Lazy T Ranch Marchadors Montana raises another breed
June 29, 2013
Angus cattle and Brazilian horses make a great combination on the Lazy T Ranch near Helena, Mont. Tresa Smith and her brother Paul Smith run several hundred cows, taking them to summer range high in the mountains. They use their Mangalarga Marchadors for working and moving cattle.
"My father's father came into this valley in the 1800s and homesteaded here. They sold the original homestead when my grandfather became ill. My father loved ranching and bought this Lazy T ranch in 1932. It is a compilation of several different homesteads. Each of our fields has the name of the homesteader who filed on that portion. The ranch is in a river valley surrounded by mountains; one peak goes up to 10,000 feet," says Tresa.
"My brother and ranch manager run it now. We started with Herefords years ago and then went to baldies and now our cattle are black."
The women on the ranch have always been the horse people. "The men love to ride their Japanese Quarter Horses, and if pushed they will get on a real Quarter Horse when necessary," she says. But for the long hours in the saddle, working or moving cattle, it's the women who love to ride.
"My mother taught me to ride; she infused me with enthusiasm for horses. I started with Shetland ponies, then some Quarter Horses, Arabians and Thoroughbreds. I barrel raced when I was in high school," says Tresa.
"Our ranch manager's daughter Kindle McCauley is just like me; she is crazy about horses. Her father has been our ranch manager for many years. He and my brother are a great team. Kindle started riding with us when she was just a little kid and is a very good hand with horses."
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Kindle just graduated from college at Dillon, Mont., in Natural Horsemanship. "For her senior project she had to do extensive training at a major training facility, so I asked if she'd like to go to Brazil. Some friends there have the number one Marchador in Brazil. So Kindle went to their Marchador ranch. They don't have cattle – just horses, training them from dawn till dusk. She loved that experience and was there for a month. Now I have someone here who has more knowledge of the gait than I do," says Tresa.
"She is helping me train our young horses, so now I have an in-house trainer. At my age, in my 70s, I don't do as much training as I used to. When I first brought horses home from Brazil to breed them, I said a horse would never leave this ranch to be sold unless I had ridden it, but I've backed off on that rule."
Kindle started working with the Marchadors about 5 years ago, and really likes taking them up on the mountain because of their stamina. The Lazy T Ranch horses are used extensively in the spring when cattle are taken to summer ranges, and when gathering again in the fall.
"The spring rides are a good training experience for the young horses because we trail the cattle for 5 days to one of the range pastures," says Tresa. "The horses put in long days and learn patience, staying behind the cattle, and they start really paying attention to cattle."
Kindle says the riders often camp along the way, at spots where they can shut a gate ahead of the cattle – so the cows won't leave their tired calves and keep traveling, knowing they are going to summer pasture. "We make a rope corral for the horses at night, where they have a little grass. If grass is sparse we haul hay. When we take the heifers to Elk Park it's all on a stock trail and a person can drive it," she explains.
"There are usually four riders, and the cattle know the way. Sometimes we take the heifers up by themselves, and then take my dad's and my cows, and then the other cows, so we may be trailing cattle up there three different times. This is the great for colts, just trailing cows and sometimes a few go wrong and you have to ask a little bit more from the horse. It's on-the-job training," says Kindle.
The Marchadors are used for gathering and driving cattle, sorting cattle, roping – whatever needs to be done. "They are working cow horses," says Tresa. This breed is the original cow horse. My stallion, Monitor, when he was a young horse in Brazil, went out every day to work cattle. By contrast our work is more seasonal. We work hard in the spring when we put the cattle out, and when we gather in the fall, and some rides in the summer when we move them from pasture to pasture, but we don't do much riding in winter," she says.
"When he was in Brazil, Monitor worked and branded cattle year round. He was part of a big herd of stallions and geldings being used every day to work cattle. He loves it, and gets bored when we're not doing something with cattle. When we are in the mountains looking for cattle, he sees them long before we do."
Tresa really likes the Marchadors for working cattle because of their stamina. "They don't quit. They have more go than any other horses I've ridden. They are just as fresh at the end of a long day as they are at the beginning. Any cowboy that's ridden these horses says he would choose them for a circle horse – making the longest rides. They are much tougher than a Quarter Horse, and their gait is really smooth." This leaves the rider fresher at the end of the day – not having to "pedal" the horse all day, or be worn out from a rough, jolting ride.
The marching gaits are so smooth that many people don't realize the speed they're traveling. "It's about 16 to 20 miles per hour, the equivalent of an extended trot, only less wear and tear on the rider. As one old cowboy commented, he didn't realize he was moving until he saw the fence posts going by!" says Smith.
"They get you back to the trailer at night 35 or 40 minutes before the rest of the horses. In the fall we keep going day after day until we get the cattle all in. There's always those last few that you can't find for days and sometimes the weather is nasty."
"The first time I ever rode Monitor in the mountains in snow, it was a horrible day – and foggy, making it hard to see the cattle. We rode up an ice-covered stream and the horses kept breaking through. But what he really hated – because he'd never experienced it before – was the ice ball snow-stilts that built up under his feet. He braved it, but we were so high in the mountains, and it was so cold and foggy that we could hear snow geese flying beneath us. We were out there looking for the last seven heifers that had disappeared. We finally found them, and Monitor and I ended up driving them home by ourselves," recalls Tresa.
Once the Marchadors are trained on cattle, they really pay attention to cows. "Their ancestors have a long history of working cattle and fighting bulls in Spain and Portugal. In Brazil, there are 500,000 Marchadors and most of them are working cattle on those huge ranches. They travel and work cattle all day long. One of the big events they have at their national horse show is team penning."
Marchadors are still rare in the U.S. Tresa brought her first ones home from Brazil in 2002. "They arrived here in February and we started using them that spring to work cattle."
She loved these horses so much that she wanted to introduce them to other people in the U.S. She has now sold 17 horses – offspring of the four mares and stallion she imported. At this point in time Marchadors are expensive because there are so few of them in this country. Tresa has a friend in Wyoming – Muff Niedringhaus at the T Bar T Ranch near Sheridan – who has a Marchador, and ropes on him.
"Ranchers and trainers around here who have ridden them really like them, and enjoy their forward movement. There's a lot of horse under you with a Marchador. They are not high strung and crazy, but when you get on them they like to go – all the horse you need for any job, or to head any cow."
Tresa really appreciates the easy gait as she gets older. "Kindle is working a young colt for me, and says she thinks he can be my next horse after Monitor! Monitor was five when I bought him and he's 15 now."
Kindle started riding the young colt, Milton, two years ago. "He is four now, and even at his young age he has so much try, and stamina. These horses are pretty cow-savvy and Milton is really good at it. He spins on his hind legs and does some good turns to head a cow. The Marchadors have so much try that they will go anywhere you ask," she says.
"If they trust you and know you aren't going to put them in a bad spot, they will do anything for you. A lot of the riding we do is in the mountains. We may move cattle up and then find more that need moved up, so you are taking groups up there multiple times during a day – and you can't quit until you have them all moved," explains Kindle. "The stamina of these horses is awesome!"