By Doris Degner-Foster
Portraits by Barbara Bower
When Daniela Siberio’s mother suggested a riding vacation in Portugal, Daniela wasn’t entirely enthusiastic at first — partly because it had been years since she had ridden, and also because there would be dressage lessons as part of the riding holiday. Daniela’s teen years had been spent riding in jumper competitions when not casually riding with her friends, and the idea of dressage and the disciplined work on the flat that it entails didn’t sound like a fun vacation to her.
Daniela agreed to go and it proved to be a life-changing trip. “After that first trip, nothing would ever be the same again for me,” she said. “I fell in love with the Lusitano horses and in love with the sport of dressage as well.”
After that initial vacation to Portugal, Daniela went back whenever she had the chance. She had made friends there and she was captivated by the Lusitanos.
“When you come back to reality after a vacation, there’s an adjustment period, and I guess mine was just too much for me to handle,” Daniela laughed. “It wasn’t that I was unhappy working in my family’s insurance business, it was just that I saw an opportunity to pursue something I was really passionate about. I had gotten such a strong impression when I was over in Portugal.”
Daniela admitted that her career at the time working in an office wasn’t ideal for her personality, and that being an active, creative person, she probably wouldn’t have been comfortable in that atmosphere indefinitely. “I love being outdoors and being with animals or doing artistic things,” Daniela explained. “I think if I were not working with horses now that I would have left office work to pursue something artistic, whether it be dancing or writing or something along those lines.”
Making a Change
Although Daniela dreamed of becoming a professional in the horse world, she was hesitant to make the change. As an only child, she knew her parents would like for her to eventually take over the family business. She was just beginning her career there after graduating from Syracuse University with a dual bachelor’s degree in economics and international relations, so it was especially daunting to start a new career with horses. But her mother had set an example of a strong woman early in Daniela’s life, which left an impression on her.
“I grew up with my mom as a very strong female role model,” Daniela remembered. “She started her own business when she was only in her 20s and it’s grown to be very successful. She’s so good at what she does and so unapologetic about it. I grew up with this powerhouse in my home who never limited me. It has definitely marked my life and influenced the decisions I’ve made.”
Having spent the first 12 years of her life living in her mother’s native country of Mexico and with a Cuban-American father, Daniela was fluent in Spanish as well as English, and learning Portuguese was not difficult for her. As Daniela became more interested in starting a business working with the Lusitano breed, she developed her contacts in Portugal.
“I met some other dressage riders in Portugal and we became friends; they were the first to motivate and support me in starting my new career with horses, and I met more people there,” Daniela said. “It’s such a small community that everybody knows everybody and if you know one person you know 10 people. Portugal is pretty small and the breeders are all very well connected to each other — they’re either friends or family. Once I got that spark of meeting a few people, it was really easy to be welcomed into the horse community there.
Daniela would travel to Portugal twice a year to attend the two big horse fairs, which was helpful in keeping in touch with her friends there: One fair is in July in Ponte de Lima and another is in November, which is the famous Feira Nacional do Cavalo Lusitano. It’s held in what is sometimes known as the capital of the horse in the city of Golegã in Portugal and is a national fair dedicated solely to the Lusitano horse. Well-known breeders attend both fairs to show and sell their horses and the fairs are an ideal environment to catch up with old friends and meet new ones.
“What I immediately loved about the Lusitano breed is that they are not just beautiful, I think the breeding is making them much more athletic for the sport,” Daniela enthused. “They just have these incredible minds. People say this jokingly, but they’re like the golden retrievers of the horse world, where even from a young age they’re very curious and seem drawn to people. That’s what I find to be so unique for this breed: They want to have this very strong connection with their humans.”
Taking the Plunge
Since she didn’t come from a family that worked in the horse industry, Daniela felt like she was starting from scratch, but the support she received from friends in Portugal and in the U.S. made it less frightening. When her parents agreed to become partners in her business, Daniela was ready to move forward with her plans.
“We bought a place in Loxahatchee Groves in Florida; it’s a smaller barn and I live on site,” Daniela said. “I can look out my kitchen window and see my favorite horses looking out of their stalls back at me. I absolutely love what I’m doing. I have five horses now; two are my own personal horses and three are young horses that I’m training as sales horses. We chose to keep it small with 13 stalls and just a few boarders, which was our plan when we started this partnership. We kept it small so that we could keep it individualized. For the people who board here, they feel like this is their own personal barn.”
A special boarder is Cathy Robinson, who came as a reference shortly after they opened. “She has a broad background in the equestrian disciplines and she is just the sweetest, most kind and generous person,” Daniela said. “She was very encouraging when she saw me ride and said, ‘I’d love to help you in any way I can.’ Ever since then, she’s been like a guiding light.”
Seeing Cathy on a regular basis keeps Daniela motivated during the stages of progress with her riding and the training of her horses. Now riding as an adult amateur, Cathy isn’t Daniela’s trainer but simply helps her, encouraging her to keep learning and improving her riding.
Another mentor who is very dear to Daniela is Margaret Auerbach, who was her first official client when she opened her business. “Margaret took a chance on me when I still had a long way to go and a lot to learn,” Daniela remembered. “She’s the most loving and helpful person, like a second mother to me.”
Daniela’s trainer, John Amber of Pas de Deux Dressage in Wellington, Florida, has experience with young horses, which is beneficial to Daniela’s business of developing young Lusitanos. “John has such an expansive background in training in Germany. I completely love him as a rider and he has such a soft touch with horses,” Daniela said. “His philosophy is that you want the horse to want to do this for you, which I immediately clicked with. I think this is really what dressage should be about — horses wanting to do their job and having fun.
“It’s been really great working with John, especially because he has worked so much with young horses,” Daniela continued. “My oldest horse right now is nine and starting to go into the FEI levels. The others are all younger, so it’s great that he has a lot of experience in bringing young horses through the lower levels. It’s been really amazing to learn from him.”
Although Daniela admits to having a long-term goal of being a grand prix rider, she realizes that the journey is half of the fun — which is important in order to be in the sport for the long term. She emphasized, “It’s always great to have these big goals.”
With her numerous friends and contacts in the U.S. and Portugal, Daniela’s company, Lusitano Masters, caters to clients who are considering importing a horse from Portugal. “I definitely see it as a huge privilege to be able to help people find their equine partner,” she said. “To be able to ride these amazing horses is one of those things where once you experience it, it’s just so hard to imagine not making partnerships with other riders and having them find their own special horse.”
For more information, visit lusitanomasters.com
Photos by Barbara Bower, www.BarbarasVisions.com