‘Just Enjoy It’: A Day in the Life of Nicola Philippaerts

‘Just Enjoy It’: A Day in the Life of Nicola Philippaerts

For 25-year-old Belgian rider Nicola Philippaerts, show jumping is in his DNA. His father, Ludo Philippaerts, enjoyed a long, illustrious career competing at four Olympic Games and three World Equestrian Games. While Ludo no longer rides competitively, his four sons – twin brothers Nicola and Olivier, Anthony, and Thibault – carry on the family name in the jumping arena.

Nicola dabbled in more traditional kid sports, but by age 6 he was committed to riding. He had a wildly successful junior career and now represents the family business on the world stage. This year, he rode H&M Chilli Willi to 22nd place individually at the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon, N.C. and earlier this month helped propel Belgium to the top of the podium at the FEI World Cup Final in Barcelona aboard H&M Harley v/d Bisschop.

Photo by Andreas Pollak.

Like many top jumpers on the circuit, Nicola lives life on the road showing nearly every week. The days are long but being busy is exactly what keeps Nicola focused on the job.

“You get used to it by doing it,” Nicola says. “Every single show you have to focus so you get used to it. Once you get on your horse, you really try to focus on how it feels and how he is, and then you look around and it happens… There’s a lot of pressure. You need to be on top of your game every single week.”

Nicola is acutely attentive to his horses at shows and makes an effort to have their schedule at the showgrounds mirror their schedule at home.

“I always try to lunge them a little bit or ride them a little bit before the classes. At home, they come out two to three times a day, so I make sure here they come out twice. Then just hanging around a little bit, waiting for the class,” Nicola says.

Photo by Andreas Pollak.

At home, he takes the time to get to know the horses' personalities, how they warm up, how and where they carry tension. So when they get to the show he can make any necessary adaptations depending upon how each horse feels on a given day. For instance, H&M Harley v/d Bisschop “has all the blood”; he likes to work and he likes attention. So, Nicola may ride him for a bit longer the day after a big class to work out any stiffness. The following day, he’ll simply lunge him for a few minutes to get the muscles moving before hopping on for a short ride ahead of another big class.

“I make sure to keep the pressure a little bit off him – he’s quite a hot horse, so I think it’s very important that he goes relaxed into the ring,” Nicola says.

“It for sure starts at home. You ride the horses nearly every single day. You start to know them a little bit, see how they feel, know what they don’t like and what they like. It’s just a matter of experience as well… But I think, in the end, it’s important that your horse feels comfortable in the ring, he’s relaxed, and he’s also going to make no faults.”

Photo by Thomas Reiner.

With a large string of horses and a demanding schedule, a day in the life of Nicola could easily spiral into chaos. But he always takes time to slow down and enjoy the little things that normalize life on the road, like having breakfast with friends and fellow riders before the busy day begins. He also reserves time for much needed R&R to recharge. Can you say a casual trip to Spain? Yes, please!

“We make a job out of it, but it’s really nice that you can do what you like every day. I’m happy with the traveling and everything. When it goes well, take it. Sometimes if it’s not going well, it’s good to stay at home and train and focus on getting the horses in better shape. I think if you feel good and the horses feel good, you have to try to go to the shows and just enjoy it.”

Photo by Thomas Reiner.

Feature photo by Andreas Pollak.

Edit Oct. 22: The Philippaerts family recently announced that the 11-year-old gelding H&M Harley v/d Bisschop, one of Nicola's top horses and pictured throughout this article, is moving on to a new rider. H&M Harley v/d Bisschop will continue his career with Ireland's Bertam Allen. We wish them well!

Written by Hossein Maleki

Having grown up on horseback, Leslie Threlkeld, Managing Editor at NOËLLE FLOYD, treasures her career in the equestrian industry as a writer, photographer, and eventing technical delegate. Leslie thrives on frequent travel but never tires of returning home to the serene mountains of North Carolina.