On March 27, a panel discussion was held in Wellington, Florida, to discuss the future of show jumping. At that discussion Israeli show jumper Daniel Bluman posed the question: “Are there realistic chances or opportunities for a middle-class 12-year-old in this country to pursue show jumping? Or has this sport in North America become something that is out of reach for kids who aren’t really well off? Do you think that’s affecting our sport in North America because we don’t have that fan base?”
The next morning Bluman took to Facebook proposing top riders and trainers create a mentorship program for hardworking young riders.
Bluman chatted with the Chronicle about the problems he sees in the sport in the United States and outlined his plans for how to fix them.
When I was invited to go to the open forum, I discussed with Cesar Hirsch, who was organizing. I said, “In my opinion there is something that is not being paid attention to: the fact that in America we are not producing enough riders from all opportunities, from middle class people.”
And what that meant, for me, was not only an opportunity to be an Olympian. There are many, many jobs in our industry that are super well paid, a great lifestyle, are good jobs for people to have, and we don’t have people to even take the jobs. There are not even people looking for the jobs because we’re not producing these type of equestrians.
It’s so expensive that it keeps [out] the middle-class people. Kids or young riders—they quit the sport with a bad taste. They quit the sport when they’re 15, 16, 17. They can’t afford it anymore, and then they quit the sport and do something else, and that’s it. That’s the end of their career.
They never look at getting back into horses, and these are potential people who I believe would be able to, if not be riders, then they could be great managers or great grooms or great officials, or great something because they have all the enthusiasm.
The Expense Is Debilitating
In Colombia [where I grew up], it’s also, of course, a sport where you have to have X amount of money to do it. It’s not like anybody can do it, but it’s nothing like the U.S. I’ve been all over the world, and there’s no country where the sport is more inaccessible than the United States.
The entry fees and the shows are extremely expensive. It’s something that you really have to be very wealthy. [If you’re] middle class or even middle class going to higher class, no chance. It’s another level.
I’ve worked in different parts of America, and I’ve worked with kids and their parents. I’ve spoken with their parents, and they’re giving up. They can’t afford it, and the kids are having to do something different. They’re having to pursue other dreams and finish with their horses and finish with a bad taste, and it shouldn’t be like that.
Money can help a lot, and we get a leg up from our parents and the amount they spend, and there are many more opportunities to learn from the best because it’s our business, and that’s totally OK. But I believe there should also be a possibility for people who don’t have it. That possibility is for them to get knowledge from the best. Not knowledge from people who don’t have it. Knowledge from the best riders and trainers in North America. It’s something that all of us can do.
Lending A Helping Hand
I already do it myself with [Isabela de Sousa]. I really admire how she works. She’s super motivated, and she’s a nice rider, a great horseman. She really cares for the horses. She lives in Kentucky and is now 16 or 17 years old.
It’s not difficult. It just takes a little bit of time answering their phone calls or messages or bringing them to work with us whenever they have a chance. That girl I know is going to have a position in the industry without a doubt. She knows that she has a helping hand, which in the end is what most people just need.
She was probably 14 when I was first introduced to her by my vet. It caught my attention that she was very motivated and was always looking out for her horses and grooming her horses and taking care of her horses before school. Just somebody who truly, truly loves the sport.
So I met her, and we started to chat a little bit, and she’s always following me on social media. At some point she had no horse to jump, and I had another horse that was coming back from an injury in Kentucky, and I gave it to her. I said, “Look, it’s your horse. You can do whatever you want with it.” She showed it for a season and was very successful. The horse was injured again, so we retired it. Then I sent her another horse, but this time with the idea of a little bit of business. I said, “You’ll have the horse; you’re going to train it; you’re going to show it. You’re going to get experience, but you’re going to make sure that the horse is going well, so we can lease it or do something with it.”
She was great about it. She was young and still tried and showed the horse in many competitions. It was very good, and then eventually the horse was leased through a contact that she found in the area. So that’s how the relationship really began.
She spent some time with us here this winter for about a month and a half, and she was training, riding, working, managing and doing the whole thing. Having that access to all that information and knowledge is what’s going to make a difference to her. At the moment she has the opportunity to jump into the big sport.
Knowledge Is Imperative
I strongly believe that although we know it’s an exclusive sport, we should still give some opportunities to the younger kids. For sure, we know in America it’s so expensive, but we should be able to allow people from the middle class, and people who maybe don’t have that kind of money, to also have a chance.
How? By giving them knowledge. If you give them knowledge, then they can grow up in the sport. If they don’t have money, it’s going to take them longer, but if they have the knowledge, sooner or later, they’re going to get a break. They’re going to meet a sponsor; they’re going to get a client; they’re going to have an opportunity.
But if they don’t have the knowledge, they’re going to ruin the opportunity really fast. They’re going to go through the money they get from their sponsor in two seconds, and that’s going to be the end of their career. But if we help them, and if we mentor them, they probably won’t make those mistakes, and they will have the opportunity to get a break.
We see stories like Laura Kraut, like Todd Minikus, and many other riders who are top riders in America who didn’t come from the wealthiest of situations. They worked their way up and came from normal families and ended up being in high sport.
If we don’t do something about what’s going on right now, that won’t happen anymore. The next generations are all going to be—and only will be—people who grew up wealthy. There’s nothing wrong with that. I had a great upbringing. I was very lucky I did well, and my father is a great businessman. I’m not saying it should have anything to do with money. I’m saying there should be chances for everybody.
Bridging The Gap Through Mentorship
I suggested a scholarship and mentorship program, and I’m already working with some people to put it together. We’re going to be open to X amount of mentor programs, where different professionals in the industry, riders and trainers and stuff like that, are going to volunteer their time to be a mentor to a young rider or kid for free.
That mentoring means that we’re going to be available to answer questions: a text message, a phone call, stuff like that. Plus they’re going to have the opportunity to work with us in the summer when they’re not in school or through Florida during their winter breaks and be part of the organization and work with the professional and work with our teams and gain that knowledge that they need.
I think through this we’re going to have a big impact on the young generation of Americans and motivate them to continue and educate them so they can see a future in the equestrian industry. And at the same time we’re going to grow our fan base for our sport by using social media.
Social media is the tool that we’re going to use for the kids to share their stories. That’s pretty much how we’re going to be picking the people who are going to get the scholarships: first of all from social media. Then after the social media we’ll probably get a group and interview them a bit and have a little bit more background info, and then we’ll come up with our final group of people who are going to be part of the mentoring program.
We’re going to give as many mentorships as we can depending on how many professionals we have who are willing to give their time. If we can have 20, then we’ll have 20. If we can have 30, we’ll have 30; if we have 50, we’ll have 50. We’ll try to have as many people as we can be involved, so we can mentor as many people as we can and take it from there.
I’ve had a lot people see the post, which is very gratifying. The idea is simply to put in the time. It’s very simple.
The idea is to create a huge social media thing because that’s something that’s going to grow, and we’re going to get more kids and more people dreaming and hoping that they’re going to be selected. And that’s going to grow the sport from the bottom up.
Hopefully we can create a great change for this amazing country that we have and that we’re lucky to live on. It’s really an honor, and I’m proud to be able to be here and of the opportunity this country has given me, and it’s good to give back and make this country an amazing place to grow up in the equestrian industry.
Daniel Bluman, 28, was born in Colombia. He started riding at age 3, and his passion for horses rapidly developed into an obsession. As a young rider Daniel competed in Colombia, Germany and in the USA. In 2007 he moved to Wellington, Florida, where he started his professional riding career. In 2013, Daniel headed to Belgium, where he trained with Nelson Pessoa and started competing at the top levels. He’s now based in West Chester County, New York, and Wellington, Florida. He’s represented Colombia in two Olympic Games, two FEI World Equestrian Games and two Pan American Games. In 2017, Daniel started representing his second country Israel, and he’s now helping that country gain traction on the international equestrian scene.