The Netherlands’ Edward Gal is a rock star in the horse world. No seriously, people have actually called him that. In 2010, fans of dressage (or “horse ballet”) traveled from around the world to see Gal and his former horse, Moorlands Totilas, compete at the World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky, and they didn’t disappoint. They dominated, as Gal became the first rider in history to win gold in all three possible categories (Team, Individual Special, and Individual Freestyle). In the land of dancing horses, he’s LeBron James. (Though his new horses Sisther de Jeu, Undercover, and Romanov — the Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and Mario Chalmers in this metaphor? — are not as accomplished as Moorlands Totilas.) He also happens to be one of 20 openly gay Olympians participating at the summer games in London, only three of whom are men, and one of the riders competing against a horse co-owned by the wife of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney (who opposes the legalization of gay marriage).
Ann Romney’s Rafalca will be ridden by Jan Ebeling. Thanks to the prominence of Rafalca’s co-owner, quite a bit of digital ink has been e-spilled about Rafalca’s Olympic journey, but in truth, she may not be such a great bet. When you consider her qualification path — Ebeling and Rafalca placed third at the United States Equestrian Federation National Dressage Championships earlier this year, while Gal has long been a dominant force in international competitions — it becomes pretty clear that the pride of the Romneys is something of a longshot.
One thing that’s certain is that the two parallel storylines will give dressage more attention than the sport’s ever seen before. In one, a plucky upstart American mare looks to dethrone the dominant and intimidating European rider who’s facing competition without his famed partner (a horse who was sold for somewhere between $11.5 million and $18 million, and whose sperm is still sold for as much as $10,000 a pop, or more than 3 times as much as the next most expensive sample from the same dealer). In the other, one of the most accomplished gay athletes in the world will compete against a horse owned by the wife of a conservative Christian who is running for the highest office in a country that is still debating whether it’s okay for a man to love another man. Who would have thought that one of the more compelling battles of this Olympiad would involve dancing horses?