Daniel Bluman & Sancha LS jumping clear in the Turkish Airlines Prize. Ph. ©Erin Gilmore for NF
It’s been three days since Daniel Bluman pulled off a three-peat of wins at the 2017 Hampton Classic Horse Show, and the 27-year-old rider is still on a high from the week’s accomplishments. The two-time Olympian won three of the feature FEI competitions at the Hampton Classic in Bridgehampton, NY, including the biggest one of them all, last Sunday’s $300,000 Hampton Classic Grand Prix CSI4*. He edged out friendly rival McLain Ward, who placed 3rd, and the two bantered back and forth in the press conference, revealing that while Bluman is a fierce competitor, his true nature is relaxed, and open hearted.
When we caught up with Bluman, who represents Israel, we found an introspective side to him as well. After carefully managing his top string through downtime and injuries last year, he has found himself back at the top with a full stable of top performing horses, both young and old.
Read on to find out why Bluman strives to become the best horseman he can be, what his longtime partner Sancha means to him, and why the Hampton Classic is one of his favorite annual stops:
NoelleFloyd: Growing up, did you take lessons or were you a working student?
DB: I took lessons at the barn where I kept my horse in Weston, FL and on the weekends we were in Wellington for the winter season. As I got older I did some catch riding for Todd Minikus and several riders who had their horses for sale.
The idea of just being a catch rider or riding horses for other people wasn’t what I imagined myself doing in the long run, and I realized very quickly how I wanted to approach the sport. From a young age, I saw it as both a sport and a business. I wanted to be my own boss, and to create a business I needed to be able to buy, train, develop, and sell young horses, and that’s what I did. I wanted to have partners, of course — which I’ve been very lucky to have— but I don’t really ride horses that I don’t own a share of. There are some sponsors and owners out there that are fantastic to have — even if they own the entire horse — but I haven’t yet had the chance to work in a situation like that.
NF: How did you first build momentum in the industry?
DB: My approach was to find a way to participate in the sport and run a business at the same time. In any business, you have to make something in order to sell it. You have the raw material and then there is a process of manufacturing that material into a product and then you sell the product. In our business, the raw material is the horse. The manufacturing work is the process of training the horse to become better, and then the developed horse is the final product. That is what you sell.
For me, that was the answer; finding horses that are either young and need training so that we can sell them, or horses that are untrained that we can produce and sell later on. In the beginning I only rode one horse and when I was able to make a little bit more money I got to ride two, and thats how I started to grow my string. I hit a home run along the way with a nice horse that I produced and sold for a lot of money, so I was then able to grow a little bigger.
When I saw that I was doing things correctly, I motivated people to invest with me for the same purpose, and then it gets to a point where the investors are making money and they keep investing. Ten years later we now have a proper business where we can buy and sell, and a great young horse program established in Europe where all of our young horses are being developed.
I met William Schwitzer, co-owner of Over The Top Stables, two years ago. He is more than an investor, he is a sponsor. He’s fine with me when I say lets sell and make the money, but he doesn’t push me to do it. That gives me the opportunity to not only produce the horses for selling or the business, but rather for the sport.
I think this is a turning point in my sports career because now I actually get to keep the horses I produce and compete at the highest level. Before I didn’t really have that chance. It was only Sancha that I got to keep because she was mine, and I decided not to sell her.
NF: Would you say that it’s essential for everyone to have their own individual approach?
DB: Yes, you have to know what your personality is. If you’re okay with working for someone and letting them make the decisions because that makes you feel safe and comfortable, then you should go for that approach. If you’re someone that has a little bit of a business instinct and you think you can make a business out of it and do the sport at the same time, then you can take my approach. There isn’t only one way, but the one thing that is for sure is that if you want to be successful — any way that you decide to go — you need to know the sport. You need to be a horseman, you need to know and understand horses, and you need to understand how the sport works inside out. That’s one thing that we all have in common, regardless of our approaches. The great ones know about horses and they understand the sport inside out.
NF: How many horses do you currently have in your string?
DB: I currently have six horses who are already jumping the FEI international divisions, which is fantastic. This is the first time in my life that I’ve been able to have a group like this. Last year, three of my top horses — Sancha, Believe, and Apardi — had small injuries, so I gave them a little bit of time off.
Those horses did a lot for me in the past years, so when they were off, I really started putting experience and training in Entano, Ladriano, and Bacara, and now those three have gained enough experience that they can compete in the big leagues. Sancha, Believe, and Apardi are pretty much back in the sport as well, back in training, back jumping and showing. Now I have all of them together which gives me the possibility of keeping them fresh and getting strong results when I take them out to the shows.
NF: How has your seven-year partnership with Sancha influenced the system you use to manage your horses?
DB: I learned a lot with her. I made most of the mistakes one could possibly make in the last seven years through trial and error. That’s how I believe you learn, by being honest with yourself and trying different things and systems until you find your own. She’s been by my side through the entire process.
Even when I made bad mistakes in my management or in my training or situations like that, Sancha was still good under those circumstances and she was able to get decent results. The good thing is that when I did things very right and when I made the right decisions, we got spectacular results.
Last year I believe she was having the best moment of her career. She was really jumping consistent, clear rounds on the biggest stages. Unfortunately she missed the Olympic Games due to an injury, but now that she’s back she seems to be jumping better than she did last year. I’m excited that she’s fresh and she has the other horses to help her now in the CSI5* grand prix’s. Before she was the only one and she had to take a lot of weight for my career. Now that I have the others she can stay fresh and get good results.
NF: In what way has your program benefited from your growing string?
DB: Having a nice group of horses allows you to really compete them where they jump the best and where they can do a better job. I can also keep them fresh and I don’t have to keep them going all year long. I can pick the times of the year where they can have an extended vacation so that their brains and their bodies can get fresh and relaxed again, which is something that I always really wanted to do.
I think it’s very important for every athlete, horse and human, to be able to have time off. Now that I’ve known Sancha for so many years I know exactly where she jumps the best, so I’m just going to take her to the places where I think she can win. Hopefully in the years she has left in her career she can add a few more good results at the right places.
NF: How do you keep the horses fit at home?
DB: We consider fitness to be very important in our program. I really believe that although we do jumping, horses need to be able to do the simple dressage exercises perfectly. I think that makes their bodies stronger and makes them better in their mind. It makes the connection between the rider and the horse much better.
We try, to the best of our knowledge, to make a good plan for each horse every year, taking into consideration their strengths and weaknesses. Once we have a show schedule for each horse, and with the intensity of the exercise, flatwork, and jumping, we try to get them to peak at the right moments.
The Hampton Classic is definitely one of the places where I wanted my horses to peak. My sponsors were there and the show is very important for my owners. For the past few years I haven’t had the chance to bring the A horses or my A game to the Hamptons for different reasons with the horses travelling from Europe. This year I was able to get everything right and we had a fantastic week, so it ended up perfect for us.
NF: What factors do you believe contributed to your success last week at the Hampton Classic?
DB: I think the timing was right. The horses have been resting since the last week of Spruce Meadows so they were fresh. From the beginning of the year they were really competitive, and both horses have been with us for enough time that they’re really trained and they understand the system. I’ve been riding well lately and I guess we had some luck, and the results played out for us.
I like the field and I think the footing this year was very good; it held up well throughout the entire week. I think they do a really good job and I think it’s definitely one of the best horse shows in North America. It’s beautiful and the people are educated about the sport. It’s a great show.
NF: You’ve had a lot of success on the grass arenas. Do you prefer that footing?
DB: I wouldn’t say I prefer it but that’s where some of my greatest results have happened, and I think my horses have particularly had a lot of success on the grass. I like both, as long as the footing is good. A good grass ring or a good sand ring is great. A bad grass ring or a bad sand ring is terrible. As long as the footing is good and the show managers are horsemen who know what’s good and what’s bad. That really makes a difference in the end.
NF: In a previous article, you mentioned that you’re “on your way to becoming the horseman you’ve always wanted to be.” Who is that person?
DB: For me, it has always been very important the sport doesn’t forget that greatness isn’t determined by the rider, but by the rider and the horse combined. In my opinion, I believe that the great athletes of the sport and the best riders in the world are the ones who are capable of winning and staying at a high level of consistently with the same group of horses.
Using horses and then just getting rid of them and getting a new string and continuing that cycle is not what motivates me or what encourages me to learn and to become the horseman that I want to be. I’ve always wanted to be able to keep a group of horses for many years, get results with them for many years, create a close relationship, get to know them inside out, and be able to honorably retire them in their late teens.
I think that’s really how, in my opinion, the top riders and horsemen are measured. By the longevity that they’re able to have their best horses perform. Sancha is 14, she feels amazing, she’s fresh, and I’m well on my way to getting her to finish her career in the way that I dreamed for my horses.
NF: What events do you hope to attend in the future?
DB: For me, championships are the majors of the sport. Then you have the Grand Slams, followed by any other grand prix’s in the world.
For me that’s the order of importance. The first event we have in mind right now is the World Equestrian Games next year in Tryon. We’re going to keep filling out the plan with that in mind. It would love to jump Aachen again. It was an amazing experience for me and I’d really like to take Ladriano next year. The ‘Masters’ at Spruce Meadows if everything is right to go there. The same with Geneva, and then after that you keep going down the list. I’ll be aiming to perform well in those competitions with the group of horses I have right now, and then we’ll see if we can continue to climb those rankings.