The Mangalarga Marchador is unique in the gaited horse world as it shows three ways of going which are all considered correct: the marcha batida, the marcha picada, and the marcha de centro.
The marcha batida is a diagonal gait, similar to the foxtrot or the passa trote. It is distinguished by moments of three-legged support as the horse moves. It is a gait that becomes smoother as the speed of the horse increases, presuming that the form stays correct. It permits a high level of maneuverability while not sacrificing smoothness. It can be maintained for long periods of time without causing the horse undue fatigue or stress. Batida horses are well suited to athletic and English-style endeavors, such as working cow horse, reining, dressage, mounted games, endurance, jumping, etc.
The marcha picada is a lateral gait similar to the stepping pace or rack. As with all lateral gaits, there is a fairly wide range of foot pickup and fall that can be considered correct. In the Mangalarga Marchador there is no requirement that the gait fall at any particular point on the spectrum of lateral gaits. Rather, the gait is judged on smoothness and the ability of the horse to maintain the gait over a long period of time without suffering excessive fatigue. The picada horse is very well suited to Western-style riding, trail, and general pleasure riding.
The marcha de centro is an isochronal four-beat gait that is virtually identical to the classic running walk of the Tennessee Walking Horse. Correctly done, foot pickup and fall are evenly timed, resulting in a very smooth way of going. For many riders the marcha de centro is an excellent compromise between the sportiness of the batida horse and the solid comfort of the picada horse.
Or, put another way, if the batida horse is a Lamborghini and the picada horse is a Bentley, the marcha de centro horse is a Mercedes 560SL!
One of the reasons we are excited about this breed is its wide range of suitability. Not only can the horse do many things, it can do them well. One reason for this is the Brazilian registration system. When a foal is born to permanently registered parents a set of temporary papers is issued based upon pedigree. At a minimum of three years of age the young horse will be presented to an inspector appointed by the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture who will assess the morphology (conformation) of the horse, the gait of the horse, and the temperament of the horse. Numerical scores are assigned to specific performance points, with a minimum score being required in all three areas. If the horse is passed, then permanent papers are issued. The Association brand is applied to the right shoulder of the horse. Stallions receive only the Association brand, while mares also receive their registration number in a letter format.
Correct riding is very important if maximum performance and rider safety is going to be achieved. At the lowest level, it is fairly easy to sit most lateral gaits on most horses. Gaited horses are often marketed to new riders with this as a major “selling point.” While true as far as it goes, it sometimes leads to a false sense of security on the part of new riders and a belief that if they don’t fall off they are riding effectively. The picada horse, being a lateral horse, does have a gait that is very easy to sit. The batida and marcha de centro horses will require a somewhat higher level of equitation skill to be effectively ridden. We have always suggested, as strongly as possible, that new riders take lessons from a competent instructor, no matter what type of horse they may be riding. This is the strongest shield against injury to either horse or rider.
There are other breeds that have the name “Mangalarga” in them, the most important in the U.S. being the Mangalarga Paulista. The Paulista horse was developed in the State of Sao Paulo many decades ago. The rootstock is the Mangalarga Marchador, but grafted onto this stock we find American Saddle Bred, Thoroughbred, and Arabian. As a general rule the Paulista horse is a true diagonal (i.e., trotting) horse. However, there are a very few Paulistas that will demonstrate a soft, intermediate gait. I rode one on a trip to Brazil. But they are very rare in Brazil and all the Paulistas of which I am aware in the U.S. are trotters. I do not claim any deep expertise on this horse, and am certainly open to correction if I am in error. I present this information so that persons who see the name “Mangalarga” might know that it can refer to either a Marchador or Paulista horse.
The combination of temperament, conformation, and gait makes the Mangalarga Marchador well suited to a wide spectrum of riders.