First Woman to Win the Marcha in Brazil – A 750km Race on Criollo Horses

We interviewed two Equestrian Adventuresses about the “Marcha da Resistência” on a Criollo Horse in Brazil. Here’s what they revealed about one of the longest distance horse endurance races in the world, 750 kilometers in all weather conditions over 15 days. We speak to Adriana Pires Neves who is a veterinarian competing in the Marcha for the second time this year, and Xaiani Aguerre, a 16 year old horse-lover and the FIRST woman to EVER win the Marcha in Brazil!

Author: Krystal Kelly

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Part I: Interview with Adriana Pires Neves

Adriana is a veterinarian competing in the Marcha for the second time this year. We talk to her about the special features of Criollo horses and the technicalities of the Marcha competitions. Marchas are very popular long distance races held in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The particular ride schedules vary between these countries and the international competition. That’s why we have an “insider” explain the Marcha.

Question: What is the “Marcha da Resistência?”

Adriana: The first Marcha was held in Uruguay in 1951. Supposedly, the Marcha mimics the long distances in all weather conditions that a working horse must endure in the Pampas. The idea goes back to 3 breeders, Júlio Leon, Eduardo Ibarra and Alberto Gallinal. Since the beginning each horse competing in the marcha covers 750km (approximately 466 miles) within a time frame of 15 days. In Brazil, the first 750km marcha was held in Alegrete, in 1991. The Brazilian Federation of Criollo Breeders (ABCCC) organizes all the competitions for Criollo horses in Brazil. Next to the national competitions, the International Federation of Criollo Breeders (FICCC) is hosting international championships (including a marcha) every 4 years in its member countries: Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and Paraguay. Until now there were three FICCC Marchas held in Brazil: 1996, 2007 and 2019.

Competitors in the international Marcha 2019 in Jaguarão, an endurance race for Criollo Horses.
Competitors in the international Marcha 2019 in Jaguarão.

Q: What is the origin of the Marcha?

Adriana: People say, it is a selection tool for the horse’s endurance, but also tests riders and it is the only competition that preserves the essence of Criollo breed, resistance.

Q: How many riders compete?

Adriana: It depends on the year, last year (2018) there were 64, this year (2019) in the national Marcha in Aceguá, Brazil, there were 26; now for the FICCC the competition consists of 25 horses.

Riders at the start line for the Marcha da Resistência in Aceguá.
In the early morning, the start of the Marcha final. Photo Credits: Adriana Pires Neves

Q: Could you give a quick overview of the rules?

Adriana: The Marcha consists of 15 days and covers 750km on a single Criollo horse. In Brazil the national rules define average riding speeds between 6.4 and 12 km/h. On the last three days of the competition the maximum speed is not limited. The average speeds for the short legs then reach about 20 km/h. The international rules set higher average speeds during the first week already, which makes these Marchas very difficult.

Table with the ride schedule for the national Marcha da Resistência in Brazil under the rules of ABCCC.
Riding schedule of the national Marcha da Resistência in Brazil under the rules of ABCCC.
Table with the ride schedule for the international Marcha da Resistência under the rules of FICCC.
Riding schedule of the international Marcha da Resistência under the rules of FICCC.

Horses are vetted after each leg. During the ride, the judges and vets are observing the horses and riders on the track to guarantee the well-being of horses and fair play in the competition. It may occur that a horse or rider is eliminated. If the riders and owners see their horse cannot complete the ride, they ask for a withdrawal. As the competition is testing the horse’s stamina, it is allowed that multiple riders ride one horse. Only a few women in Brazil have completed the whole 750km on their own so far.

Taking the shoes off a Criollo Horse before concentration for a Marcha competition
Concentration for the FICCC Marcha, in Jaguarão. First they take the shoes off, for the horses are to stay 20 days in the field, eating only grass and not being ridden at all. This is their rest for what is to come. Photo Credits: Adriana Pires Neves

Before the ride starts, all horses rest together in the “concentration.” During this 20 day period the horses stay in a grass field and don’t receive any additional feed. Supposedly, this levels the playing field for all horses before the start.

For some facts about the Marcha watch this short 3-minute video:

Q: What is special about the local Criollo breed?

Adriana: The Criollo is a breed that has undergone a tough natural selection process for more than 400 years. It is an offspring of horses that were left in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina (more or less at the same time) by the Spanish and Portuguese settlers. Criollos are very tough and rustic horses, capable to remain all day under the saddle and working with cattle.

A famous adventure was made in the 1920’s by the swiss rider Aimé Tschiffely. He lent two criollos from Emilio Solanet and rode them from Buenos Aires to New York. You can read his adventures in his book, Tschiffely’s Ride.

Part II: Interview with Xaiani Aguerre

Xaiani is the first woman EVER to win the “Marcha de Resistência” for Criollo Horses at the national competition held in Aceguá, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. Here’s what she had to say:

Q: Tell us a little about yourself.

Xaiani: My name’s Xaiani Gonzales Aguerre and I’m 16 years old. I live in Aceguá, Brazil. My grandfather had racehorses and I fell in love with them.

Q: Where does the ride take place and what’s special about the Marcha?

Xaiani: Aceguá is a little town at the border of Brazil and Uruguay. The competition is along the International road. Sometimes you´re riding on the Uruguay side, sometimes on the Brazil side. The border there between the two countries is very easy going and it’s easy to cross from one side to the other without any official border crossings.

A border mark along the international road which separates Brazil and Uruguay
A border mark. These border marks are seen by riders all along the way, because the track is the so-called “Caminho Internacional” that divides Uruguay and Brazil, in Aceguá. Photo Credits: Adriana Pires Neves

And what makes it special is that one must overcome many things both the horses and the riders. It is not an easy task to ride such long distances over 15 days so it’s not uncommon to have to overcome some aches and pains, to get to the end!

Q: What made you want to compete in the marcha?

Xaiani: I participated in other competitions, but the Marcha was a dream for me.

A vet check for Criollo horses as prparation for the Marcha competition in Brazil
After they pass vet inspection, receive anthelmintic and anti-tick bath, they are ready to be released into a grass field for concentration. Photo Credits: Adriana Pires Neves

Q: What preparations did you do with yourself and your horse to train for this big ride?

Xaiani: We worked every day, riding anywhere from 20 to 30 kilometers each day.

Criollo horses galloping in a big field during concentration for a Marcha competition
And they’re off! They surely will enjoy it here, but after 20 days they have to work again! Photo Credits: Adriana Pires Neves

Q: What was your typical day like during the Marcha?

Xaiani: There were 15 days of competition. Every day we completed a few kilometers at various distances and paces. (See the table above).  We needed to wake very early, especially on the days with the longer distances because for the longer rides the start time was at 6:30 AM. Which means you need to catch and saddle your horse around 6am.

Q: Did you have a strategy to win? What was it?

Xaiani: I had no strategy coming into the Marcha. I waited for opportunities as the ride progressed and took them!

two competitors on Criollo Horses during a Marcha da Resistência
Xaiani and Paulo. Photo Credits: Adriana Pires Neves

Q: What was one of the most difficult things about the ride? What did you do to overcome this challenge?

Xaiani: It’s very difficult to be patient and calm. It’s important to pace yourself correctly and not tire your horse or yourself too much. I have some anxiety issues and my horse helped me to overcome them. I also had help from the other participants and from my family. Having this support from others made it easier to accomplish my goal to reach the finish.

Q: Tell us about your horse.

Xaiani: She’s a warrior and very strong. She never gave up! We were together until the end. She also had to overcome many challenges to get to the end of the race.

My horse was already in training before I got her. I bought her a little more than a year before the competition and since then we have been training together. She is 11 years old.

Riding into the sunrise on a Criollo Horse in Brazil
The first ride of the day usually starts very early so the riders can enjoy some beautiful sunrises.

Q: Has a woman won this before?

Xaiani: In Brazil there had never been a female rider who won. My victory was the first time, and the Marcha has had several editions already!

Q: What did it feel like when you won?

Xaiani: I didn’t believe it at first because it was my dream come true!

Q: What day during marcha was the most difficult for you and why?

Xaiani: The last day was the hardest for my horse because she was tired, and we could not give up! The animals already endured tiring 14 days competing. On the final day they had to cover the last 40 kilometers to the finish line.

Q: What was your training before the race? Did you ride a certain amount of kilometers a day to train?

Xaiani: The question of training was very relative, my horse has some joint issues and so the more kilometers we do the greater the chances of injury. I chose good riding conditions and listened to my horse. We practiced 30 kilometers nearly every day.

finish line photo of Xaiani winning the Marcha in Aceguá as the first woman ever in Brazil
Xaiani winning the Marcha 2019, with Paulo alongside her (both riders did the finals riding together all the way). Photo Credits: La Rural Fotografia

Q: What advice do you have for women competing against the boys?

Xaiani: Never give up! The world is very sexist, but we women can do whatever we want. The woman ‘s “place” is where she wants it to be, not where society thinks it should be!

Q: What’s your future goals and next challenge?

Xaiani: I really want to study Veterinary Medicine. Throughout this year, I have achieved many things. Reaching my goal of completing the Marcha makes me very happy, but I intend to continue competing with other horses.


Make sure to follow our fellow Adventuresses on their social media:
Read about Adriana’s Marcha adventures on Facebook and Instagram.
To find out what Xaiani is up to, follow her on Instagram.

Criollo Horses in Brazil - Pinterest
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You don’t have a well trained Criollo horse at hand to compete 750km in a Marcha da Resistência? But you still want to experience the lifestyle of the Gaúchos! Have a look in our catalog “Horse Riding in Every Country” where you can find wonderful trips in the heart of the Gaúcho land in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina. Or find inspiration in the other 400+ horse riding trips in more than 180 countries!

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