BY INTERN CARLY PHOON
In the midst of the wonderful craziness at the Del Mar National, I had the privilege to talk with international show jumper and trainer Mandy Porter. Based out of San Diego, CA, Mandy has appeared on three Nations Cup teams for the US as well as competed in three FEI World Cup Jumping Finals.
As I learned about her background in the industry, I realized right away if opportunities presented themselves, Mandy didn’t let them escape. “I never actually had a goal of being a professional… but I was offered good jobs along the way that took me to different places,” she said. After a very successful junior career and college, a job offer in Europe for Gerhard Etter’s dealing barn was too good to be true. “So I took it and ran with it. It sort of all happened– I didn’t really plan on it. It just happened.”
Seven years in Europe added many miles to the already impressive road Mandy paved for herself in the horse industry. “It gave me a lot of experience riding a huge variety of horses, whether they were young or experienced, at all levels.” In addition, showing almost every week further fueled her competitive drive. When Mandy returned from Europe, she finessed her can-do mentality. She recognized with every new ride, “Maybe it’s not going to be perfect, but at least you have the confidence to know you can get the job done.”
Around the next bend in the road would be the establishment of ACP Enterprises – a curve that came up rather unexpectedly. “When I moved back from Europe, I was not sure exactly what I wanted to do in terms of a career,” Mandy explained. “When I was offered horses, business just grew in front of me. It wasn’t something I’d always dreamt of,” she said. “ACP is actually my initials. In the accountant’s office one day, he said, ‘What’s your farm name?’ I said, ‘I don’t have a farm name!’ He said, ‘This is what it is!’ and I said ‘ok!’” Following the unscripted start, ACP Enterprises produced numerous success stories and continues to thrive today.
Mandy’s strategy to prepare her horses for shows has no predetermined mold, especially with young horses, where one is as unique as the next. For her, adaptability is key. “It’s basically trying to figure out what each horse individually needs… so they can rise to the level they need to be.”
So why specialize in young horses? “They’re very impressionable, and I’ve always really liked that,” Mandy explained about her fondness for bringing up youngsters. “I like to try to figure them out, get in their head, and figure out what makes them tick.”
I asked Mandy about the special horses that carried her to the place she is today. Her first reaction: There were a lot. “I could name all of them for different reasons!”
“My very first horse, Cody, was not a superstar show horse. But I loved him, and he initiated my learning about horsemanship as well as taught me how to be a little bit tough,” she remembered with a laugh. “If I could do it all over again, I would want the same beginning and the same horse. He helped shape who I am today as a horsewoman and my love of horses.”
She named other horses that propelled her riding career forward significantly: Orbit, Fripponier, and Summer, but every single one has taught her something valuable. When looking back on the road she’s travelled, hoof prints were stamped on the ground from the very beginning and they continue to stamp forward now. “It carries into today. Now there’s Milano, Wild Turkey Farm’s Capow! and Leapfrog,” she mentioned from her current string. “And other ones up and coming.”
Right now, Mandy’s goal as a rider and trainer is to continue developing horses and help them fulfill their potential. “Obviously, riding at the top level is great. Riding in Grand Prixs is fantastic, and going to good shows is wonderful, but it all depends on the stock that you have on the time. So if I have those horses, I will strive to take them to that level,” she said. “In a big picture, it’s trying to get horses to be able to be the best that they can be.”
When I asked Mandy what horses have taught her outside of the show ring, her response immediately stuck to me. “Humility,” she said. “They taught me humility.”
“They didn’t choose us to do what they’re doing. So the fact that they’re so willing? They’re so special, because what they’re happy to do with us is amazing.” In Mandy’s lifetime of experience, she hasn’t lost the simple wonder for horses that all equestrians share alike. “I’m still in awe of them all the time.”
Mandy’s own humility was notable. “I learn something every single time I’m on a horse. In the practice ring, watching other people, I am always, always learning.”
We all remember the first time that something about a particular professional stood out and established them in our mind as an idol. But, do riding idols have riding idols? Yes, it turns out they do! Mandy Porter looks up to an abundance of people, and said most anyone in the top of the industry is always worth learning from – and not just within the hunter/jumper world.
“They don’t have to be showjumping riders. Really true horsemen are who I look up to,” she went on to say. “Other than people in the showjumping world, I learned from a guy named Tom Dorrance. I was just super lucky one time to do a clinic with him. That taught me so much about how to look at a horse. He was an amazing horseman.”
Being a teenage equestrian with goals of my own, I couldn’t help but ask Mandy for some good old advice. “Be ready to work hard. When you think you’re working hard, you’ve only just begun,” she emphasized. Her advice is applicable to every single one of us. I’ve learned that even the most talented, well-connected riders are ultimately where they are because they perspired a little– or a lot.
Mandy Porter knows what counts in the equestrian sport. What separates the truly top horsemen from the majority of talented competitors is much, much more than their riding resumés. “It’s not all about winning. It’s how you do everything– when you don’t win, and what you do after that, that makes you who you are,” she said.
Mandy Porter is a rider who amazed me since I was a little kid, and now that I’ve met the woman behind the incredible rounds seven years later, I’m just as amazed. If we all take Mandy’s words and mentality to heart, the road in front of our sport surely stretches past the horizon.