Israeli rider hopes to make Olympic history with undeniable flair – the Forward
Danielle Goldstein Waldman is drawing attention everywhere she goes, even when she’s not riding the horse she hopes to compete on at the 2020 Olympics, which will be held in Tokyo this summer. The thousands of colorful feathers the championship-winning competition rider wears, woven into her hair, have earned her the social media hashtag #FlyingFeathers for the way they flow behind her when she rides.
While Israel’s equestrian team has yet to announce the four athletes who will represent it in Tokyo, barring injury, Waldman – known as Dani – will certainly be one of them, sources say. This will be the first Olympic rider champion and the first Olympics in which Israel has qualified to compete in equestrian events. Which he did in part thanks to Waldman’s performance in qualifying.
Born and raised on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to parents who were world squash champions, Waldman now lives in Putten, the Netherlands, about an hour southeast of Amsterdam with her husband, Alan Waldman. . They own Waldman horses, on which they breed 600 equines, raising around 100 each year, Waldman said in a video interview from his plant-filled house. âI found the only other American Jew in Holland who made horses to get married,â she joked.
She was 8 when she first rode a horse, invited by a friend she was visiting on Long Island to take a riding lesson with her. She started competing on horseback immediately and that summer won the Hampton Classic in her age group. It didn’t surprise her. âI’ve been a very competitive person my whole life,â said Waldman, who also competed in tennis tournaments even at this young age.
Before long, she played less tennis and rode more horse. After 5th grade, she transferred from Dalton School to Professional Children’s School, an independent Manhattan institution catering to child athletes, dancers, actors and musicians who need to combine their education and career.
She attended the Hebrew school at Shaaray Tefilla Temple on the Upper East Side and celebrated her bat mitzvah in Israel, “at sunset at the foot of the Dead Sea,” recalls Waldman. She studied at Duke University, where she obtained a BA in Global Economics and Development. She was away most weekends in competition, she said, so she didn’t have much of a chance to be a part of Duke’s Hillel.
Becoming an Israeli citizen in 2010 connected Waldman with Judaism, she said. âI became more interested in culture. All of my education from my youth came back and I realized how much Judaism was part of me. I was also really interested in cooking and I hosted seders with my friends.
While her family life was âvery reformedâ and after her bat mitzvah, she only went to synagogue during the summer holidays, âI built new memories as an adult.
In a typical year, Waldman spends a month or two in Israel, training at equestrian centers near Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Caesarea, and similar time in the United States, seeing family in New York and in Florida.
She moved to Putten in 2013, and she and Waldman married in 2019. She is now 36, has two stepdaughters, who are 13 and 15, and does not plan to have biological children.
What Waldman plans to keep riding – and riding in his unmistakable style.
So far, she has competed in four European Championships and two World Games, and won six 5th degree Grand Prix, the highest possible level. The most recent was the Palm Beach Masters in March 2020, which was the last to be held before the world was shut down due to COVID-19.
Create your own style
Unlike other sports, elite runners can continue to compete into their 60s, Waldman said. Which means his best years may yet be to come. Horse riding is also “the only Olympic discipline where men and women compete,” she said. âIt’s non-discriminatory. And as a woman, I love to kick men’s asses. It always feels good. “
Waldman’s unique style isn’t just about the feather extensions in her hair, which she makes herself, hand-crafted dying feathers from 10 different breeds of birds, from guinea fowl to rooster and ostrich – which she tries to ensure comes from sustainable sources. She has them sewn at a hairdresser and changes them every three months. âI’m inspired by someone I saw on the street who looked amazing, by the fashion, the season or my mood,â she said. “I had neon lights inspired by a Valentino show,” said the rider. She once sported flame-colored feathers and said it made her feel “like it was an internal phoenix.”
In everyday life, feather waist extensions âare super boring,â she admits, but when she rides she pulls them together in a ponytail behind her riding helmet.
She started changing her hair color when she was a young girl and started adding feathers to her hair after meeting her husband. âI was working to get to the top of the sport and felt that everyone was alike and that bothered me. I wanted to do something that was more me, âsaid Waldman. “It’s a traditional sport, and differentiating yourself was so avoided.”
She does not wear typical riding clothes, even in competition. Instead of jodhpurs, she wears yoga pants. âI refuse to wear any type of pants with material,â she said. “It’s stupid to wear rigid closures when you bend over the horse.” Rather than a formal shirt, she wears a cropped top under her jacket, which outside of the Olympics can be any color. Waldman says she rocks between the royal blue, bright turquoise, and eggplant blazers from her riding wardrobe. She designed a capsule collection of yoga-inspired riding clothes for an equestrian clothing brand, and more recently, modeled on social media, a gorgeous purple suit with cutouts at the waist, which she designed.
Her fashion sense doesn’t appeal to everyone in the horse riding world. âI once wore a white jacket and got a lot of shit for it. It was non-traditional and sort of offensive. I have received phone calls from the president of the international governing body telling me that people say I am not stylish enough for this sport. They think I’m ruining the sport of show jumping in one way or another, âsaid Waldman. âThey ask me to remove the feathers and I say no. I play by the rules, so there is nothing to say. People are incredibly mean. Someone literally said that I offend my horse. You can’t imagine the stupid things people say just to be mean.
And while people say and write nasty things about what Waldman wears as she rides, âThe Israeli Equestrian Federation and the Olympic Committee have always been behind me. Flair helps get more eyeballs out of the sport, so they’re all for it. They are happy that a rider is not a sheep.
She is also one of five women on the Women’s Empowerment Council of the Israeli Olympic Committee, helping to promote individuality and strength in female athletes.
It hurts to be criticized for how you look, admits Waldman, “but it’s certainly not going to force me to stop what I’m doing.”
Waldman launched a concept she calls âOwn YouR IDEntity,â pointing out that the word RIDE is there. âAnyone who wants to be a little different in our sport feels empowered to do so,â she said. “I started the idea of ââbeing playful, and then it came to life.”
She hopes to someday start a foundation or a children’s summer camp based on the idea.
Because Waldman knows how powerful it is not only to overcome a six bar obstacle on the back of his Queensland horse, but also what it means to feel good about yourself. âWhen I look at myself in the mirror and think I look like hot shit, how good I feel about myself. It doesn’t matter what other people say. “