There have been sons and cousins and siblings who have elevated their family name to great heights in the sport of show jumping – think Whitaker, Fuchs, Pessoa – but Ludo and Veronique Philippaerts really have achieved something unique. Their twin sons, Nicola and Olivier, have established themselves as bona fide members of the 5* community at the age of 25. Together they were a part of the Longines Global Champions League’s winning London Knights team which scooped over $2 million in prize money in 2018.
In fact, the House of Philippaerts is a full-fledged dynasty in the making. Siblings Thibault (17) and Anthony (15) are already veterans of European Championships and medalists at national and international levels.
Father Ludo was one of Belgium’s greatest. His partnership with the great Darco and that stallion’s sons, Parco and Otterongo, brought both fame and good fortune. When Ludo retired in 2014, he had competed in 10 European Championships, winning team gold in 1991 and individual silver in 2001, 13 FEI World Cup Finals, three World Championships and four Olympic Games. As his eldest sons both say, their career choice was never in doubt.
What does a typical day and work week consist of?
Olivier: Mondays we may start a bit later than usual, because we may have been back late on Sunday from a show. On Tuesdays we will be on our first horses at eight a.m. and then ride until noon. We take an hour-and-a-half lunch break and then go back to work. We generally aim for seven or eight horses each per day, but it could be less if we are spending time with customers. We have a big business stable with fifty boxes, so clients are always coming to see and try out horses. Wednesday evenings or Thursday mornings we are usually on our way to a show. The weekends are for competing and then it all starts over again on Monday.
How many generations of your family have been horse lovers?
Nicola: Our grandad was a very good rider and he won a lot, but only at national level. My father was the first in the family to compete internationally and to have made a business out of it.
Olivier: Our father has been in the business for thirty-four years and we have been around horses all of our lives. We played other sports and we were never forced to ride, but if we wanted to, we had all the facilities and all the opportunity and a lot of good horses. We are really, really grateful for that.
Can you identify a turning point in your career?
Olivier: By seventeen, we both knew that we would be going for a career with the horses and to go into the family business that my dad created, but our parents made us finish school and get our diplomas first. There was no real turning point. We were pretty successful as teenagers. It was an obvious choice for us to continue in the sport. You have to remember, when we were eighteen we were going to five-star shows every other weekend like we are now.
Were sacrifices made along the way?
Nicola: For sure there were sacrifices, but in top sport you have to be focused on the main goal. Maybe we had less free time and less fun during our school days, but you can’t compare it to the pleasure we have now in the top [of the] sport.
Olivier: Sure, you put a lot of time in on the horses and sacrifice that extra time with friends, but on the other hand we get such a big return with the horses, we don’t miss anything else.
If you could relive six months of your life, when would that be?
Olivier: When I won the Spruce Meadows Masters, life changed a lot for me in the six months following that victory. It was very positive, but on the other hand it was very hard, because people had such high expectations of me. I got a bit down, because everyone expected me to win every weekend and that, as we know, is not so easy!
Is there a particular ingredient that gives you a competitive edge?
Olivier: I think what we have is a very good structure at home – the way it is built up with our father and the team around us. We work to find and produce good young horses. Our father has been working twenty years to get the right amount of owners around us, because you need the complete package. You have to find the horse, build up the horse, and then keep the horse. My father and our team have made a great effort to achieve that.
How would you describe your personalities?
Olivier: I’m a very social person. I may appear shy until people get to know me, but when they do, I think I’m very open. I think I am more a softer character than a strong character.
Nicola: I am a little bit more guarded than my brother with people I don’t know; a little more quiet, but straightforward. When someone says or does something, they will know straightaway what I think about it. I always say what I think.
If life hadn’t taken you where it has, is there another profession that would have inspired you?
Olivier: I would love to race cars or do something with cars.
Nicola: I like fast cars, too, and I had fun with soccer, but I wasn’t much good at it so I don’t think I would have had much of a career!
Where is your favourite place in the world?
Nicola: We travel all around the world all year long, so I think I’m very happy just being home in Belgium where we can relax and enjoy the small things in life.
When and where did you last go on vacation?
Olivier: This year the whole family went to Thailand. We always do a big trip together at the beginning of every year. We’ve been doing it for as long as we can remember.
Do you have a health and fitness regimen?
Olivier: We try and work out with a personal trainer twice a week. I think it’s very important to stay fit and healthy.
Nicola: In the summer when the days are longer I probably only go once a week for cardio and stability; in the winter I’ll go twice a week.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
McDonald’s! [in unison]
If a genie were to give you three wishes, what would you wish for?
Olivier: A medal or a championship title, that’s always an ambition; a happy life is very important. With these two wishes fulfilled I would be content.
Nicola: Number one, to get up every single morning and be happy; to live every day as if it was our last day on earth and die happy. Number two, to be a great sportsman in my chosen sport. I can’t think of anything else I would want to wish for.
If you were having a dinner party and could invite some celebrity guests, living or dead, who would you invite?
Nicola: One person we would invite is Roger Federer. He’s an unbelievable sportsman and he’s been the best tennis player that ever was for me and he’s still evolving and improving. He’s got to be in the top three of the greatest sportsmen there ever was; his longevity and the way he conducts himself is an example for all.
Olivier: I also admire Bill Gates, not just as the genius behind Microsoft, but for the way he tries to make the world better and create a better life for the poor. I appreciate what he has done for the world to make it a better place. I would also like to meet Barack Obama. He is also an exceptional person. I really like him and what he stands for [Nicola nods in agreement].
Money or medals, what’s more important?
Olivier: Medals you can’t buy and they are something prestigious that no one can take away from you.
Nicola: Money comes and goes, but medals you can keep forever.
What’s on the horizon for you in 2019 and beyond?
Olivier: I hope to qualify for the World Cup Finals again.
Nicola: I was pretty focused on the World Games, so I haven’t thought about a plan yet.
Do you have a burning ambition?
Olivier: To win a medal at a senior championship.
Nicola: To be at the top of the sport every year and to continue improving and getting better and better so that when your career is finished you have the feeling you gave everything for it.