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Pieter Devos: “For us, it is all about family”

Wednesday, 20 September 2023

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ. "What keeps it all together, is family – we all work together," Pieter Devos tells WoSJ. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.


Text © World of Showjumping



“I had an ambition of becoming a good rider, but I never had an actual plan of becoming a professional – my focus was more towards our family company,” Belgium’s Pieter Devos – currently 41st on the Longines Ranking – tells World of Showjumping.

Devos, who was part of the Belgian team that won gold at the 2019 European Championships in Rotterdam as well as bronze at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021 and at the 2021 European Championships in Riesenbeck, is a man of many ambitions. Splitting his time between being a professional showjumper and a commercial director in his family’s fruit company, the 37-year-old has built his parallel careers step by step. “I have never seen them separated from one another,” he says. “It has always been about doing both equally well. Now, of course both have gotten quite big, but both started small. That is why I think I have managed to combine them; I have grown into it and found a balance. If I would have to start again today, I don’t think it would be possible to jump straight into it as it is now.” 

Step by step

Photo © Nanna Nieminen/WoSJ. Splitting his time between being a professional showjumper and a commercial director in his family’s fruit company, Pieter Devos has built his parallel careers step by step. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

Pieter’s parents always had horses, but as a hobby, and both of their sons – Pieter and his brother Wouter – had ponies for fun when they were small. Entrepreneurship runs in Pieter’s genes; his grandparents were involved in the agriculture sector, while his parents started a fruit company – growing apples and pears – the latter a business Pieter later on has developed into one of the biggest within its sector in Belgium. While the company was the family’s main focus, Pieter grew up surrounded by horse as they were always present in the day-to-day life at the farm. “As we got older, we got also a bit into competitions and did regional shows,” Pieter recalls about the beginning of what would become a successful career in showjumping. “We never bought expensive ponies or horses though, we always started with young ones. My parents did not have the budget back then and also not the real knowledge; it was all purely done for pleasure.”

When Pieter was 18, his parents asked their sons if they had plans to join the company later on – they had to know if they should keep investing. Both Pieter and his brother responded that they were planning to step in. However, then came Tekila D – a horse that changed everything. Pieter had been successful in ponies, but did not do as well in the junior division as it was complicated to find good enough horses. “As a young rider, I got an opportunity to ride Tekila and she was the first horse that gave me exposure on the international jumping scene,” Pieter recalls. “She was owned by another family in the fruit business, who randomly asked my parents if I would try her. She was a challenge, but I immediately fell in love with her and we really clicked. And then it went fast: The same year I got her, we won the Belgian championship for young riders and went to the Europeans. For me, that was the starting point of thinking that maybe I could also have a career with horses. However, I had already given my word about doing my part in the family business, and I did not want to let my parents down. From that moment on, both of my careers – as a rider as well as in our company – really developed upwards, step by step, side by side.”

Dirk Demeersman, the three-time Olympian and former Belgian Chef d’Equipe – also had an impact on Devos early on. “Dirk is a friend of my parents and when I was young, he had a big influence on my career. Thanks to him, we got introduced to the international shows, and I learned a lot from him. I could always rely on him. He was there when I needed help, and I think I would not be where I am today without him – I do owe him,” Pieter tells.

Surround yourself with good people

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ. Pieter Devos with his groom Simon Rousic. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Today, Pieter does everything together with his wife Caroline Devos-Poels who runs the stable at home. “When I jump, she is always there,” he tells. “She is my eyes on the ground and in the stable – I trust her 500%. I think we have built a great team; our flat rider Karen has been with us for more than ten years and she is a very important player on the team, as well as my groom Simon who has been by my side for ten years. We have a great team at home with people I can rely on, with two riders and 40 horses in work. I am proud of our system. My wife Caroline manages the stable and she produces the young horses. She rides them up until two-and three-star level and then I can take them over, and we have already produced a few top horses like this. It is nice that we are able to do this together as a family, and without her, it would not be possible for me to do what I do. I have good people around me who allow me to be away every week for competing – on both sides, in our stable as well as in our company. What keeps it all together, is family – we all work together.” 

“I am very proud of what we have created. As a rider, I have managed to get to the top from nothing and I think that is what I am the most proud of; not where we are, but how we got here. We did it all step by step, and believed in what we did. I believed in my horses, I had a dream – and the same goes with our family company. With good people around us, we could make it all happen.”

“From the beginning, I have been taught not to buy expensive, ready, horses, but to start with young ones and produce them myself,” Pieter continues. “I think the most difficult part in the sport today is finding the right horses and having a good system to manage them. Our system is to first of all breed a lot ourselves – which is again something that started very small. Every year we did more and more, and at the moment we have about 40 foals per year and I think next year we can expand to 50 which is where I think I want to keep it. We also keep an eye out for good young horses, especially my father-in-law who is in the Netherlands is good at that. We buy when we see something promising and then produce them up to the highest level. My stable is focused on top sport and I want to keep it like that, but as the number of horses is getting bigger, I am also creating a system and structure for trading.” 

Finding a balance

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ. "The key is to find the right people next to me that I can trust, and I think I have a good team around me," Pieter Devos tells WoSJ. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“There is never a day off,” Pieter says when asked how he manages to balance it all. “I come home from a show on Sunday and on Monday morning I have to be in the office. Then I have three days full with meetings because from Wednesday on I am at a show again. Normally, on Mondays I also ride the horses that are going to the show that same week before I go to the office for the rest of the day. On Tuesdays, I do the same – and I go to the office in my riding pants! It is all mixed, and every day is different. Over those three days a week, I do the job of a commercial director which normally is a full-time job. It is a lot, and I don’t know how long I can keep going like this, because I also have a family and I don’t want to miss out on the time with my kids. However, our children are with us all the time. That is how I grew up and I think my parents did a good job, so I try to do the same with my children; to be there for them and have them around all the time. The key is to find the right people next to me that I can trust, and I think I have a good team around me.” 

For someone that does not have his focus fully on the sport, Devos has done remarkably well. “Sometimes I ask myself, what if I would only ride, where would I be then?” he reflects on the consequences of splitting his time. “On a normal day at a show, I think a lot about the things in my company and sometimes I wonder how it would feel to be 100% focused on the sport. However, this is my life and I feel comfortable with it.” 

“I love the sport, I love to work with horses, I love to be competitive. What I love the most however, is to bring a horse we have produced ourselves up to the top – to become a combination,” Pieter says. “It is not all about winning, it is about the feeling you can achieve with a horse when you work closely with them – that is why I do it. Trying to find the right balance is my goal all the time. It is not a bad thing for me to have something else to think about; I never get frustrated with my horses, because in the periods it does not go well – which happens a lot in our sport, and to everyone – I have something else to worry about. I think that helps me to be more relaxed on my horses. At the end of the day, top sport and running a business have a lot in common – one strengthens the other. However, I have to remain aware of the fact that it can easily get too much. The thing is, I am the kind of person who always thinks forward, I am not the type to say ‘oh well this is good, let’s leave it like this’. I don’t settle, I don’t slow down.” 

The medals will come 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ. “The medals we won were always with the team, so my goal would be to achieve an individual medal as well – that is on my bucket list,” Pieter Devos tells – here at the Tokyo Olympics where the Belgian team won bronze. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

During his career, Devos has ridden many different types of horses, with likes of Candy (Nabab de Reve x Etretat), Espoir (Surcouf de Revel x Laudanum XX), Apart (Norit Larino x Burggraaf Nv) and Claire Z (Clearway x Coronado I) being the most successful ones. “In the beginning, I had bigger, slower horses with a lot of scope,” he explains. “I had no choice back then; I had to do with what I got. Nowadays I do prefer lighter, more competitive horses. Tekila D (Gotspe x Skippy II) was the horse I did my first senior Grand Prix classes with and then came Candy, with whom I won the Grand Prix of Calgary with in 2013. That win in Calgary was an eye-opener for me. Dream of India Greenfield (Gem of India x Night and Day) was another great horse; we were double clear in the Nations Cup in Aachen when the Belgian team won in 2014 and he won the LGCT Grand Prix in Shanghai that year as well. Espoir, who came to my stable when he was twelve, was a horse I really loved and he did a lot for me. He jumped on the highest level for years, which no one was really expecting – it was an unbelievable journey I had with him. Claire, who we bought when she was two, was not the easiest one but we did a lot of good things together. With her, I went to the Olympics in Tokyo and that was a milestone in my career.”

Jade vd Bisschop (Ogano Sitte x Grannus), who was double clear in Riesenbeck at the 2019 Europeans when the Belgians won a team bronze, unfortunately got injured shortly after, momentarily shaking up Devos’ plans for the future. “She was only eleven when we won the bronze there, and she was really the horse I had a lot of hopes for, also with Paris in mind,” he explains. “Her injury was a big blow for me; it is not that easy to find a horse like her.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ “She is just a very, very special mare,” Pieter Devos says about MoM's Toupie de La Roque. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Then came MoM’s Toupie de La Roque (Kannan x Nabab de Reve) and today, Toupie is Pieter’s number one. “She is just a very, very special mare,” he says. “Alongside her I have a new generation coming through; Nascar van’T Siamshof (Emilion x Voltaire Pref) and Jarina J (Cicero Z x VDL Harley) are both stepping up. However, maybe one of the best horses I ever rode is an 8-year-old I have – a horse we bred ourselves – Casual DV Z (Cornet Obolensky x Cicero Z). You have to start somewhere, and I am proud we have managed to stay on the top level by doing it on our own.”

While Devos has already done several championships with the Belgian team, there is something he hasn’t yet gotten his hands on; an individual medal. “The medals we won were always with the team, so my goal would be to achieve an individual medal as well – that is on my bucket list,” he says. “It all depends on the horses you have though. You cannot expect to win a championship with a good horse – you need an actual superstar. However, I am a rider who does not chase medals or rankings; I just focus on my horses, as I have always done. I want to manage them well and never go too far – and I think by doing this, one day the medals will come. Everything I achieved until now also came with this approach, so I am confident that the next step will come as well – by focusing on my horses and trying to do right by them.” 


20.9.2023 No reproduction of any of the content in this article will be accepted without a written permission, all rights reserved © World of If copyright violations occur, a penalty fee will apply. 

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