By Kathryn McMackin
Portraits by Shawna Simmons
When Daniel Bluman talks horses and show jumping, he speaks with intent.
“Every horse, every day, you learn something new — the horse will teach you,” Daniel said. “Horses will teach you everything. And then, when you think you know everything, you know nothing.”
Daniel has taken these lessons to heart. At 28 years old, Daniel has represented Colombia, South America, at two Olympic Games — London 2012 with Sancha LS, and Rio de Janeiro 2016 with Apardi. He was a contender in two World Equestrian Games, as well as two Pan American Games.
This year alone, he’s racked up stellar performances at the Winter Equestrian Festival, including a speedy win with Sancha LS in the $205,000 NetJets Grand Prix CSI4*, snatching the title in the $15,000 Turf Tour Grand Prix with Esme, and claiming top prize in the $384,000 Fidelity Investments CSI5* Grand Prix with Ladriano Z.
He has a string of horses in his barn that includes championship contenders, speed specialists and everything in between.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said, his voice going soft for a moment. “When I wake up every day and know the horses I have waiting in the barn, it’s a dream. It’s unbelievable for me.”
The World Equestrian Games is Daniel’s main target for 2018. However, he has a list of other objectives he’s set in his sights, including the events that comprise the Rolex Grand Slam, placing him in the ring among the best riders in the world.
The first step in the Bluman method of becoming a horseman is to love horses. “Not as a tool for the sport, but loving horses as a horse — as an animal,” Daniel explained.
With this appreciation comes a yearning to understand horses, to improve their quality of life, as well as a desire to learn their individual ways and mannerisms, he continued.
The second step is to surround yourself with great horse people, and soak up the knowledge. “Watch how they work and perform, how they train,” Daniel said.
There are two horsemen whom Daniel describes as being instrumental in his growth within the equestrian sport: Nelson Pessoa and Dr. Jorge Gomez.
“Pessoa is one of the most amazing horsemen I’ve ever met,” said Daniel, who moved to Belgium in 2013 to train with the legendary Pessoa. “I was able to live very closely and train with him every day for a long time. That was the greatest influence on my career.
“And Dr. Gomez, he’s a fantastic vet and horseman. To learn from him opened my eyes in terms of what a horse actually is and how to manage one.”
Also joining Daniel’s endless list of influencers are Eric Lamaze, McLain Ward, Kent Farrington and Jeroen Dubbeldam. “Watch these guys and watch how they manage their careers,” Daniel said. “There are so many wonderful riders out there who do things properly. Just take in all the information.”
The final step: Listen to the horses.
“Horses will teach you,” he continued. “I’m only 28 and I’ve been able to learn so much very quickly because I have people around me who have so much knowledge to share. But if one doesn’t have access to the people, if you spend enough time with the horses, they will teach you.”
Daniel was 3 years old when he first climbed on the back of a horse. Born in Medellin, Colombia, Daniel always loved animals, and his parents, Samuel and Orly, put him in riding lessons to be around horses. Daniel’s older cousins were already riding in small competitions, which captured the rookie rider’s interest.
In 2000, when Daniel was 10 years old, his family moved to South Florida near Fort Lauderdale, about an hour from Wellington, giving the aspiring rider access to the Winter Equestrian Festival.
“That was a game changer,” Daniel said. “I had access to world-renowned riders doing their thing. It motivated me and inspired me to keep working, keep learning and to find my way to be a part of it.”
Daniel may not have come from an equestrian family, but his parents and brother Steven have been a pillar of support from the beginning. Samuel and Orly raised Daniel and Steven to work for what you receive, and ensured he was educated and prepared to tackle whatever life threw at him.
“My family gave me the tools to get started in this sport,” Daniel stated. “But when my cousin Ilan Bluman and I decided to become professionals, it was up to us to make it happen.”
The cousins founded Bluman Equestrian in 2009, when Daniel and Ilan were still young riders. “It’s important to be able to share our knowledge,” Daniel said. “There are a lot of young riders who have been able to benefit from what we’ve been able to learn and pass along to them.”
In 2018, Bluman Equestrian is now a full-scale equestrian operation. The U.S. branch of the business is based out of New York and Florida, while the European branch is based out of Belgium.
When asked what part of the industry most excites him, Daniel doesn’t even hesitate. “Producing young horses — 100 percent,” he replied. “To take a horse from the moment they start jumping decently — around 6 years old — all the way to the grand prix level is, to me, amazing. It’s the most unbelievable process. I love to see how they grow, how they change.”
At the mention of Sancha LS, Daniel’s voice takes on a different, loving tone. His admiration and appreciation for his long-time partner is palpable.
The pair first crossed paths in 2010 when Daniel was an up-and-coming Colombian rider, and the mare was a 7-year-old with talent and speed. Astride the game La Silla-bred mare, Daniel burst onto the international show jumping scene.
To say Sancha LS was a turning point for Daniel is an understatement. “It’s all because of her,” he gushed. “Because of her I’ve been able to go to the most important competitions in the world. It means so much to be at those big European shows, to see what I saw and to have the access to experience and the information. It’s made me a much better rider and a better horseman.”
At 15 years old, Sancha remains a force to be reckoned with in an international arena. The duo has had success in top competitions in Aachen, Calgary and Geneva. She carried Daniel to two World Equestrian Games, as well as the 2012 Olympic Games in London, where they clinched a top-20 finish.
“One of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life was not to sell Sancha when the opportunity came,” he reminisced. “It was, for many, a crazy decision when I decided not to sell her.”
In 2010, Sancha was the only horse he had, Daniel explained. But, on the heels of Pan American Games and Olympic performances, the offers came.
It’s a tough decision for a young professional: take the money or keep the horse. “I didn’t know how I was going to make sure the money would get me somewhere,” he said. “I didn’t want to end up with no money and no Sancha. I tried to be logical and leave my heart out of it. The moment I started to think with my heart, the decision was easy. I was in love with the mare. She was my happiness.”
After a year off, Sancha LS made her return to the international ring in 2017, snatching up a second place in the Rolex Grand Prix at CHI Geneva in December, and winning the $205,000 NetJets Grand Prix CSI4* in Wellington, Florida, in February.
Philosophy of Life
In 2017, after eight years of representing Colombia, Daniel started riding under the Israeli flag. It wasn’t a change he took lightly.
Daniel wanted to give this new chapter as part of Team Israel his all. He wanted to grow the Israeli presence on the international scene, zeroing in on building equestrian sports in Israel while keeping an eye firmly planted on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“And it’s happening,” Daniel said enthusiastically. “I think we’re going to be a team who contends on any major stage worldwide. The reception and support Team Israel is getting is amazing, and we’re motivating other riders to make the switch.”
It’s clear that representing Israel is more meaningful to Daniel than delivering Nations Cup and championship results.
A dual citizen of Colombia and Israel, Daniel spent the first decade of his life in Colombia. But his family is from all different parts of the world. His grandfather survived the Holocaust, spending three years in Auschwitz before moving to Colombia. In 2016, Daniel married his love, Ariel, herself a show jumper who competes for Israel.
“Through it all, the one thing that has always remained with me is my culture; what it means to be Jewish and to come from a family who has had to go through the Holocaust,” Daniel said. “Israel means a lot to me. Israel is a country that accepts every person — it doesn’t matter your sexual orientation, your race, your religion, your ideas. It’s a country that embraces you without prejudice … This is an amazing philosophy of life from an area of the world where living is not so easy.
“I’m very proud and emotional when I think about representing the Israeli flag,” he added.
Make an Example
Daniel is the first to admit he’s not often away from a horse. He and Ariel have made a life around the sport, so Daniel’s nearly always doing something horse-related. But when he’s not, you can find him watching movies at home with Ariel, spending time with his family and investing as much time as he can into the charity organizations he supports.
But recently, Daniel went skiing. “I went three months ago for the first time and I’ve gone three times since,” he remarked. “Everything about skiing is fantastic: the nature, the views, the mountains, being able to do sport while you’re in these mountains. And then there’s the adrenaline of going down the mountain.”
This winter, Daniel carved out two breaks in his schedule to head to the mountains. He returned to the ring refreshed and ready to keep competing and working.
But even on the mountain, Daniel’s goals and priorities are clear. “I would like to be remembered as a horseman more than anything,” he said. “I want to be known as someone who knew his way around horses and did it in an honest way. And I want to be remembered more than anything as a good person; as someone who holds his values very strongly and made horses his life, and made his lifestyle an example in the horse industry.”
For more information, visit blumanequestrian.com
Photos by Shawna Simmons, SAS Equine Photography, www.shawnasimmons.com, unless noted otherwise