Mangalarga Marchador Horse Origin and Characteristics

Native to Brazil, the Mangalarga Marchador Horse is a breed that is a direct descendent of the Iberian horses in Spain and Portugal. Created from Lustiano stallions and Barb mares, these horses are known for their beautiful coats, gentle disposition, and high levels of intelligence. In addition to the two standard gaits, the Mangalarga Marchador has two ambling gaits, one lateral and the other diagonal. 

It is the national horse of Brazil and has been used to work on the rural ranches of the country since the middle of the 18th century. Strict inspection procedures are in place in Brazil to maintain the breed. Only horses that pass this rigorous testing are allowed to breed for official purposes.

The first Mangalarga Marchador horses were exported to the United States in the 1990s and since then, small groups have been exported globally. The population numbers outside of Brazil, however, are still quite low. At this time, there are fewer than 100 officially registered Mangalarga Marchador horses in the United States. 

When Napoleon threated Portugal in the early 19th century, the royal family fled to safety by traveling to Brazil. They remained there beyond the French occupation and created a separate kingdom there. Since both thrones were held by the same family, it allowed for a unique commercial opportunity and cultural exchange. Part of that exchange included bringing horses from Europe to South America. 

Today, the Mangalarga Marchador can be found throughout the world, though most of the population remains in Brazil. Programs can be found in Spain, Portugal, The Netherlands, Switzerland, and Italy. 

What Is the Origin of the Mangalarga Marchador?

The story of the Mangalarga Marchador begins with Francisco Gabriel Junqueira, who was the Baron of Alfenas. He began importing Lusitano stallions and then bred them to the mares that were on his farm. Most of the mares were Barbs. The foals created from these unions had a smooth gait and an attractive appearance, so the Baron began to call the next generation of horses “Sublime.”

Additional bloodlines from Criollos, Jennets, and Andalusians were added into the lineage of the breed to provide it with additional stability without sacrificing the gaits that were wanted. 

Some of these foals were sold to a friend of the Baron in 1812, who happened to have a farm near Rio de Janeiro. The name of the farm happened to be Mangalarga. Once the foals grew to adulthood, the friend began riding the horses from his farm into Rio on a regular basis. The people who saw the smooth gait and attractive coat began referring to the “Sublime” horses as Mangalargas.

Additional breeders took note of the positive characteristics that were displayed with this horse and wanted to get involved. Up until the early 20th century, the Baron recommended specific fixes to maintain the health, temperament, endurance, and marching gait of these horses. For more than 180 years, breeders were selective with the Mangalarga Marchador and no other breeds were said to have crossed into it.

In 1934, the first breeders’ association for the Mangalarga was formed. Those involved wanted to have a clear direction to take the breed and have an established set of characteristics, with a preference on the intended gait.

There were localized objectives in place for the Mangalarga at the time as well. Some breeders wanted to go in a new direction to continue the breed’s development as they felt the original objectives had been met. Others felt like the reason why the Mangalarga Marchador was popular was because there was such an emphasis on tradition within the breeding programs.

In 1943, the breeders’ association closed the stud book, just 9 years after its foundation. In 1948, those who disagreed with this decision started a new association.

This created two distinct lines: the Mangalarga and the Mangalarga Marchador. Since the 1940s, although both breeds have similar roots, they have grown to have different bloodlines and conformation expectations. 

Efforts have been taken to try uniting these two breeds once again, but with more than 350,000 horses registered in Brazil alone, the Mangalarga Marchador is likely here to stay for quite some time. 

What Are the Characteristics of the Mangalarga Marchador?

The Mangalarga Marchador is a horse that is of average size. It features a coat that is silky, showing of withers that are prominent and a chest that is deep, but not really broad. The hindquarters are noticeably muscular, supported by a sloping croup. Hard hooves allow the horse to be agile in most conditions while being able to support the various gaits.

All coat colors are accepted by the breed associations for the Mangalarga Marchador. Some of the most popular coats are reminiscent of Appaloosa coloration and spotting. Any coat color is possible with breed, including color breed options, such as buckskin and palomino.

For a stallion, the ideal height of the Mangalarga Marchador is 15 hands high. The registration range for stallions, however is 14.2-15.2 hands high. Mares are smaller, with a preferred height of 14.1 hands high. Registrations are accepted for mares as long as they stand at least 13.3 hands high.

Although some horses are below the threshold for sizing and are technically ponies, all Mangalarga Marchadors are referred to as “horses.” Most individuals will weigh 1,100 pounds or less. 

The Mangalarga Marchador should have a head that is distinctly triangular in its shape. The profile of the horse should be straight, with nostrils that are above average in size. The ears are upright and alert, with a slight inward curve, while the eyes are quite large and expressive. Stallions should also have a slight crest on their neck.

For this breed, it is the two additional gaits that are most desired by owners and breeders. The diagonal ambling gait is similar to a fox troll, while the lateral gait is similar to a single foot or stepping pace. The latter is usually the smoothest gait for the horse since its movement creates little vertical momentum. Some overstepping is expected, but the ride is still comfortable.

The Mangalarga Marchador does not pace or trot. It moves from the ambling gaits to a canter. This gives it a unique level of endurance that is difficult to match in other breeds. In 1994, a Mangalarga Marchador was awarded with a world record for an endurance ride that lasted nearly 8,700 miles. 

The hooves and pasterns are slightly lower than what one might expect from a horse with Spanish and Portuguese heritage.  The forearms tend to be longer than average, but with shorter cannons and noticeable musculature. This gives the horse an ability to be precise with its foot placement without placing excessive levels of stress on the joints. 

Preserving the Mangalarga Marchador Horse

After the split in the breeders’ association, the ABCCMM, which formed in the split, holds regular events, tests, and competitions to maintain the functional performance of the breed. A national points ranking system is in place to highlight the breeders and horses which perform the best throughout the year. Several events have large cash prizes that can be won as well.

The critical tests for the breed are the gait classes. They are quite rigorous and can last for an hour or more for each horse. Judges examine the horse, looking for elegance, timing, and endurance of a range of several different speeds. Functional performance testing can be equally grueling, with some horses being tested over a distance of 60+ miles.

Several events are held throughout the year in the same communities. In one extreme example, Belo Horizonte held 27 different events in one year, featuring more than 4,000 horses and 1,500 exhibitors.

Despite the intensity of the testing, the tack used for the Mangalarga Marchador is usually very simple. A basic Australian stock saddle is typically used with a headset that is clean-cut, complemented with a snaffle bit. For showing purposes, attire is traditionally a reflection of the region where the breeder resides. 

How Does the Mangalarga Marchador Perform?

The Mangalarga Marchador horse is extremely versatile. The ranches of Brazil could be incredibly demanding, requiring the horses to be adaptable to a wide variety of conditions. This helped the breed establish a high level of intelligence early on with a great deal of patience and understanding. They are easy keepers who love to put in a good day of work. 

What is unique about this breed is the size of the thorax. It is remarkably deep, which allows the horse to have a greater lung capacity than normal. With the improved air flow and efficient circulation, the stamina for this horse is legendary. Even on the longest of rides, these horses still maintain a regel bearing and a fluid ride with a high carriage.

Because of all these advantages, it is easy to see why the Mangalarga Marchador is such a popular breed. As more get to know just what this horse is able to do, it is easy to picture a bright future for this much beloved breed.