Imagem card

Cavalhada (Horse Riding Competitions)

The Dictionary of Brazilian Folklore, by Câmara Cascudo, defines ‘cavalhada’ as parading on horses, horse racing, and horse riding competitions with sticks and rings.

Cavalhada (Horse Riding Competitions)

Article available in: PT-BR ESP

Last update: 04/09/2013

By: Virginia Barbosa - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

The Dictionary of Brazilian Folklore, by Câmara Cascudo, defines ‘cavalhada’ as parading on horses, horse racing, and horse riding competitions with sticks and rings.

Of Iberian origins, ‘cavalhada’ or ‘argolinha’ recalls the equestrian tournaments of medieval times. It goes back even to the Romans, who had it as part of its civic and triumphant processions and sacred festivals, then later to Portugal and from there it was imported to Brazil.

In Portugal, the cavalhada tournament was carried out at religious or political festivals. Monarchs, princes and nobles of the Royal House participated in them, eventually making it a form of popular entertainment.

In Brazil, the participation of the dominant classes was also a characteristic of “cavalhadas”. They were introduced during the colonial period by the knights and nobles who came with the land grantees. They formed part of the civic and religious celebrations and, some years later, part of our popular customs and mirth. Cavalhada could also be, independent of these festivities, a party in itself that could last for several days.

One of the oldest records of cavalhada (argolinha) in Brazil relates to the public festivals thrown by Count João Maurício de Nassau, in Recife, in January 1641, to commemorate the proclamation of the restoration of Portugal from Spanish subjection and to praise King João IV.

With characteristics brought from Europe – horse parades, horse races, horse riding competitions with sticks and rings, mannequins and shackles – the cavalhada spread throughout Brazil, especially in the states of Minas Gerais, Bahia, Paraná and Goiás. However, over time it did not preserve its original form. The folklorist from Alagoas, Théo Brandão, observes that Northern cavalhada is made up of parades, horse races and horse riding competitions rings. From his studies, the description of cavalhada was drawn: carried out in an open space (plaza, field or park) so a race track or trail can be marked, cavalhada is made up of twelve pairs of riders. The first two pairs are called the first and second ‘keepers’ (in other states, ‘mantenedores’), who are the respective chiefs of the red and blue ropes. The ‘matinadores’, like the other riders, must be masters of the art of cavalhada as to them falls the obligation of the removal of the ring when the race preparations have not been done.

The tournament is divided into three parts, obligatorily in this order: visita à Igreja (Church visit), corrida de argolinhas (rings race) and escaramuças (skirmishes).

The Church visit is done in the afternoon. The riders, duly fitted out in regalia, march in double file to the sound of a regional fife and drum orchestra, known has “Esquenta Mulher” (Woman Heater). In front of the church, they begin the salutation ritual: removing their caps, being blessed, removing their knife sheaths and kissing them as a sign of recognition by the religion they have chosen. They dismount their horses and go to the altar where they place their bouquets with the wishes of their patron in order to have a successful tournament.

At the end of the salutation ritual they make their way to the location of the tournament. There, at the track, they get close to the track markers and run three laps on the inside and three on the outside of the posts.

The tournament then begins with the pair races. These are concluded with the starting of the rings race, which begins with tying a rope to the posts from which the ring is suspended from a hook. After this, the most exciting part of the tournament begins: the race to the ring.

And what exactly is this race? The rider, after the starting gun is fired, must thrust his lance in the iron external ring and collect the ring from it. All the aspects involved in the removal of the ring are observed so that the merit and the victory of the rider can be acclaimed: the movements of the lance, firmness of pointing it through the ring, the posture at the end of the race and in reaching the coveted trophy.

After the retrieval of the ring, the rider must keep it on his lance until receiving the awards: ribbons, fabrics, shawls of valour tied onto the lance, bestowed by members of the Judging Commission, and on the left arm or the shoulder belt, awards given by supporters, friends, admirers and relatives. The first award tied onto the lance is destined to the patron in whose honour the festival is celebrated; the others, the rider must offer them to friends or people he sympathises with. Those on the arm or shoulder belt are the rider’s and he will stay with them until the end of the race.

After the receiving of the awards, the rider lets the ring fall. A squire catches it and takes it once again to the hook for the next race (six in all). In the final ring race, to decide who has the right to the prize, it is only necessary to hit the hook – there is no obligation to catch the ring on the lance.

At the end of the six races, the party who had the most number of lances wins. This total is defined and confirmed by flags placed on two masts located on the two sides of the track.

The final part of the tournament consists of equestrian demonstrations, namely the escaramuças (skirmishes): the oito e noves (eight and nines), the zeros and the biscoutos (biscuits), each one with its own characteristics.

The cavalhada tournament closes with the Retirada (Retreat): the pairs all hold each other’s reins, parade in front of the podium and, in a sign of thanks, kiss and shake their knives in the direction of the public. In some cavalhadas, there may or may not be a procession, called the Agradecimento (Thanking), where the first “keeper”, in front of the church or the podium, thanks and embraces all the companions for their services. At the beginning of the night, the riders retire to their homes.

Recife, 30 March 2006.
(Updated on 14 September 2009.)
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.


sources consulted

BRANDÃO, Théo. Folguedos natalinos: cavalhada. Maceió: Imprensa Universitária/UFAL; Museu Théo Brandão, [19--]. (Coleção Folclórica da UFAL, 32)

CASCUDO, Luís da Câmara. Dicionário do folclore brasileiro.Rio de Janeiro: Eitora Tecnoprint, [1972?]

MEYER, Marlyse. De Carlos Magno e outras histórias: cristãos & mouros no Brasil. Natal: Ed. da UFRN, 1995.

PEREIRA, Niomar de Souza. Cavalhadas no Brasil: de cortejo a cavalo a lutas de mouros e cristãos. São Paulo: Escola de Folclore, 1983.

SOUTO MAIOR, Mário; VALENTE, Waldemar. Antologia pernambucana de folclore. Recife: Fundaj/Editora Massangana, 1988. (Monografias, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco; n. 31)

______; LÓSSIO, Rúbia. Dicionário de folclore para estudantes. Recife: Fundaj, Ed. Massangana, 2004


how to quote this text

Source: BARBOSA, Virgínia. Cavalhada (Horse Riding Competitions). Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at:  <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.