Gemma W and Daniel Bluman have been on a roll this fall. At the National Horse Show (Kentucky) they jumped to second in the $226,000 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Lexington, and then they went north and won the $181,166 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Toronto at the Royal Horse Show CSI4* (Ontario) on Nov. 11. It’s just the latest win for the 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare (Luidam—Britt W, Unamiem), who also topped the $226,000 Kentucky Invitational Grand Prix CSI3* in April and earned wins on the Traverse City, Michigan, and Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida) circuits this season, among others. Her win in Toronto has propelled Bluman to the top of the Longines FEI North American League standings.
Bluman, 33, runs Bluman Equestrian alongside his cousins Ilan Bluman and Mark Bluman, and his brother Steven Bluman, with farms in North Salem, New York, and Wellington, Florida. He was born in Colombia and grew up there and in the United States, and he began riding for Israel in 2016.
We caught up with Daniel after his win in Toronto to discuss his star partner, his family and his experience as an Israeli whose country is at war.
Congratulations on your latest win with Gemma W. This is a mare who’s been a really consistent horse for you. Talk about your partnership.
“Gemma” and I have been together since she was at the end of her 5-year-old year, so seven years now. We got her from Alan Waldman, who bred her. When I first saw her, I really liked her. She was very green, and she had not been jumping too much, but Alan thought a lot about the horse. I really liked her eye and her attitude, and the feeling of how she came off the ground really light, and she was really smart. So we bought her then, and we’ve been training since.
She was a very sensitive mare, with a very particular way of holding the bridle. She could be a little bit on and off the bridle, which was very tricky at the beginning, and it wasn’t easy to have a consistent canter. But she was always super smart, very kind and electric careful.
You’ve moved her up the levels very mindfully, and the past few years she’s been doing very well. What’s the trick with getting her to the top?
Just like I am with every other horse, I’ve been trying to be mindful of where they are in their career, where they’re feeling comfortable, and what job they want to do. Horses are always evolving in every direction. Sometimes they want to jump higher, and maybe at some point you feel they should they should jump smaller for a little while, so you do that.
There are so many variables and things that can change. So I just try to listen to my horses every single day. I ride my horses at least four times a week—even if we’re showing, I still ride them four times a week. I try not to go to a show more than three days. I get to spend a lot of time listening to them and trying to make the best plan.
Gemma started jumping some nice classes when she was 8 years old. Then in her 9-year-old year was COVID, so obviously that slowed down things a little bit, but she was still jumping in two-stars, three-stars, and she finished the year jumping some four-stars. She was always very successful, always jumping clear rounds and having top finishes. In her 10-year-old year I was able to put pressure on her and jump some of the biggest classes in the world, including some classes in the Rolex Grand Slam. She was second in the Rolex Grand Prix in Wellington [Florida].
At that time [my top horse] Ladriano Z was injured, so she had to take the role of championship horse. When Ladirano came back into the sport, I was able to take a second and let her relax and find the position that she has now, which is my first horse with Ladriano. But I don’t aim her for championships, and now I don’t aim her for championship-level courses, like the Rolex Grand Slam and stuff like that. I feel like she has to put in a lot of effort to jump those classes, and I want her to be with me for many years. I try to be mindful of the venues and the classes that I pick for her, and she delivers. When you look at her record, and how much prize money she’s won, how many clear rounds she’s jumped and how many grand prix [classes] she’s won, it’s very special. She’s a very special girl.
Who do you have coming up behind her and Ladriano? How does Gemma fit in?
I have, fortunately, a strong group of young horses coming up. I have An 8-year-old mare named Corbie V.V. who is I think a very, very special horse, a special mare. We’re building her up to hopefully be the next championship horse if everything goes OK. She’s paddock buddies with Gemma: They go out in the paddock every day so they’re close with each other. They’re always together. I’m really looking forward for her, and we have an extended group of 7-year-olds, and we’ve made some investments in the last couple months in some projects, to try to fill in some gaps that we have in the string.
Ladriano continues to take the championship role. He’s turning 16, but he feels amazing. We try to pick the classes, keep him fit, keep him happy and he enjoys his job a lot. So thankfully we still have him in that role for the time being, and I think the role that Gemma plays in the string this year is her role. Regardless of how the string moves around, that’s a role that she will probably have for the next few years. If she’s successful at it, enjoys it, she’s very competitive, we’ll try to replicate seasons the way 2023 played out.
The question coming forward is, OK, Ladriano is going to take a step down from No. 1 horse. He’s going to have to play the role of jumping some 1.60 or 1.55 [meter classes] but not championship level. He’s turning 16 so it’s just a matter of time before we have to make the decision to step him down a little bit so he can finish his career winning and feeling comfortable in the division he decides to finish that beautiful career in. Now our horsemanship will be tested in how we develop the younger group of horses so that one of them can step up and take that main role and keep us where we’ve been in the last few years thanks to Ladriano, Gemma and the other horses that are very competitive in their levels.
Your family has started a horse business in Colombia. Talk about that.
I have a small breeding program in Europe, because I think the best place to breed at the moment continues to be Europe. We are building a state-of-the-art facility in Medellín, Colombia, which is where we were born, very close to the airport in an absolutely gorgeous area in the mountains. We’re making a facility where we are going to be able to develop the horses from age 4 to age 7 or 8, which is when they will start coming to America for us to take over. We will try to keep along 20 horses that are carefully selected. Every year we will be purchasing or selecting some of the ones that we breed, so we can have the best quality youngsters we can acquire, and produce them there in that facility. It’s very close to Florida, just a 2.5-hour trip on the plane, so it’s easy to get there, especially in the winter. When it’s not the winter, my cousins and my brother are making sure to go once a month to oversee the operation that is run by a fantastic young rider that has been training with us for a few years, Simon Paris.
In Europe we’ve been working with another friend of mine, Camilo Robayo, who lives in Belgium. Between the two of them we have extensions of Bluman Equestrian so we can keep working on next generation horses. It seems sport is heading in that direction: If you want to stay in the top of the game, you’re going to have to be producing good horses yourself.
The sport is changing into a place where you’ll see the better horsemen and the better business managers rise to the top and stay at the top. Of course being talented is important. Of course riding well is important, but it’s not going to be the determining factor.
Are you aiming toward the Longines FEI World Cup Finals?
I am not. It’s not one of the goals.
The Finals are being held in Saudi Arabia, which has strained relations with Israel, for whom you ride. Does that affect your decision?
It’s because I’m aiming to the Olympic Games [France]; it has nothing to do with that. Israel is in talks of normalizing relationships with Saudi Arabia, which would be great for the Middle East. But the reason I’m not attending is that I’m focused on the Olympic Games and trying to manage the string. There can’t be too much responsibility on Ladriano and Gemma, so I have to be smart how I pick my classes.
Who are you thinking for the Paris Olympic Games?
The 8-year-old for sure will not go to the Olympics. She for sure would be capable, but she’s too young, and she has too much of a beautiful career ahead of her to push her like that. At this point it’s looking like managing Ladriano correctly is the goal. It’s an extraordinary horse that’s had an extraordinary career. He missed the last Olympics, first because of COVID, and then when they postponed it a year he was injured. So it would be nice to be able to go with him, but again he’s turning 16, and he’s going to talk to me, and we’ll know if he wants to go, if that’s something that’s a goal, and hopefully it is because right now we don’t have many more options for taking a horse that has a realistic chance of performing. Ladriano can when he’s in good shape, so we’ll be aiming for that.
The Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel on Oct. 7 rocked the region and sparked a war. How did the attacks affect you personally?
It’s still affecting me. It’s been a very, very difficult five weeks.
My way of being, my instinct is always peace and respect and love for one another, regardless of race or ethnicity or gender or whatever. That’s how we were raised. To see that incredible amount of hate and how the terrorist attacks unfolded and the images that came out of there is super touching.
I have a very strong connection with Israel. In those communities that were terribly affected, which are in Gaza envelope, we have an equine therapy project that we’ve been working with, with kids and people from the area. Some of them got killed and some of them got kidnapped. This touches very close to home.
Then to see the rise of antisemitism, which was something I didn’t think I was going to witness in my life. Then the disappointment of seeing the reaction of our American institutions and universities, that was something that added to the pain that we already had, as well as the misinformation and way that people are taking sides in this tragedy. At the end of the day, it’s a human tragedy. A great majority of Israelis I know are suffering, not only because we lost a lot of families and kids and innocent people in Israel, but also because thousands of Palestinians are suffering, and millions are being displaced because a terrorist organization is fighting a religious war. They’re fanatics.
After a lot a reading and meditation, my moral conclusion to what’s going on is that when groups like Hamas are in power, humanity can’t thrive. How can you fight an enemy that doesn’t care about the life and wellbeing of its own people? They are an enemy that hates you more than they love their own children.
This is very difficult to comprehend because we live in 2023, yet we still see the behavior of some of the jihadists and religious extremists, which are damaging for society. I believe there’s no room for extremism anymore. It’s a world that’s open, and a world that is supposed to be progressing. Yet we’ve seen also extremism by the progressives, which is another crazy thing to see. When you look at what the movement of being progressive means, it’s actually the total opposite.
I believe in being progressive. I believe in what society had achieved in past 100 years in regards to, say, gender equality and sexual orientation equality and equality of people of different religions and colors. Yet you see this same group of people completely misinformed about what’s going on, taking to the streets to chant and say some things that are extremely damaging to society, let alone the Jewish people or the pro-Israel people.
Let me be clear: I also believe in a free Palestine. I also believe the Palestinian people deserve a better future where they can thrive like in any other nation around the world. I am both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, because I am pro-life, pro-human rights, and unfortunately right now the only way to get to that is by eradicating Hamas and terrorists groups that are fighting religious wars.
I’ve been spending countless hours in the past five weeks reading and reading and reading and educating myself on things I pretty much already know but had to study again to make sure I was getting all the details right. It makes it even more difficult to comprehend what’s happening. To comprehend that there are people taking positions that are absolutely immoral to society and for humanity.
So it’s difficult to cope with all of that, and at the same time try to continue with your routine and competing and everything else. It’s been a very difficult time. I believe in—and still have high hopes for—humanity; that’s just my personality. I do believe that there’s a way to come out of this mess stronger, more educated, and in a better place. Right now we have so many people suffering now on both sides. Unfortunately the leaders of the world are failing us, in many ways, and the people that end up suffering are the common folks, just normal people.
Israeli athletes across sports were barred from competing following the attacks. Have you had to undertake increased security measures?
When everything happened, the whole country was in a state of shock. The first thing is to try to put everyone in a position of some kind of safety, because you don’t want to add more headaches to a major disaster. We were asked to take a second. We couldn’t compete the rest of the week; it happened on a Saturday. The following week we could compete in America, because the ministry thought that it was safe enough. Then we had to stop for a week where Israel was trying to analyze how us athletes could get back into our respective sports. We were eventually allowed to do so with very strict protocols, how we had to travel, and how we had to interact with the public. We’re still in that protocol. There are certain places of the world we can’t compete all together at the moment, even if we wanted to. It’s just not allowed.
You were born in Colombia and have lived much of your life here in the U.S. Talk about your connection to Israel.
My grandfather is Israeli, my mother’s father. He was born there and came later in life to Colombia. My wife [Ariel Bluman] and her family is mostly from Israel, and for us Jews around the world, Israel is always a home away from home. My grandfather is a survivor of the Holocaust. We know what happened to him and his family. And we also know that the only reason this could never happen again is because we have the state of Israel. It’s that simple.
I always had a huge connection to Israel, and a huge connection to our culture and traditions. I wanted to contribute somehow, some way, to Israel. My craft is horses; that’s what I love and do well. Fortunately there was a way with horses I could contribute to Israel.
How do you balance fatherhood and an international show jumping career?
Being a husband and a father is more important than anything else in my life. So if you set your priorities straight in the beginning, then you’re able to work around that and still able to do the sport or to do what you’re passionate about. We’ve organized our life and our lifestyle so it’s very easy to be a father, a husband and a professional equestrian athlete. We have a house and farm both in Florida and New York, so I live where my horses live, so that makes it very practical and easy. I have to make sure to make a schedule where I don’t spend too many nights away from home, and a schedule where for many of those events my family can come with me.
You have two sons, Avi and Eli. Do they have ponies yet?
Avi is 5 and Eli is 3 ½. We have a pony they both ride. They both are riding already and Avi does some little fences on the ground. The idea that we have for them is for them to appreciate the horses as animals and nature, and to love and respect their horses. Of course we’re teaching them to ride from a young age, but the decision if they want to make horses part of their lifestyle will come at the end from them. They have no pressure. We’re showing them how much they love it, so they know what it means to father and mother and their cousins and their uncles. But at the end of the day they’ll make the decision if they want to be competitive or if they don’t. But they love the horses, which for me is the most important part.