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Kathleen Parker: Horse sense

BY KATHLEEN PARKER Published: June 25, 2012
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The punch line is at least as old as the eldest baby boomer: “I didn't get a pony.”

Here's Jerry Seinfeld: “I hated those kids (who had ponies). In fact, I hate anyone that ever had a pony when they were growing up.”

Why is this funny? Because we all know that, for the most part, kids who had ponies were the rich kids. The lucky ones. Nearly every child wants a pony at some point and so we all relate to Seinfeld's “hate.” We don't really hate them, of course, but we do envy them. In today's political climate, we are invited to resent and hold them in contempt.

It is but a short canter from hating pony people to despising the horse crowd. And this is because people who own fancy horses — thoroughbreds or heaven forbid (you knew this was coming) Olympic horses — are very, very rich. We just call them the One Percenters these days.

Thus, Ann Romney, wife of the presumptive Republican nominee, recently became a target of ridicule when it was revealed that she co-owns an Olympian horse that will compete in dressage, a sport she apparently enjoys.

Dressage and horseback riding in general offer other rewards, including therapy for people who suffer maladies from physical disabilities to emotional imbalances. Anyone who has ridden knows the deeply satisfying synchronicity between the movements and rhythms of human and horse. The emotional bond that also develops is not insignificant.

For Ann Romney, riding has been helpful in dealing with her multiple sclerosis. Indeed, horseback riding is a commonly recommended activity for MS sufferers. Because the natural walking gait of the horse is similar to a human's, riding helps restore balance, coordination and posture, all of which can be affected by the disease's assault on the spine and central nervous system.

Why, then, have some seen fit to ridicule Ann Romney's choice of activities? Stephen Colbert can be forgiven his fun with the news, which focused on dressage as the not-so-common-man's sport. But others have been less funny. Leading the charge on the political side has been MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell, who, while insisting that he wasn't commenting on Romney's MS, pointed out that the Romneys treat the horse as a business rather than a health expense.

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