LONDON — Rarely has an Olympic dressage horse received as much attention as Rafalca.
The 15-year-old, German-bred mare is part-owned by Mitt Romney’s wife and has been the source of political jokes questioning how the Republican presidential candidate can claim to know the problems of ordinary Americans when he inhabits the rarified world of dressage.
The sport, which is better known in Europe than the US, is the equine equivalent of ballet. Horse and rider (wearing top hat and tails) go through a series of steps that look like the horse is dancing: twirling pirouettes, prancing trots, and the crowd-pleasing ‘‘flying change,’’ which looks like the horse is skipping.
Ann Romney is expected to attend Rafalca’s Olympic debut, which gets underway Thursday with the Grand Prix dressage test at Greenwich Park.
His wife’s financial interest in Rafalca, a bay Oldenburg, has fed criticism that Romney is out of touch with the concerns of more modest-income voters. A top-flight dressage horse can cost more than six-figures, with upkeep running from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars a month.
The US dressage team has a shot at the bronze team medal.
‘‘All of our horses are peaking at the right time,’’ said US team member Tina Konyot, who will ride Calecto V. ‘‘The other competitors are watching us.’’
Rafalca’s rider Jan Ebeling said he welcomed the attention that the Romneys’ stake in Rafalca has given the sport since it’s given him a chance to show that dressage is hard work.
‘‘I think the biggest misconception is always that people think that you just sit on a horse and they just kind of trot around in circles,’’ he said. ‘‘That really is not the case.’’