Olivier Philippaerts is born into one of the leading families in Belgian equestrianism. His father, Ludo Philippaerts, represented Belgium at the Olympics four times from 1992 to 2004, participated in the World Championships three times, and the European Championships eleven times. A year after Ludo’s first Olympic participation, he and his wife Veronique, who is a dressage rider herself, welcomed their first children: the twins Olivier and Nicola. The twins grew up surrounded by horses and always had a pony nearby in case they felt like trying riding. Ludo and Veronique were cautious not to push their children into riding; both twins explored other sports during their childhood, including tennis and soccer. When they were 6 years old, their interest in riding started to bloom, and they took turns riding the pony named Fritz. This marked the beginning of their journey in the world of show jumping, and by the time they were 11 years old, they were already competing at the national level.
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The road to a breakthrough
From this point, both Olivier and Nicola’s riding careers gained momentum. As pony riders, they both won the Belgian show jumping championships and participated in the European Championships. It was as junior riders that both brothers had their international breakthrough and took turns excelling. In 2009, Nicola won silver at the European Championships, and the following year, Olivier won gold. In 2011, at the Young Riders European Championships, Nicola secured an individual gold medal, while both brothers won team gold.
In 2011, at the Young Riders European Championships, Olivier rode Cabrio van de Heffinck, with whom he also debuted with at the senior level. By 2012, he showed that he also had the skills to perform at the highest level as a senior rider. Just a few days after his 19th birthday, he was included as a reserve rider, along with Cabrio, for the Belgian team at the London Olympics, although he didn’t get to compete. A month later, the pair achieved an outstanding result in Canada. They participated in the prestigious Grand Prix at Spruce Meadows Masters, considered one of the world’s biggest show jumping events in both sporting and economic terms. They surprised everyone by winning gold and surpassing the American Olympic gold medalist Beezie Madden, who came second, and Olivier’s own father, Ludo Philippaerts, who took the third place. This victory made Olivier the youngest winner of the prestigious Grand Prix ever.
Riding and business
The following years might not have offered results as splendid as those of Olivier Philippaerts in 2012, but he still reached several milestones. In 2014, at the age of 21, he made his debut at the World Equestrian Games, and the following year, he was part of the Belgian team that won the Nations Cup final. Outside the riding arena, a highlight for the Philippaerts twins was securing a significant sponsorship deal with the Swedish company H&M. Sponsorship deals are beneficial for all athletes, but especially so in a sport like show jumping with substantial expenses. While some riders and families might have the means to keep their best sport horses for various reasons, it’s essential for the Philippaerts family to sell their horses. To sustain their competitive riding pursuits, their stable needs to be financed so that both Olivier, Nicola, and their younger brothers Thibault and Anthony can compete at a high level, and their income needs to keep up. Hence, the H&M agreement makes it a bit easier for the family to retain their top horses for a longer duration.
After several quieter years, 2021 brought a new highlight for Olivier. He participated for the first time as a senior rider in the European Championships and, alongside Nicola, contributed to the Belgian team’s bronze medal-winning performance. In this competition, Olivier rode Le Blue Diamond V’T Ruytershof, a horse he still competes with today. Although his career may not have fully lived up to the expectations set after his teenage success, Olivier Philippaerts remains a rider with the ability to achieve significant accomplishments. Whether as an individual competitor, a team member, or as part of his family and stable, his name will continue to hold a prominent place in the international equestrian world.