The Dressage Foundation’s Century Club welcomed new members Saturday as Ann Romney and Donatello went down centerline in a Prix St. Georges freestyle to music chosen just for the occasion.
From Billie Eilish proclaiming “I’m a bad guy—duh!” to Jack Johnson singing, “We’re always better when we’re together,” to X Ambassadors’ “Two kids you and me; living like we’re renegades,” the lyrics spoke to Romney, and Donatello seemed to glow, too.
Romney, who turns 75 in April, and Donatello, her 25-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Del Piero—Armada), who last competed together at the Grand Prix level in 2020, made history as the first to complete their “initiation” ride in the International Arena at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival show grounds in Wellington, Florida. The pair were supported by a cadre of family, including husband U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney (Utah), friends, admirers, spectators and well-wishers.
The Dressage Foundation’s Century Club recognizes dressage riders and horses whose combined age totals 100 years or more. The pair must complete a dressage test before a recognized judge to be inducted into the club.
“It was so thrilling,” Romney said. “He felt like he was 5 years old.” Donatello, whom she’s owned since he was 9, proved he still has the goods as he revved up when it was time for tempi changes in the freestyle.
“I couldn’t bring him back enough to get them, but that’s OK,” she said with a laugh. “You know, that’s how he was when I showed him. He was very fresh, very forward, very hot.”
She was surprised when she mounted before the freestyle that coral-colored roses had been braided into Donatello’s mane for the occasion.
“He was so awesome in there, to just bring him in and like, go buddy,” she said.
Romney, who has multiple sclerosis, has long said that horses have been the key to her recovery.
“When I was so, so sick, I could hardly walk with no right leg,” she said.
Her Utah-based trainer, Margo Gogan, who was also on hand to witness her friend’s milestone, helped her put a leg over the saddle when she mounted a horse as part of her physical therapy some 25 years ago. She could only go around once before she had to dismount. Since that first ride, Romney has gone on to compete through the Grand Prix level.
“The horses have been my healers for sure,” she said.
As new members of the Century Club, Romney and Donatello join more than 700 members celebrating the club’s 35th year. In 2023 alone, 109 new team members from across the United States were added to the roster.
TDF Executive Director Jenny Johnson, who was there to witness the ride, said it’s become a “bucket list” item for many riders, including some people who have never ridden dressage before.
“For some riders, the Century Club is their entry point into the sport, and we’ve had many of them say that they plan to continue riding, taking lessons and competing,” Johnson said. She recalled a gentleman in his 70s who decided to learn how to ride just to become a member of the club. “Then there are those who have been riding dressage for many years, and the Century Club is a celebration of their lifelong journey in the sport. One Century Club rider recently shared her favorite quote, which is, ‘You don’t stop riding when you get old. You get old when you stop riding.’”
“She did such a beautiful job and we’re super honored that Ann chose to do this,” said Beth Baumert, president and CEO of The Dressage Foundation.
Romney’s longtime friend and coach Olympian Jan Ebeling said it best in his pre-ride opening remarks alongside fellow Olympian Robert Dover: “This is not a retirement celebration. This is a celebration of life and of health and accomplishment.”