The Brazilian Mangalarga Marchador

Vista Da Serra Marchadors of Montana
Story and Photos by Mark LaRowe

© Mark LaRowe

Nestled serenely in the narrow Trout Creek Valley, Vista da Serra Ranch is surrounded by the steep, rocky slopes of Montana’s Big Belt Mountains. Mature Golden Willows line the creek bottom, while lush grasses and shrubs thrive in the cool, shaded micro-climate. Horses graze lazily in the meadows, and peacefulness pervades in the tight valley. While only 26 miles from Montana’s busy capital city of Helena, this place has a remote, “step-back-in-time” feel to it. It’s a thin slice of mountain paradise fully-encompassed by Federally-managed public lands and protected by a conservation easement. The last tract of privately-owned property on the wash-boarded, dead end gravel road, Vista da Serra Ranch is home to a large herd of the Brazilian Mangalarga Marchadors.

A Montanan by birth, Tia has been a full-time professional farrier since 1980. In 1995 she made the decision to enhance her love of, and service to, animals by entering veterinary school.

Founded in 2016 by DVM Tia Nelson and P.E. Derek Brown, the Vista da Serra Ranch has grown from a single animal to 29 Marchadors, with new additions every year via the ranch’s carefully managed breeding program. The ranch itself dates back to the early 1900’s and evidence of its early operation is still in existence. As we tour the property and are introduced to each horse, Tia provides the full name, describes the features, and recites the breeding of each horse, much like a proud mother would do for each of her children. As we continue to amble and talk, the love and admiration she has for each animal, and the breed itself, is obvious and real.

Smack in the middle of a ranch culture dominated by the American Quarter Horse, the Mangalarga Marchadors are a bit of an oddity. The first thing you notice about these horses is their refined, sleek features, the tapestry of colorations, their graceful movements and those enormous, mesmerizing, expressive eyes. I was immediately taken by their beauty and demeanor.

© Mark LaRowe

A breed of Iberian descent, the Marchadors originated from the crossing of Lusitano stallions and Barb mares in Brazil during its colonization by the Portuguese. The National Horse of Brazil, the Marchadors are widely revered for their beauty, intelligence, calm disposition, silky smooth gait, endurance and versatility.

The MMHAA (Mangalarga Marchador Horse Association of America) was the first and original USA breed registry. Founded in 2000, it began importing foundation Mangalarga Marchadors between 2001-2004. The US Mangalarga Marchador Association (USMMA), created in 2005, is now the official registry of Marchador horses foaled in North America, with about 250 Mangalarga Marchadors registered with the USMMA. Some of these have dual registration with the Brazilian ABCCMM (Associacao Brasileira dos Criadores do Cavalo Mangalarga Marchador) which was founded in 1948 to preserve, regulate and register the unique bloodlines of the Marchador breed.

© Mark LaRowe

The rigorous inspection and registration process consists of over 50 measurements and includes a ride by the inspector during which the gait characteristics are evaluated.

A Montanan by birth, Tia has been a full-time professional farrier since 1980. In 1995 she made the decision to enhance her love of, and service to, animals by entering veterinary school. She graduated from Colorado State University in 1999 with her degree at 38 years of age and proceeded to open a practice in 2003. The business thrived and soon outgrew its efficient facility. In 2011 she purchased Valley Veterinary Service in Helena, MT. Recently, she sold the practice in order to spend more time with her beloved Marchadors and focus on the breeding program.

Tia’s love affair with the magnificent Mangalarga Marchadors began in 2001 when she accompanied her friend Tresa Smith on a trip to Brazil during which Tresa was intending to import three impregnated Marchadors to Montana. During that trip, Tia rode over 150 horses and was completely hooked on the breed.

© Mark LaRowe

Tia’s first Marchador was Chico, which she acquired from Tresa Smith. Chico, who is now 14, sired Bethany Vista da Serra (now 12) who is the herd matriarch. Today, there are 29 Marchadors on the ranch, including six new arrivals this spring. They are expecting two more foals by the end of the summer, as well. Of the 29 horses, 13 of them are dually, and definitively registered with the ABCCMM and the USMMA, resulting in the largest number of such registrations by a single owner in North America. The younger stock are “provisionally” registered with the ABCCMM and seven of those will be offered for definitive registration this coming August during a Cavalgada hosted by the Vista da Serra Ranch.

Tia hopes to bring a heightened level of awareness in the U.S. and the rest of North America to the Marchador breed.

© Mark LaRowe

Because of their calm demeanor and intelligence, Marchadors are well- suited for cattle ranch work, and offer a smooth, comfortable ride. They also make excellent trail horses and are a perfect fit for endurance activities. Eventually, the ranch will be outfitted to provide overnight accommodations and a full-immersion Marchador experience including educational opportunities and recreational trail rides. That’s just one more good reason to visit Montana. See the Mangalarga Marchadors up close in Montana’s beauty.

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