Still early in his competitive career at the age of 30, Daniel Bluman has already made a name for himself on the international stage with victories spanning the globe. As one of the key members of Bluman Equestrian and their go-to rider for high-level competition, Bluman’s storied riding career has already taken him to competitions such as the Olympic Games, World Equestrian Games, PanAmerican Games, Longines Global Champions Tour, CHIO Aachen and numerous others that have contributed to his growing list of accolades and a winning reputation. With plenty of years still ahead of him, he has already accumulated a list of victories that rivals many longtime veterans of the sport.
But how did he get to that point? Behind every great rider are talented horses and a team of trainers and supporters that helped him along the way. In Bluman’s case, he is quick to recognize those individuals that have been instrumental in his career, and is working to become that for the next generations of equestrians, both amateurs and professionals.
“Over the course of my career, I have been lucky to have opportunities to work with respected top-tier trainers and riders such as Eric Lamaze, Nelson Pessoa, Jeroen Dubbeldam and Hans Horn. Many people recognize those names, but to reach the point where I felt that I was ready to work with those individuals, I had to have proper instruction in my earlier days, both starting out at a young age in Colombia as well as after I moved to the United States. Their names might not be internationally known, but the trainers that taught me the foundations of being a good horseman set me up for success,” reflected Bluman.
Hoping to give back to the sport as much as it gave to him, Bluman spearheads Ride The Future, a mentorship program for young equestrians aged 15-25 that pairs them with a professional to help advance their learning.
Bluman sat down with Phelps Sports to discuss what riders of different levels should look for in a trainer, and how you know when you’ve found a good one or are ready to move to someone new.
1. Across the board, what do you think are the most important qualities for a trainer to have?
Every level is different, but across the board the trainer has to love the horses and be compassionate with them, plus be passionate about the sport. The horses are the root of our sport, so treating them with respect and doing our absolute best to keep them healthy and happy is the least we can do in order to repay all that they do for us. Without a passion for the animals and the sport, the equestrian lifestyle can become only business-oriented, which shifts the emphasis away from the horse and puts too high of a priority on making money.
2. There are many trainers with different personality types. Do you think trainers should use tough love and push students outside their comfort zone, or stay patient and work more with the student’s confidence level? Is there a type of trainer personality you think works the best?
I think it all depends on the individual. Some riders enjoy being challenged and pushed, while others need more reassurance. Part of training is identifying how to bring the best out of your students. It is no different than training horses! Training programs may have a general structure that a stable finds to be successful, but it is important to be flexible and recognize that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to training students. How far you push them and how much you expect of them depends on their goals, skill level, confidence and personality. Often times, you may start slowly with a new student who is still earlier in their career, and then you push them out of their comfort zone more as they progress. Doing so too soon can actually be a detriment to progress if you over face them.
3. What should a beginner rider look for in a trainer?
A beginner rider should look for a barn that has the right atmosphere and that teaches the basics very well. Find a trainer that loves and cares for the horses, and does some of it personally. A hands-on trainer who works with their horses will have a better understanding of each animal and will be more invested in the wellbeing of the animals and the riders in their program. There isn’t a better quality than loving your horses. It is that love that will push you to continue learning and working through difficult times. Most beginner riders want to start riding precisely because of that love for the horses, so having a trainer that fosters that appreciation and can also correctly teach you the fundamentals will put you on a path for success.
If you are a parent or guardian looking for a trainer for a younger rider, consider that this person might be spending a great deal of time at the barn during his or her developmental years. Due to this, you will want to find a trainer that sets a good example for the rider outside of just horsemanship and is also a positive role model. Trainers are often mentor figures for beginner riders, so finding someone that can teach the student proper values and morals off the horse will be just as important as how well they instruct in the ring. Some students spend many hours at the barn each week due to the nature of the sport, so this is quality time to learn patience and accountability, among other things. Those trainers that foster atmospheres of respect, teamwork and proper ethics are so valuable because they can set a rider up for success in the sport and in life.
4. Once a rider is ready to advance to a more intermediate level, what should they look for in a trainer?
Do your homework and research about trainers that you think could help you. Study their resumes and ask around a little. At this point, you might have a better idea of what type of riding you are interested in – hunters or jumpers – and that can influence who would be best for you. Do you want to compete or not? A trainer with a successful show record for their students and that has a good reputation is a very good indicator. Part of being a good trainer is also to find the right horse for your clients, so you have to also see the horses the trainer rides or that their clients ride. Are their horses appealing to you for what you want to accomplish? Then let your gut feeling guide you!
5. Once a rider is advanced and ready for higher jumps, maybe even FEI classes, what are the most important things to look for in a trainer?
That’s a different level. Too much is at stake to work with a trainer that isn’t a good fit. First of all, you are going to start riding horses that are more expensive and need better care. To protect your investment, you will need a very good program. At this point, you also must make two decisions as a rider. 1.) Do you want to be just a jockey or do you actually want to become a horseman? 2.) Do you want to stay an amateur or are you aiming to become a professional?
The training method is totally different depending on what you decide. I train totally different depending on the goal of the rider at this point. A rider that aims to become a pro and a well-rounded horseman requires a different level of instruction and involvement than a rider that rides for fun and loves to compete does. The first rider will be involved in the daily working of the program and will have to spend many hours in the barn riding and understanding the horses, as well as learning how to develop them. That rider will also have to deal with different levels of frustration. I will allow that rider to have more independence. I always give all my guidance and put my knowledge at their disposal, but they will learn how to make many of the choices and decisions, especially those that affect their own horses. This rider will be training at a high level, and will learn how to structure a training regimen for the horses in addition to everything else we do to ensure comfortable, healthy horses at home and on the road.
The second rider, one who may be training at a high level but does not intend to make it their profession, requires a program that will train and prepare the horse for them so that they get to the show and can appropriately pilot the horse. For this rider, I’ll create a program in which the Bluman team does most of the behind the scenes work, like handling the majority of the training, so that the rider can focus on performing in competition, fully confident in their horse’s preparation and fitness. This rider still needs to have a love for the horses and understand how to care for a horse, but the finer details can be overseen by the trainer.
6. How does a rider know when it is time to look for a new trainer?
You just know! If you are honest with yourself, you will know when it’s time to make a change. Are you reaching your goals and making progress as a rider? If not, why do you think that is? Some riders may feel they are not a good fit for the trainer because of differences in philosophies, personalities or even schedules if you are not able to ride enough because your calendars don’t line up. If you are an amateur who only wants to show occasionally and your trainer is mostly traveling to shows, then perhaps you need to find a new trainer who can devote more time to you. Or perhaps you have progressed to the top level you think you can reach with your trainer and are outgrowing the horses. If you find yourself unhappy with a training situation for any reason, it is always worth a conversation with your trainer, but sometimes you won’t come to a solution that works for both parties, and that’s ok. As trainers, it is also our responsibility to identify these problems in order to take the burden off of the students. If a trainer knows that someone else might be a better fit, it is important to accept that and help their students make that transition. In the end, there are so many trainers and students in the industry that everyone should be able to find the right fit for them.
Thank you for joining us, Daniel!
Originally founded in 2010, Bluman Equestrian consists of cousins Daniel, Ilan, Mark, Steven and Joseph Bluman, each of whom ride at the grand prix level. Focused on high-performance competition and training, the operation is solidly secured in equestrian hubs with bases in Wellington, Fla., North Salem, N.Y. and Europe, and the team prides itself on its ability to work with clients and create meaningful arrangements based on riders’ budgets and abilities. With a strong emphasis on proper horsemanship and patient training methods, the Blumans have personally developed most of their top equine competitors for the show ring. Additionally, Bluman Equestrian has ties to Equo and Ride the Future Program.