By: Chris Stafford
Olivier and Nicola Philippaerts were blessed with an auspicious start to their careers.
Following in the footsteps of their father, Ludo, the twins, who will be 21 this year, have always considered show jumping to be their lifestyle of choice. With all the resources for success at their disposal, the Belgian duo dream of making the same Olympic team one day and maybe even surpassing their father’s illustrious record of four Olympic Games and multiple World and European championship appearances. Their mother Veronique is also an inspirational support and nowadays competes in dressage on the national Small Tour.
The oldest of four boys, the twins recall their earliest riding memories at the age of five. Two years later they watched their father finish just outside the medals in Sydney and from then on they never deviated from a path that would seem predestined.
Both boys were educated at a sports school and Nicola developed an aptitude for swimming, soccer and basketball, which he also pursued out of school. But the magnetism of riding and being competitive with his brother was to prove more appealing.
“I tried many different sports but I always came back to riding in the end,” says Nicola. “We were both competitive and had good ponies to start with. If you win, it’s always nice and you’re going to keep doing it. It really motivates you to go higher in the sport. With the ponies it was fun, but once we started with the horses it got more serious.”
In 2008 Nicola became Belgian Pony Champion and also finished 4th in the European Championships. This was followed by second place in the Belgian Junior Championships in 2009. In 2010 he was a team gold medalist at the Youth Olympic Games and the next year swept all asunder at the European Young Rider Championships, taking team and individual golds. Nowadays he is in regular contention for a place on the senior team. He ranks his 2013 results in Calgary, where the Belgian team finished second, and victory in the Falsterbo Grand Prix qualifier, as career highlights. Although the team did not fare so well, Nicola also considers his debut on the senior squad (alongside dad) for last summer’s European Championships right up there too.
In tandem with his brother, Olivier never considered an alternative career.
“In the beginning it all started as a hobby,” says Olivier. “But through the years as I grew up in the sport and moved up to higher levels, my desire to improve grew too. I will do everything to accomplish that; to get to the next level and the next and the next.”
Like his brother, he too collected accolades through the Pony, Junior and Young Rider ranks. He was Belgian Pony Champion and European Junior Champion as well as a member of the winning Belgian team at the 2011 European Young Rider Championships. As the youngest rider to win the prestigious CN International at the 2012 Spruce Meadows Masters, a year that proved pivotal after he was named as reserve to the Olympic team for London, Olivier too has developed consistent form with a strong string of horses.
While their father never insisted on them becoming professional riders, they both appreciate the resources that were available.
“He gave us the horses and the opportunities and he has over 30 years’ experience which he has given to us too. He taught me that you always have to be patient with the horses and take your time,” says Nicola.
Not surprisingly, the twins share their parents’ values and consider good horsemanship to be the prelude to being a successful competitor.
Today Nicola is currently 49th, Olivier 80th and Ludo 86th in the Longines FEI World Rankings and on their present form it’s quite conceivable that the Philippaerts family could comprise three quarters of the Belgian team at this summer’s Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy.
That’s a goal these motivated young men will certainly be pursuing.