Standout show jumper Mandy Porter has traveled the world to win competitions, represented the United States on three Nations Cup teams and qualified for four World Cups.
But once a year, the Encinitas resident gets to compete at the highest level, right in her own backyard.
The Del Mar International Horse Show runs from Oct. 12 through Oct. 30 at the iconic race track, but the crown jewel of the event is the Longines FEI World Cup, a Grand Prix level event set for Saturday, Oct. 22. Porter and her horses will compete in the show jumping portion of the horse show from Wednesday of that week through Saturday.
She will ride about six different horses throughout the week — and clients she’s trained will add to the number of competitive horse/rider teams connected to Porter — which means Porter, 50, could be in the saddle from 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. for each of the five days. Hundreds of horses and riders will compete in all classes of show jumping, culminating in Saturday’s World Cup qualifier event, where the top 40 horse/rider duos will be vying for points toward the March World Cup finals.
At least one of Porter’s horses, 11-year-old Milano, is expected to be ready for Saturday night’s main event, but Porter will ride him in lesser events in the days prior to gauge if he is truly ready.
“My goal would be to see if (Milano) can be ready to compete (in the World Cup qualifier),” Porter said. “If I don’t feel he can be competitive, I wouldn’t start him in it. My goal is not to compete just to say I competed.”
After a course walk earlier in the day, and a brief warmup on the horse prior to Saturday’s post time, Porter and her horse will enter the arena and have roughly 45 seconds to complete the 13-17 jumps on the course, trying to avoid any point deductions in that first round. That is followed by a second round, called a jump off, that is contested on a shorter course and the fastest time in that round wins. The winner Saturday gets the most points toward qualifying for the World Cup finals.
“At this level of competition, pairing up with the horse is really important,” Porter said. “You want to have a partner out there … and the better you know each other, and can work with each other, the better it can be.”
Porter competed at the World Cup finals when they were in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2008 and also qualified for the 2014 event in Lyon, France, but was unable to go because the horse was injured. She has competed in World Cup finals in Las Vegas on two other occasions, including the 2007 event, which was her best performance to date.
This season, the world’s top 45 or so horse/rider duos will compete for the ultimate prize in Nebraska in late March. The qualifying season features 14 events with World Cup points available, seven on each coast. Del Mar is one of the most popular events on the West Coast circuit.
“Del Mar is one of our favorite places to show ever,” Porter explained. “It’s a great atmosphere, great show grounds and they get great crowds. Having a great crowd can really get you pumped up. I can’t wait to go compete at Del Mar.
“That atmosphere is really electric, I can’t say enough good things about showing there.”
A charity event called Woof Cup Classic — which benefits six different charities and shows off the work done by Shelter for Soldiers — is the same night as the World Cup qualifier, also at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. Six dog agility teams will be matched with six Grand Prix riders and horses to compete for the Charity Woof Cup.
“To be able to raise money for an organization like that is so amazing, I commend the show management and staff for doing that,” Porter said.
Porter’s path to such exciting and meaningful events began at a very young age as her grandfather and mother introduced her to the world of horses. Then living in the small Southern California city of Rolling Hills Estates, Porter participated in her first horse show when she was just 7 years old, and not long after that, she was competing in show jumping.
The family moved north when Porter was 14, settling in Diablo, a small population center just outside of Danville, where she and her friends could ride all around the neighborhood. She kept horses at home at that point, which made it easier to become immersed in the activity. Porter took care of the horses before school, after school and on weekends. And the competitions got more and more frequent, as well as more prestigious.
“That’s when it became a way of life,” Porter said. “I enjoyed competing and I just stuck with it, we would go almost every weekend to smaller shows. We would aspire to go to shows like the one at Del Mar.”
Porter went to college at Cal Poly, but didn’t slow down with her jumping. She continued going to shows on weekends and, after the first year, she brought a horse of her own down.
“I just always wanted to be around horses, they have this calming effect on me,” Porter said. “I just love the animals, love being around them all day. It’s a lot of little girls’ dream.”
Porter says she “dabbled” in Grand Prix level jumping near the end of her college years in the late 1980s, but then moved to Europe for a few years. After she returned to the U.S., she got back into it even more seriously and was a regular on the West Coast circuit. She eventually settled in Encinitas in 2001 and, depending on the horses in her stable, Porter has been in contention for World Cup qualification almost every year since.
Porter runs ACP Enterprises, where she works with her longtime boyfriend Craig Starr. The business also has four grooms to work with the horses every day and a few other people that help out. Their dog Tater also “lends a helping paw.”
“(At ACP Enterprises) our primary focus is training horses and … (they are) from all levels,” Porter explained. “We keep our business smaller so we can be hands-on with every individual horse or rider. We only have a very small handful of students that we teach and they keep their horses here, where we train them.”
Because of having a current crop of horses that are nearly ready for high level competition, Porter in 2016 has focused more on riding than teaching, with Starr handling more teaching duties. Which is fine with her, as she loves all aspects of working with the animals, whether it is watching a young horse grow and improve, the bright lights of a huge competition or that moment at the barn when no one is around except her and the horses.
“At the end of the day, it’s still all about the horses.”