What is your earliest equestrian memory?
Over 30 years ago, an equestrian centre opened in our local area near to Lier, which, at the time, was actually the biggest equestrian centre to be built in Belgium. I took my daughter, Elke, to it and she loved it. After that day, I saw how much she loved horses, so I bought her a little mare called So Brave. They won numerous classes together, and from there we got in contact with Eric Wauters, and that is where it all began. In those days, show jumping was not really televised, but when it was, only an occasional five or ten minutes was shown. But I remember in 1992, the show jumping at the Barcelona Olympic Games was shown in full and that was really exciting for the sport in Belgium.
How did you become a top-level owner in the sport?
There were two main reasons that I became a top-level owner in the sport; the first was meeting Eric Wauters and the second was that I was always looking for better horses for my daughter. Back then, it was easier to find nice horses, as there were fewer good ones. Yards these days have over one hundred horses aged between six and eight that could all be great horses, so it takes a bit of luck to find a top one. At first, I owned horses that competed at national level but that then progressed to the international levels. My ambition of buying better horses has never been to sell them, but to keep them and train them to be better – I get so much enjoyment out of this and that has ultimately always been my plan.
As an owner, what is the proudest moment of your career so far?
There are two moments that stand out to me. The first is Olivier Philippaerts’ successes with Carlito C. I bred the horse myself and it made it even more special. He won the Derby classes at the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ and at CHIO Aachen, both of which were incredibly proud moments for me.
Secondly would be all of the successes that Nicola has had; he has won 5* Grands Prix and the Belgium Championships. Now, he is having so much success with Katanga v/h Dingeshof, she was incredible in the Rolex Grand Prix at this year’s CHIO Aachen, as well as at the FEI European Championships. Now, the combination heads to the FEI World Championships in Herning, and I think they have a chance not only in the Individual competition, but also as part of the team – so I am very hopeful. It is a true championship and there will be a lot of competition.
What qualities are you looking for when purchasing a 5* (or potential 5*) show jumping horse?
Nowadays, they have to be the total package – they have to have everything; speed, cleverness, scope, sharpness, blood and so on. When I first started, 30 years ago, the riders were more important, because in a class of 40 riders, maybe only five of them could win. Now, 38 out of the 40 riders in a class can potentially win, so the horse must have everything in order to be successful.
In Belgium we have a lot of good horses, and that makes it difficult to pick the best ones. Ludo Philippaerts now has around 12 to 15 extremely talented eight-year-olds. Ludo is great at spotting potential in a horse, and usually when he tells me that a horse is good it turns out to be very good.
How important is it for you to get the horse/rider pairing correct? How do you know a horse will be a good fit for the rider, and vice versa?
The first thing is the rider needs to see the talent and potential in the horse. The rider then has to like the horse; if they don’t then I won’t buy it. If they did not have a good feeling, then it is over for me. For me, riding the horse at least once or twice is extremely important; however, Ludo never rode Katanga v/h Dingeshof before he bought her! I don’t think anyone can really predict which eight-year-old will turn into a 5* Grand Prix winner – you can have a good feeling, but they still have a long way to go before they become a top horse.
Tell us a bit about your relationship with the Philippaerts family? Can you share some behind the scenes insights into an owner/rider partnership?
I have been in partnership with the Philippaerts family for around 10 or 12 years now and our relationship is great. I first met Ludo before his children were born, around 30 years ago. Ludo now has a lot of very nice eight year olds that are ready to make the step up to the next level. We work very well together, and we always have; I trust him. He is amazing at sourcing the best horses for me; and now he has four sons in the business he has to find top horses for them as well, which he keeps doing. He has a talent and a great eye for a horse!
How many horses do you currently own? Which of your young horses do you believe has the potential to be the most successful?
I currently own six horses, and I have always owned between six and eight horses at one time. I like to have a smaller number of horses because then you are able to get to know each one better and learn their different personality traits and quirks. I do not breed anymore so the youngest of the horses I own at the moment are seven and eight years old. Nowadays, it is very difficult to know if an eight-year-old will one day become a top 5* horse. You need to be patient and hopeful that the horse and rider combination will be perfect.
What is your main ambition as a top-level owner?
To enjoy the sport, but also to try to win and be successful. Together with my team, we have won numerous 5* Grands Prix and Belgian Championships. The aim now is to win a Rolex Grand Prix or the Olympic Games. We have missed out on going to the Olympic Games twice now due to injuries. They are big dreams, but you have to have big dreams, and sometimes they come true.
The feeling that you get as an owner when your horse is successful is incredible. The feeling when Olivier won the Derby classes at CHIO Aachen and at the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ was unbelievable. I was so nervous before CHIO Aachen this year, so for Nicola to come third was incredible. CHIO Aachen and the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ are like the Tour de France in cycling – everyone wants to compete in them and do well.
Which horse(s) (past or present) of yours are you most proud of, and why?
That is so difficult because I have been so fortunate to have had so many amazing horses. I have had eight horses compete in Nations Cup teams. In Belgium there are so many good horses, so to have that many horses compete for our country is incredible and has been a great honour for me.
H&M Chilli Willi was a phenomenal horse and now Katanga v/h Dingeshof is so talented. She has achieved so much in her career including Team bronze and Individual fifth at the FEI European Championships last year; fourth in the Rolex Grand Prix at CSIO Roma Piazza di Siena; and third in the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen. Those are just a few of her highlights from the past year. She is a horse of lifetime, but Ludo always tells me he can keeping finding them for me.
How positive do you believe the Rolex Grand Slam is for the sport of show jumping?
It is incredible, the Rolex Grand Slam is the biggest thing to have happened to show jumping. Every rider wants to compete at the Majors. I was offered Hello Sanctos, the horse Scott Brash won the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping on, so to watch him be so successful was magical. There is nothing in the sport that compares to the Rolex Grand Slam.
Out of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping's four Majors, which is your favourite, and why?
It would have to be CHIO Aachen and the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’. We have had a lot of successes at these two shows, which adds to how special they are. The joy that I have got out of these shows is unbelievable, and the crowds are phenomenal. Nicola wants to go to the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ this year, but we have to be so careful with Katanga v/h Dingeshof. She has had an extremely busy time with CHIO Aachen and other competitions earlier in the season, and now she has been selected for Belgium’s World Championships team, so I think it might be too much for her. But it is his dream, so we will base our decision off her World Championships’ performance. Olivier may go to the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’, but that has not been confirmed yet.
Who has inspired you the most throughout your career?
I have met so many great riders and people that it is difficult for me to name just one, but Eric Wauters inspired me greatly. He was a great friend and taught me so much. Nowadays, Ludo is such an inspiration. But I would have to say that they both are masters, and they know so much about horses and the industry.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
The late Eric Wauters used to say to me: “Do not look too hard for a horse, one day the right one will just walk into your stables”. I think that that statement is so true.
Ludo always says to me: “I will find you another top horse”, and he always does. It is an incredible talent that he has; finding a top 5* horse is so hard and he just keeps finding them.