byEsther Hahn| Oct 19, 2016
Show jumper Mandy Porter is calm, cool, and collected every time she steps into the ring, whether it’s on a grand prix mount or one of the young horses that she’s developing. The three-time FEI World Cup Finalist is currently based in San Diego, Calif. and recently won the five-year-old division at the Young Jumper Championships West Coast Final with Camelot BF. Weeks later, she added another win in the five-year-old futurity finals at the Sacramento International Horse Show CSI3*-W, this time aboard WT Leapfrog.
As any top-level rider can attest, it’s a journey to strengthen and maintain focus in the ring. Porter has shaped her own mental approach to competition, which she’s utilized for everything from young horse championships to Nations Cups. Here are the ways that she’s found success with her own mental game:
Focus on the task at hand: I have to allow myself to focus exactly on what’s in front of me and leave a lot of stuff behind, like events prior in the day. I make that the most important thing to have my mind on and I don’t let it stray. I have to take my job of what’s ahead of me very seriously and I focus on the important aspects. I have to be very attentive. It’s a determined focus. I had to get overly serious to build that muscle.
Make a specific plan: If there’s a very difficult line or challenging jump on a course, I’ll really make a plan on how to execute that particular issue or question. If it’s a line that needs to be ridden a certain way, I really break it down to every point of where do I want to be, executing what at each point. It helps me is to depersonalize it. When it’s something like that, it becomes my absolute job and I can look at it differently. I don’t think “I hope this will happen.” I go into saying I need to execute this task at this point. There’s no option. I make it a real focused commitment to executing what needs to be done instead of worrying about it.
Course walk strategy: I do visualize a course when I walk it. I will visualize how I plan to have it happen or plan to execute it. For a bigger course, or if I’m feeling distracted by anything, I’ll need to walk the course at least once by myself then walk it multiple times, even if I know exactly how I walked it the first time. Maybe the second time I walk it, I’ll visualize. The first time is for an idea of numbers and how I want it to be, and the second time is when I analyze it more and put emphasis on things that are more difficult.
Alone time: I am somewhere by myself for a certain period of time when at all possible—whether that’s standing off to the side of the ring when walking or standing to the side of the warm up or even on my own horse. I’m in my own zone. I don’t engage in a lot of conversation unless it’s about the course. It’s important that I stay in my own head. That helps me stay focused.
Settle: Whenever I do feel nervous, I reiterate, back to myself, my task at hand and focus on what I need to execute in the class. I can stay focused a lot more when I look at it as my job. I owe it to my horse, first and foremost. I expect my horses’ absolute attention so I have to give mine to them.
Build confidence in the warm up: By the time I’m in the warm up, the homework should have already been done. The warm up is not when I want to train my horse. I just want it to be the culmination of all the training, and it’s a few jumps to just make sure everyone’s paired up and warmed up. By the time I’m in the warm up ring, I want to already feel prepared. It’s a time to make sure the buttons are all working and that the confidence is good and we go from there.
Relax: When I’m more relaxed, I can feel my horse better. If I have a horse that’s nervous warming up, I have to try to stay more relaxed for the horse. When the energy is tense and horses are hitting jumps and the noise level is up, I have to be relaxed to instill confidence for my horse to reconnect with me. I focus on the partnership rather than the other horses around us. We need to connect and be stronger than everything else. But I don’t mistake relaxed for casual.
Keep the routine: I really appreciate a calm, quiet, confident energy. When I feel that from the team around me, that helps me. It’s the routine that has to fall into place. That’s when you want it to all culminate. My team does not need to say a lot unless there’s something pertinent about the course, like the time allowed being an issue. I don’t like to engage in a lot of talk right as I’m walking into the ring. It’s all part of the focus. If someone is going to the ring and they look past me or their focus is somewhere else, I totally respect that. That’s their way of being focused. It’s important to respect their space and their mindset.