Behind the matching show jackets: Olivier & Nicola Philippaerts
Born into the sport, part of Team H&M, holders of impressive global rankings and high ambitions. Twins with a certain x-factor. The whole world of showjumping seems to be fascinated by them. But in between all the competitions and pressure, the professional approach to the media and white smiles, we can’t help but wonder – what’s behind the matching show jackets? We went to visit them at home, trying to figure it all out.
By: the Editors
Video: Kristian Dale
Published: May 14th, 2019
The sun is shining as we take the Belgian highway from Brussels towards the countryside. Vast green fields make everything look fresh, as if it just rained. Small streets with houses on both sides is like taken straight out of Edward Scissorhands, the cult film of the 90’s with the well-groomed gardens and spotless driveways. After a quick lunch in the nearest town, the GPS-lady tells us to turn right, but really, she means left. Because on the left, from outside of the white, tall picket fence gate, we spot the home and stables of the Philippaerts family.
Standing outside the gate you don’t get the feeling that this is the home of more than fifty horses. Going inside, that doesn’t change.
– We try to keep it as comfortable as possible for the horses. Many of them travel a lot and it’s important that we keep it calm and stress free at home, Olivier says while making us coffee.
Nicola sits with one leg across the other, leaning his cheek on his hand, looking at his phone. He apologises as he has to answer it. Olivier opens a glass bottle of Coca Cola Zero, smiles and asks what we want to do first. He admits he’s jet-lagged. He just came home from three weeks in the United States, but it doesn’t show.
The stables are divided into two parts, one for each twin, which they then again share with the two younger ones, Thibault and Anthony. Music is playing quietly in the background and everyone we meet seem to be working together in a well-oiled machinery.
– The team at home is just as important as the one on the road. They take such good care of the horses when we’re away competing, making sure the stables are well structured and that the everyday routine is on point, says Nicola.
You would think a business-stable of this sort could get a bit clinical, even impersonal. But the feeling you get standing there is actually the opposite. From the main house and small garden with their mother’s goats, donkeys, chickens and peacocks, to natural materials like wood and the soft, yellow light in the stables – you get the intimate feeling of visiting the home of a family. Olivier and Nicola doesn’t live there anymore, they’ve moved about five minutes down the road. Separately. Their younger brothers still live together with the parents – Ludo and Veronique Philippaerts.
A game of Ludo
The twins might look like one person if you see them in the competition ring or from behind. They have the same body language and way of lifting their eyebrows if they think a question is difficult to answer. Both riding and training with the same system from a young age for sure creates some similarities. However, we get another point of view meeting their father.
Ludo is the man behind the whole Philippaerts enterprise. Outside the stables, the well-renowned Olympic rider greets us with a big smile.
Obviously proud of his sons, he describes their riding style in a way that also reflects the impression we get meeting them. Olivier is a little more outgoing at first, the one of them taking the lead while touring us around the property, making sure we get the footage we need, keeping track of the time.
Nicola seems calmer, in a way, and doesn’t talk as fast and much as his twin brother. But sitting down with him, he is a quote-machine, confidently letting us into his mind.
– With this lifestyle comes a lot of pressure, for sure. We have both worked with a mental trainer and it’s actually something I really would like to do more. It’s always two sides of the medal. Some people like you while others are more critical. People will always talk. We go to shows every week and with that kind of volume of training, you build up confidence. It’s important to focus on the people who really stand behind you and at the same time trust yourself and dare to do what you feel is right for you and your horse.
TV shows and top horses
Both Olivier and Nicola enjoy a good steak. Some Belgian fries and a good salad on the side. For long flights they’re addicted to series like Game of Thrones and Peaky Blinders, and if they could steal a horse from one another, for sure H&M Legend of Love and H&M Chilli Willi would swap sides of the stables.
Out in the sand arena, another grey mare is showing us some temper. Olivier studies his top horse with his brother, turns to us and laughs.
– Yes, that’s Legend of Love with our dressage trainer. She can be quite stubborn and grumpy at home, actually. But in the competition ring she always jumps her heart out for me.
As for Nicola’s number one, H&M Chilli Willi, we find him chilling out in a huge paddock enjoying the sun and some well-deserved grass.
– His personality is not very stallion at all. He’s a cool guy. Pretty spoiled and sticking his tongue out when he gets a carrot, Nicola laughs.
– It’s a real puzzle
The twins never stand still. Unless it’s for catching their breath with a moment of on-the-run e-mails, Instagram-likes or quick phone calls. A new prospect for Nicola enters the premises in a horse trailer while his potential new owner is on the phone. A few seconds later the horse trots down the avenue surrounded by green leaves and perfectly cut hedges. Towards the statue of a jumping horse – and back again.
– It’s always hard to decide which horse goes to who. It all comes down to chemistry and also the logistics at the stables. Our father still is a big part of the decision making. Now, with Thibault and Anthony getting closer to the bigger classes, it’s a real puzzle, says Nicola.
Despite the tricky logistics, the whole family work together to find the best solutions for both horses and riders. The grey mare Insolente des dix Bonniers is a good example of that.
– We bought her about a year ago and I started riding her, but she was a bit unexperienced at the time, so Thibault, who is a Junior rider now, took her over, rode her and built up her experience on smaller shows until she was ready for the higher classes. Then I took her back. In the future our younger brothers will do this themselves, but for now I think it’s a really good system, Olivier explains.
Nicola and Olivier, the twins of showjumping and humble superstars, are about to leave the stables for the day. Home? No. First a business meeting, and then home for a quick change of clothes before the big “The Ten”-auction in the evening.
– You have to take every horse as it is. A good rider needs to be able to adapt to different horses. Every horse, and every rider, is different. You can always get better. You can learn from anyone and be inspired by so many different ways to reach your goals, Nicola says, finishing his sit-down interview.
The slightly older twin jumps into a car with his brother and drives out the white gate that opens in slow motion. With every heartbeat the Philippaerts twins do as their family slogan promises: Everything in a down to earth, humble and ambitious way. With matching show jackets and perfect hair – even when it’s windy. The Philippaerts truly live horses.
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