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Daniel Bluman’s best year yet

Wednesday, 18 September 2019
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping Daniel Bluman with his top horse Ladriano Z, that has been produced by Bluman's team since he was a 6-year-old. "To see him come along to what he is now, is extraordinary," Bluman says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

As fall is approaching, Daniel Bluman can look back at his best season yet. Winning the prestigious CSIO5* Rolex Grand Prix of Rome in May, as well as the CSI5* Douglas Elliman Real Estate Grand Prix during the Winter Equestrian Festival at the beginning of the year – both with Ladriano Z – the 29-year-old rider went on to help Team Israel secure a ticket to Tokyo at the Olympic qualifier in Moscow back in June. As the cherry on the cake, Ladriano Z rose to the number one spot on the WBFSH FEI rankings for April and Bluman himself was awarded as ‘Rider of the Year 2018’ by the international equestrian yearbook L’Année Hippique. 

Despite his young age, Bluman has already been busy achieving a lot. He’s trained with legends such as Nelson Pessoa and Eric Lamaze, he’s competed at two Olympic Games, three World Equestrian Games, three Pan Am Games and more recently at his first European Championships after changing flags from Colombia to Israel. 

Highly successful flying the Colombian colours, Bluman made a big decision in 2016 when he decided to make a change to represent Israel. Bluman’s family tree has strong roots to Israel, with his grandfather on his mother’s side being Israeli while his grandfather on his father’s side was a Polish Jew – who after surviving Holocaust during World War II, moved to Colombia. “My family’s history was definitely part of what made me decide to switch to the Israeli team,” Bluman says. “It felt a bit like my duty. My wife Ariel is also Israeli, so it has come full circle.”

“William Schwitzer, one of my friends and most important supporters, was also very enthusiastic about a change of flags. We were able to create a good founding for the federation – also to help the sport grow nationally inside of Israel,” Bluman continues to explain. “Team Colombia was also strong at the time, I did not feel I was doing any great damage by leaving them and I felt I could do so much for Israel. The idea of uniting riders with dual citizenship from all over the world and putting them all together really caught my attention. Like an all-star team kind of thing. Jumping is an extremely small sport in Israel, but now they have a strong group of riders on top – hopefully that can be of inspiration to those coming under. It was no different in Colombia if we go back to 2008. Then doors were opened by those that went as pathfinders, and younger riders saw what was possible. Today, the sport is bigger than ever and the country has had teams at the World Equestrian Games and the Pan Am Games.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping Ladriano Z rose to the number one spot on the WBFSH FEI rankings for April. "I might be the rider now, but there is an entire team behind his success!” Bluman tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

One of the visions when creating the foundations of the Israeli team, was to be able to send a team to the Olympic Games 2020 in Tokyo. That vision was realised earlier this summer. “That was a major step in Israeli showjumping,” Bluman says. “Never before did they have a team nor an individual competing in equestrian sports at the Olympic Games.”

Bluman himself is excited about the project, saying: “I try to help everywhere I can, I’m very enthusiastic about it. All of us share the same belief, we’re all about the sport, there are no politics, and everybody is pushing for the same objective. Furthermore, we all root for each other to win which I think is really important.”

Born in Colombia, Bluman started riding at a young age. His older cousins rode already and quite early on Bluman got competitive and serious about the sport. In 2000, he moved with his family to the south of Florida. “There I was exposed to the higher level of the sport for the first time,” Bluman tells. “In Colombia we had been taught discipline, love for the horses and to be competitive – but nothing in comparison to what we would experience in the US. Wellington was an hour away from where we lived, and that changed everything for us. We were able to see high sport: Real horses, real riders, big Grand Prix classes.”

During his time in Wellington, Bluman befriended riders such as Pablo Barrios and Todd Minikus – who helped him on the path to become a professional.“When I finished high school, I devoted 100 % of my time to the riding,” Bluman tells. “In 2008, my mum and dad saw that I was giving my career choice everything I could. However, I did not have a horse to take me up in the classes so they decided to do one last investment in a horse that at least would let me do national level Grand Prix competitions. At that time, I was working for Pablo Barrios and together with him we found Secret. A few months later, Andres Rodriguez – a very good friend of mine – bought the horse, and the profit we made on the sale really gave me a boost. That made me realize that the only way I was going to make it in the sport was by producing young horses.” 

With the profit he made on Secret, Bluman bought himself an older horse called Fatalis – that allowed him to jump his first national and international Grand Prix classes. The rest was invested in younger horses. “That is how everything began,” Bluman tells. “Next thing I know, a few years later I got lucky again and Sancha came about as a 7-year-old. With her, everything skyrocketed.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping Daniel Bluman and Sancha LS: "With her, everything skyrocketed," he says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

The following year, in 2011, Daniel jumped at his first Pan Am Games – with Sancha. Despite being only eight at the time, the mare finished off with a 7thplace individually after strong performances. Quickly after, the offers started coming in. However, Daniel has promised himself not to sell the horse that brought him to his first Pan Ams. Fast forward to 2019, and the two are still a couple – with the Olympic Games in London on their record, as well as the World Equestrian Games in Caen and the Pan Ams in Toronto. 

Bluman’s first Olympic Games came under the mentoring of Eric Lamaze, a man that the Israeli rider has great respect for. “Prior to the Olympics, I was lucky enough to be taken under Eric’s wings. Under his mentoring Sancha and I won our first 5* together, and then we went on to qualify for the Olympics,” Bluman says looking back. “However, I was definitely not in the capacity of doing what we did that week in London,” he reflects on his Olympic debut. “That was just a complete perfect situation, great mentor, great horse – and I’m a good listener so I just did everything I was told,” he laughs. 

After the Olympics, Lamaze took a break from the sport and Bluman went back to Kentucky. “Quickly, the wheels came off,” Bluman recalls. “I remember my family asking, what did you learn – how does Eric work? And I could not remember. Because all I did was listen and do, I was not thinking much on my own. I was like a robot. On video it looked beautiful, but I did not know anything really. I was a complete work of Eric, and without him I felt lost.”

Soon after however, a new opportunity arose. Bluman got the chance to work with Nelson Pessoa. “With Neco, I was forced to start doing a lot more things by myself. He was not coming with me to all the shows, so I had to become more independent,” Bluman tells. “I decided to not make the same mistake again. I had been so busy just doing, but took no mental notes of anything.”

“Today, my whole program is based on Neco’s philosophy – from the daily management to how we work our horses on the flat. It’s all him.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping Daniel with his wife Ariel, his son Evi and Sancha LS – the horse that took his career to the next level. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Learning from the best has certainly paid off for Bluman. Today, he runs Bluman Equestrian – a hugely successful business that is thriving. “Through the years, Bluman Equestrian has grown,” he tells. “Now we have an operation that runs year around in Belgium with all the young horses, and we have an operation in Florida at our farm there and we also have our farm in New York that we bought last year. Normally, May to August is very busy with a lot of travelling – we spend a lot of time in Europe during those months. Three months of the winter we are fully based in Wellington, and for the rest out of New York. I work closely with my cousins Ilan and Mark as well as my brother Steven, so it’s beautiful – we get to do what we dreamed of as a family,” he says. “The team is key for what I can do, and the backbone of the business is our organisation in Belgium. Without the horse production here, the rest would not be possible. Camilo Robayo – who takes care of and runs the place in Belgium – is like family to me. Then there is Jessica Stanek – my main manager.I would also like to mention our vet – Dr. Gomez – who is a close friend, fellow horseman and advisor. He is imperative for the team. Also, Magali Dubois Vaucher – our PR manager that’s been with us for almost a decade – has been very important to us. Without all of them, we wouldn’t be having this chat today. Having the team we have now, after years of putting it together, is a real blessing,” Bluman smiles. 

“We’ve made our mistakes though,” Bluman tells about the development of his business.  “When you do young horses at a young age yourself, and you don’t come from a horse family, you’re going to make mistakes and we made them all.”

It seems however, that there have been more rights than wrongs for Bluman. “I learned to get creative early on,” he tells about how he has gotten to where he is today – before having even reached his thirties. “One thing I’m happy I learned early on is the production of young horses, which also took me to Europe. In America the expenses producing them were getting too high, it was just not working, so I came to Europe. Taking the production of young horses to a bigger scale has allowed us to do what we are doing now – including the big sport.”

“That’s a full circle,” Bluman says. “We buy young horses, we produce them, some stay in the string with me with different owners investing, some get sold.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping “Ladriano is an example we’re proud of,” Bluman smiles. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

The textbook example of what Bluman has specialised in doing is Ladriano Z, his current top horse. “Ladriano is an example we’re proud of,” he tells. “Ladriano came to us when he was six, and Camilo produced him as a youngster. Then Ilan Bluman, my cousin, took over and brought Ladriano up to three-star level. In 2017, I started competing him. When he was ranked the best horse in the world earlier this year, that was a complete team effort. To see him come along to what he is now, is extraordinary. I might be the rider now, but there is an entire team behind his success!”

Part of the success is also Bluman’s supporters, that either co-invests in or co-owns the horses with him. ”There is Blue Star Investment, the original group we founded ourselves and that different people have been part of over the years and invested in. Everyone involved in this group has made profits, and that is something I’m very proud of,” Daniel tells. “Then there is Over The Top Stables, owned by my friend William Schwitzer, that co-owns Ladriano, as well as Entano, Cartouche and also a few young ones. There is also Kim Douglas, who co-owns Colestina H. Together, Kim, William and I owned Baccara that was sold to California last year after being produced by us since she was five. Just like Ladriano, Baccara was a team effort that ended up being a really good horse and was sold. We’ve had a really fun run!” Bluman smiles. 

Next to Ladriano, who currently is ranked as one of the best horses in the world, Bluman has high hopes for the 9-year-old mare Colestina H that he co-owns with Douglas as well as the 8-year old mare Gemma W which is owned by Blue Star Investments. “Colestina H is an unbelievable horse, she might just go all the way to the top,” he says. “As to Gemma, I had her since she was five and I think she is very special. She has been produced by Camilo, and I took over the reins last year. I have a special feeling for her, I think she has all it takes.”

“To co-own the horses is very important for me,” Bluman says. “I always felt that if I could own or co-own the horses, I would really prefer to do so rather than riding horses that are fully owned by someone else. It’s complicated otherwise. It would take a very special owner, and a very special situation, for me to agree to ride horses that I don’t have a share in. If they are suddenly pulled away from you, all that dedication and hard work was for nothing. It’s just not a formula that works for me. Today, we are lucky to have horses that mostly are owned by the team itself but without our supporters we would never have reached this stage.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping "Today, we are lucky to have horses that mostly are owned by the team itself but without our supporters we would never have reached this stage," Bluman tells. Here with Entano, one of Bluman's co-owned stars. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Today, Bluman looks to the future with what he believes is the strongest group of young horses he ever had. “Our 5, 6 and 7-year-olds are all looking great. We’ve learned from our mistakes. Now we have a group of people we work with – breeders and dealers – and they know that we are serious and that we want to do things correctly. That makes it possible for us to have access to some very good youngsters,” Bluman tells. “We look for quality of course, a horse that naturally out of its own DNA does not want to touch the poles. Then we look to the technique, and how you can approve that technique with your work – because with experience and time you learn how to improve the horses, how you can help them and which horses you work with the best. Then of course the pedigree is important, it can give you so much information. We work with a lot of different lines, we work more with certain lines and some lines we don’t work with at all. Health is also such an important element, the vet check will make it or kill it. The horse needs to be physically made for the demands that are present in our sport today, not only the jumping but also all the travelling.”

“An example of how important health is, is my horse Believe. She was one of the best horses I ever had. She was so special, I loved her – but I remember telling my vet that I did not think she would make it through the sport for many years. She was so hard on herself, over-jumping, super quick with her feet – I just had the feeling she would not last, and she did not. I don’t regret it, she won so much for me, but it taught me to think twice when I have that gut-feeling,” Bluman tells. “Believe was spectacular, but at 11 years old her career was over. I really admire the riders that pro-long the careers of their horses until they are 15, 16 and 17, but then the horses also need to be able to cope with the work they have to do,” Bluman reflects. 

While he enjoys the success in business and sport, the most important of all for Bluman is the welfare of the horses – and he’s not shy to speak out about it. “It is non-debatable,” he says. “We should never forget why we do this sport. I always tell everyone around me that the horse goes first, winning goes second. There are ways to win, without sacrificing your horse – it’s harder yes, but it’s proven that it can be done. I’m all about fair-play to let the best combination win!”

 

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