California equestrian Mandy Porter admits that on the ski slopes, she’s not as brave as she used to be. “But I don’t go out there to toodle down the fire trails,” she says. “I still push for that little bit more. If I had time to ski more often, I think I would be more dare-devilish.”
A three-time Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping finalist who has represented the U.S. Equestrian Team in Nations Cup competition, Mandy gallops pedal to the metal when the courses call for it. That’s her job, and it’s one that requires considerable time to achieve and maintain success at the highest levels. As such, it doesn’t leave a lot of time for skiing, a favorite hobby since her childhood. Yet this San Diego-based successful athlete heads for the mountains every chance she gets.
Mandy Porter at Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe, a favorite destination from her youth | Photo © EpicMix
Adrenaline rush is a big part of both sports’ appeal. Although jumping is her thing on horses, she’s not looking for airtime on the slopes. Moguls and black diamond runs are more her preference and feed her famously bold and competitive nature.
Both sports, she notes, require the same high intensity when it comes to focus and concentration.
Mental meanderings while piloting a 1,000-pound horse around a course of 5-foot obstacles won’t land you in the prize money and may well land you in the dirt, and rather abruptly at that. That translates to the high-difficulty runs she’s drawn to. “Not being a great skier and not getting to do it very often, the most difficult runs really require me to focus.”
The mountains near her Southern California base, Big Bear Mountain Resorts or Mammoth Mountain, or the Lake Tahoe resorts of her Northern California youth, like Kirkwood and Heavenly, are favorite getaways during breaks in the horseshow season.
She has her own ski equipment and appreciates that fact that it can be stored away between use. That’s a big difference from her partners in the jumping arena: living, breathing animals who require constant training, care and, perhaps most of all, connection between competitions. They would never be described as “equipment” to be “used” but as partners to be worked and played with.
The bond with the horses is critical to success in jumping. The relationship between horse and rider exists at every level from jumping under the bright lights of international competition to down days spent on a relaxed trail ride. Mandy still feels today what she did as a horse-crazy young girl. “I do it all for the horse first and the sport second,” she reflects. “If I’m having a bad time, I just hang out with the horses in the barn and that all comes back.”
Mandy competing at the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Las Vegas | Photo © Amy K. Dragoo
Skiers will dig the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League jumping action. “I think really good skiers, whether you are competitive or not, ski with good balance, rhythm and timing. That carries over into jumping and you’ll see that and appreciate it if you are watching upper-level riders.”
Making something very hard look very easy is another common denominator. “A lot of people watch riding and think that it’s super easy. And that’s what we want. The challenge of riding is staying out of the horse’s way. Maybe I need to think about staying out of my skis way!”
Early in her professional career, Mandy spent seven years working for a top horse broker in Switzerland. She skied a little during that time, but kicks herself now for not taking more advantage of her proximity to the Swiss Alps.
At the time, she was busy doing everything from mucking stalls to riding young horses in that dues-paying phase common to most professional riders’ early days. There wasn’t much time to hit the slopes. “It’s a pity that I was right there and didn’t go more often.”
That early dedication, however, has led Mandy to an impressive and ongoing career. She’s a go-to girl for top American sporthorse breeders looking to develop their potentially million-dollar horses and then showcase them at the biggest tournaments. She’s also a sought-after coach.
Jumping has its share of physical risks and some riders won’t push their luck by taking on a hobby with perhaps equal chance of injury. Mandy is not among them. “I’m still going to take risks and live my life. I consider skiing to be less risky than other things. Living in Southern California, I’m very close to the ocean and a lot of people I know love to surf. But I love to ski. It’s my thing.”