterprises LLC, a foreign corporation registered in Delaware that buys and trains dressage horses.
Jan Ebeling is a world-class dressage rider. Romney sponsors him on Rafalca, a mare she co-owns with the Ebelings and another friend. Jan Ebeling plans to compete with Rafalca next month in New Jersey at the U.S. dressage team trials for the London Summer Olympics.
Starting in 2003, coinciding with her purchase of Super Hit for about $105,000, Romney said she would frequently visit Moorpark from her Boston home, staying either in hotels or in a guesthouse on the ranch. When she is at her La Jolla beach house, she takes the train up from Del Mar.
Romney, who frequently takes riding breaks as she campaigns with her husband, Mitt, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, regularly ferries at least one of her horses, a mare called Schone, between Moorpark and Boston. But moving horses can be dangerous as well as costly.
In 2003, a newly purchased horse, Marco Polo, was flown from Germany to Boston, where his container tipped on the runway. The horse tore a hind ligament and spent a year recuperating. But the accident might have been much worse, Romney revealed in her deposition. “Somebody in the container almost got killed we found out later. It was terrible.”
Dressage is not for the faint of wallet; it requires healthy outlays of cash for upkeep, training, transportation and veterinary care. It attracts some of the world’s richest people — the daughter of billionaire New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg competes. Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang and his wife own dressage horses.
A spokeswoman for the Romney campaign would not discuss the costs associated with Ann Romney’s horses. “We are not required to disclose this information,” said Amanda Henneberg in an emailed statement.
The woman who bought Super Hit, Catherine Norris, testified that it cost $2,400 a month to board him at the Acres.
Insurance documents in the court file indicate that from November 2006 to November 2007, Ann Romney paid $7,800 to insure five horses against mortality and theft for amounts ranging from $50,000 to $135,000 per horse, which she said was far less than their value. “I self-insure for the rest,” she testified. “Just expensive to have insurance.”
Despite her relatively late start, Romney, 63, won silver and gold medals in 2005 and 2006 at the highest level of competition from the U.S. Dressage Federation. She rode Baron, a gelding she has described as “my best friend, my wonderful companion, my best boy.” She credits Jan Ebeling, who emigrated to the U.S. from Germany, with vaulting her into the top tier of amateur dressage.
Ebeling’s demanding nature, Romney said, sometimes causes a strain.
“We all get upset at certain times with anybody that is, you know, especially a German,” Romney said. “He pushes me harder than I would ever push myself. So at times I can honestly say that he frustrates me but … you know, I’m happy with the training I get.”
Super Hit, the subject of the fraud lawsuit, is no ordinary animal. Affectionately known as Soupy, he is an Oldenburg gelding, purchased in Germany in 2003. He trained with the Ebelings for five years. Norris then paid Romney $125,000 for him, about a $20,000 premium over Romney’s purchase price.
“I wasn’t interested in making a lot of money,” Romney testified. “I frankly think he was a very, very good price for that, for what he was capable of doing.”
The horse’s gait, she said, caused her physical distress.
“I have numbness on my right side, and I also have issues with my low back,” Romney testified. “And I was frequently getting back spasms when I rode Soupy. … It was hard for me to even put him up for sale, so I would think about it and decide I couldn’t.”
Romney maintained that the horse was sound when she sold him in February 2008. She was reluctant to part with him but was certain she’d found the right buyer in Norris, a former physical therapist who aspired to ride the animal in upper-level dressage competitions.
“I wanted him to go to a happy home,” Romney testified. “She was so happy with the horse.”
But Norris claimed she’d been misled about the horse’s condition, and on April 28, 2010, sued Romney for fraud. She also sued the Ebelings, who took a commission from the sale, and the veterinarian who gave the horse a clean bill of health. The case settled last September.
The horse, now 15, was moved to a barn in San Marcos after surgery and other costly medical therapy. “He is to be permanently retired to pasture,” Norris asserted in the court record. “He cannot be ridden and obviously has no future as a dressage horse.”
The Romney campaign would not allow interviews with Romney, the Ebelings or Romney’s attorney. Super Hit’s owner could not be reached.
Romney’s lawyers wanted to keep the case out of the public eye. In December 2010, one of her attorneys sent a letter to Robyn Ranke, the attorney for Norris, expressing dismay that Ranke refused to sign a confidentiality agreement.
“You can be assured we are not going to give any records … to the L.A. Times,” replied Ranke, “and are at a loss as to why you would even suggest such a thing.”