The Mangalarga Marchador originated in Brazil in the early 19th Century, but its roots lie in the turbulence of the Napoleonic Wars.
In 1807 Napoleon invaded the Iberian Peninsula and installed his brother as King of Spain. His forces also invaded Portugal (a long time ally of Great Britain), forcing the King, D. Joao VI, and the Royal Family to flee to Brazil, then a Portuguese colony. When they left Portugal, they took with them the best horses from the Royal Alter stud, which had an international reputation as a breeder of fine horses of Andalusian blood.
In 1812 Prince Pedro I presented a young stallion named Sublime to his friend, Gabriel Francisco Junqueira, Baron of Aldenas and owner of the Hacienda Campo Alegre near Belo Horizonte, in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Sublime was bred to native mares of Spanish Jennet and Barb blood, many of which were fast amblers. The offspring of these breedings were called “Sublime Horses”. Later, the Hacienda Mangalarga acquired stock from Campo Alegre and interest in the horse grew among local ranchers. They quickly saw the advantages of the smooth, cadenced, and rhythmic gait, the “marcha”, and the horses were soon known as “Mangalarga Marchadors”.
Other selective breeding programs were soon established and it is said that there has been no incrossing to the rootstock for more than 180 years. The first breed association, the Associaocao dos Criadores do Cavalo Marchador de Raca Mangalarga, was formed in 1949 in Belo Horizonte, with the goals of setting breed standards, and promoting and distinguishing the Mangalarga Marchador as a unique breed, principally with regard to its gait. The group is now called the Associacao Brasileira dos Criadores do Cavalo Mangalarga Marchador (ABCCMM).
A detailed breed standard sets the rules for the Mangalarga Marchador. The modern Marchador horse averages in height just over 15 hands, and weighs between 800 and 1200 pounds. Most colors are represented in the breed, with grays, bays, and chestnuts dominating. The breed is well known for its keen intelligence, docile nature, tremendous stamina, and impressive presence, but most of all for their incredibly smooth and fluid ride even at high speeds.
The gait of the Mangalarga Marchador is its hallmark. Unlike many gaited breeds, where the approach is to judge gait quality, the Marchador horse can present any one of three broad gait categories: the “marcha picada” (a lateral gait, ranging from a somewhat pacy running walk to a pace similar to the Icelandic flying pace); the “marcha batida” (a diagonal gait similar to the foxtrot or Peruvian trocha) and the “center march” (very close to the classic running walk of the Tennessee Walkers of the 1930s or early ’40s).
The Marchador horse is capable of performing many tasks well. In Brazil the horse performs ranch tasks (cutting, working cattle, etc.). The laterally gaited types were commonly used as “town horses” in the days before the widespread availability of motor transport, and are still popular today as trail horses. The diagonally gaited stock is known for its stamina, agility, and ability to handle rough terrain. They are used by Brazilian Fox Hunters. The sport of “coursing deer” often requires the horses travel 150 miles in three days over a wide variety of terrain. According to the Brazilian Eduro web page, the top endurance horse in Brazil in 1997 was a Marchador (even though more than 80% of the total horses are Arabians, Anglo-Arabians, or Arabian crosses).
To maintain quality, the ABCCMM mandates inspection of stock prior to permanent registration. Temporary papers are issued to a foal at birth, but permanent registration is not granted until the horses are inspected at not younger than three years of age for conformation, gait, and temperament. Technicians licensed by the Ministry of Agriculture conduct these inspections.
The first North American exposure to the Mangalarga Marchador took place at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. Due to political turmoil in Brazil at that time, a breeding population could not be exported and the breed was not established here. In the early 1990s stallions and mares were imported and breeding programs were established in Florida by Mr. Lucas Guerra and his family.
To date there are less than 200 Marchador horses registered in the U.S. The U.S. Mangalarga Marchador Horse Association, USMMA, is recognized by the ABCCMM as the registery in the U.S. The web site can be reached at www.usmarchador.com. We know the Marchador horse has a bright future in North America, based upon its sound mind, excellent conformation, and versatility.