At just 23 years old, Belgium’s Nicola Philippaerts is already on his third visit to the Longines FEI World Cup™ Finals and has a laundry list of impressive results to his name. He comes to Omaha with the 10-year-old H&M Harley vd Bisschop who also has some notable wins in his early career.
It’s no question how Philippaerts was introduced to horses. As the son of Belgian Olympian Ludo Philippaerts, there was never a time where horses weren’t a part of the equation. “I did many things actually. I played soccer and tennis, but always came back to the horses,” says Philippaerts about his decision to stick with the sport. It remains a family affair, with the whole brood now involved. “I have two smaller brothers [in addition to twin, Olivier] that started to ride too, so it’s up to my father to find enough horses to keep us in the sport!” says Philippaerts.
While the lifestyle of a professional show jumper is a major commitment, he takes it all in stride, enjoying the perks of living on the road. “It takes a lot of time but I’ve seen so many things in the world – and now I’m in Omaha!”
While the elder Philippaerts was still actively competing (he retired in 2015) father and son were both part of Belgium’s winning Nations Cup team in Rome in 2014, which Philippaerts calls one of his nicest wins. Other memorable wins include the Gothenburg World Cup qualifier in 2014, a European team gold at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010, and in 2011 winning both team and individual Champion at the European Young Rider Championships in Portugal, a particularly special win as the twin brothers were both part of the winning Belgian team.
Of his riding style, Philippaerts says it’s all about feel. “In the end you need to follow a your feeling and try not to ride too much like someone else. You can look at the good points of other people’s riding, but it’s important to have your own system and style.” Some of those riders whose style points he’ll look for are Ludger Beerbaum, Christian Ahlmann, McLain Ward, and of course, his father.
While Philippaerts has been lucky to have a stable full of top horses, his former mount Carlos, who’s now piloted by McLain Ward, remains a favorite. “My career started with this horse in the junior and seniors I won everything in the beginning with him. Carlos is really special and he seems to be a good horse for McLain,” says Philippaerts. Though it’s hard to watch his favorite horses leave, Philippaerts understands it’s all part of the business. “It’s not easy, but my father always managed to find other horses. You have to sell sometimes in order to get other ones. You can only keep so many in the stable.”
Philippaerts and his Omaha mount, H&M Harley vd Bisschop, have been together for three years now. “I got Harley when he was 7 years old. He’s a very good horse, still a little young, just being 10, so I think he needs a little more time than a horse that is not that hot.” Hot or not, Philippaerts and Harley scored major wins last year at the in the $380,000 Rolex Grand Prix at Tryon and the Global Champions Tour in Valkenswaard.
In 2015, the genetically blessed twin brothers signed a long-term partnership with Swedish clothing company H&M, joining fellow show jumpers Malin Baryard-Johnnson and Peder Fredricson as brand ambassadors. “They followed us for quite some time without us knowing it. They said we fit with their program since they were looking to go a little bit more international,” says Philippaerts, who now adds model to his resumé.
Philippaerts and Harley had an unfortunate rail in last night’s speed class, finishing 11th, though are still a pair to watch for a top finish in Omaha this weekend.
By Ashley Fairfield-Remeza