What do you think of when you think of Spain?
You can’t really drive very far in Spain without seeing the iconic bull silhouetted against the cloud mottled sky, standing on a hill aside the highway. They are scattered along random stretches of road all over the country. It’s a national symbol… whether you agree to the sport or not.
In the nearly two years that we’ve lived here, I’ve waffled a bit on the whole bull-fighting thing. I am, after all, the girl who rescued a partially crushed turtle from the middle of the road and nursed it back to health. I am a critter person who loves cows. To me, bulls are just big cows, ornerier, but just as cute.
But, I sort of wanted to see this tradition that has endured the centuries. Cave drawings from 2000 BC depict contests with bulls. The form and style has evolved, but what exists today hasn’t changed much since 1726 when a bull fighter in Ronda introduced the short sword and cape. That’s a long time. Now that I think of it, that’s a lot of bulls. Better not to think of it.
I’ve seen the bull runs, several of them. And with each viewing I’ve become more and more disenchanted with the exhilarating fun that treats the animal so badly. They’re boxed up in tiny boxes and transported for hours. People beat on the boxes to rile them up. They slip and fall on the pavement as their hooves have nothing to grip to. And I’ve never gotten a clear answer on what happens after. Are they killed? How? Is the meat eaten? Local Spanish folks have given me a myriad of opposing answers. May be they don’t want to think of it either.
I saw the bull jumping thing last weekend which I absolutely loved. There were moments when I felt bad for the bulls because they were tired and being taunted to chase. Sort of like me in the middle of a long hike. But, in the end, they lived. Living is a good thing. It seems like a beautiful way take part in the bull culture with strong bulls and heroic men without the brutal reality of blood and death.
Today I’d see my first, and most likely only, bull fight, the corrida.
May be my exhaustion from the night before contributed to the rawness of emotion that I experienced. May be. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t want to watch a creature die and cheer. It’s just not right. Unless it’s a tick. Truth be told, I’ve set ticks aflame. Disgusting things.
The tickets showed not only the row and seat number, but also what door to enter at, so Kirk and I entered the Plaza de Toros on one side, then skirted nearly half way around it in the peripheral hallway. A few vendors were set up selling food and drinks like any other sporting event. People were bringing in coolers with lunch ready to settle in and enjoy “the game.” There were children there. Not mine.
Lined up on our side of the plaza were dozens of horses, incredibly muscular, beautiful horses with satin ribbons braided into their mane and decorations on their tails. We weren’t here to see the “normal” bullfight where the torero (matador) is assisted by picadors and men on armored horses. We wanted to see a Corrida de Rejones, an event where the toreros are skilled riders who provoke, stab, and kill the bull entirely from horseback, and aside from a few men with capes who distract the bull when needed, entirely alone.
It is arguably the more honorable bull fight. Though both styles end in the unnecessary death of an otherwise innocent animal, this one at least shows some skill, a bit of bravery, and a bit of honor.
The toreros enter in the beginning on their horses followed by the men in matador attire that will simply stand by with their large pink and yellow capes to assist and distract. They mainly jump to draw the bull away from the torero when he needs to leave the arena to change horses and the emerge at the end to tire the dying bull, encouraging him to move to speed up the process. I don’t envy them their job or their pink socks.
The toreros parade around the arena and show off a bit with their horses side-stepping and even running sideways, lifting their legs high, and jumping. There’s quite a bit of egotism that seems to come with this sport. It is a competition, after all, and crowd applause counts. They each did a full circle with their horses looking at the crowd, waving their hats, and trying to gain the favor of the spectators and judges.
There are always 6 bulls in a corrida, released one at a time, so at one time there is one bull and one torero in the arena. Once one bull is dead and drug off, the next torero rides out and the next bull is released.
So if you cry like a baby after the first bull, you learn quickly when not to look for the remaining 5 that you’ll have to sit through.
Each torero has his own particular style. Some are better riders than others, but we found that the best riders today were also the worst killers and the worse you are at killing, the more the bull suffers, so everyone hopes for a good clean kill. Yes, even the aficionados who cheer as the bull is killed, cheer loudest when it’s a quick kill. The slow kills make everyone uncomfortable.
The bulls explode from the gates as they’re released with such force that they do look like pretty formidable beasts. Some of the toreros lead them in circles to tire them a little before heading to the side to grab the first spear.
The first spear is aimed near their neck to draw blood and weaken the bull. The end breaks off and stays in the bull where a stream of blood begins to trickle down one side of the bull and redden the white ends attached to the spear. The other end the rider holds. When it snaps, a flag unfurls giving the rider something to draw the bull with to tire it further.
Next are a series of hooks with long sticks attached, so that they enter the bull and can’t fall out. The sticks bounce and swing with the bulls movements as he runs, so though I can’t speak from experience, I imagine they hurt as they pull with his movements.
It was during this time that what was already quite sad, got more difficult to watch. The bulls were tired and hurting. They’d stop giving chase and pant like puppies, their tongue’s hanging loosely out of their mouths. The toreros would jump their horses back and forth to draw a chase. They’d shout or wave their hands. They’d run quickly by. The bulls would stand there resting before chasing again, and then, only reticently. It seems as if they’d learned that chasing the horse means a stab in the back. They seemed finished and ready to go home.
Toreros are trained to watch the bull from the beginning, to learn his quirks, and preferences. They also learn when they’re worn down enough to make an easier kill, getting closer to the bull without putting their horses in danger.
A couple toreros were ready now, after just this series of hooks to go in for the final kill. The others needed the short lances to weaken the bulls even further.
I’m going to break here for a moment and show you some other corrida moments before the end. That way those who don’t want to see the final photos can just stop scrolling. For now, it’s ok.
When the riders need to change horses men dressed as toreros (May be they are and just aren’t “working” that day? I’m not sure.) with the traditional pink socks and traje de luces emerge from behind the walls waving their bright pink and yellow capes to distract the bull and allow safe passage for the rider.
One of the toreros tried to put is hat on the bull. The couple wearing hats couldn’t even manage to keep them on their own heads, so they ended up in the ring in the dirt. Two of them put their hands on the bull’s head. This one did a complete circle around the bull with his hand on the bull’s head without faltering once.
Only two horses were hit, but this one was hit enough to push his hindquarters to the side. He didn’t fall though and was able to get safely way without any apparent injury.
Ok, this is when I should have turned my eyes, and you can turn yours. The following photos are mostly of the last few minutes and the final sword used to kill the bull.
The long spear is supposed to pierce the lungs so that the animal will bleed and suffocate to death. If it’s done well, the bull collapses pretty quickly. Sadly, of 6 toreros, only one did it well which made the entire ordeal even more heart wrenching to watch.
When the first bull fell, I fell apart, sobbing uncontrollably while the entire stadium erupted with applause. I sobbed for the second bull as well and afterwards, just learned not to watch as closely and not to look at their faces.
It’s nearly 1am, so after a month of putting this off, I’ll spare you my “waxing philosophic” on the issues of bull fights.
I’ve been told that this is a breed of bull that only exists for this “sport.” If bull-fighting is banned from Spain as it already has been in Catalunya and the Canary Islands, then this breed will become extinct. Seems a twisted logic to keep something alive only to kill it, but there you go.
I was also told that they are such a mean animal that you have to hurt them to weaken them or they’d die of heart attacks.
Pro arguement #3 said that this phenomenal horsemanship doesn’t exist quite like this outside the bull ring, so that this sport keeps the horsemanship alive.
I loved the horses and I would almost go again to see the horsemanship… but I don’t have the heart to watch an animal die without feeling something for it and it pains me. It seems a barbarity that the Romans shed centuries ago.
To ban it? I can’t say. I don’t like it, but I’m not going to stand in someone else’s country and dictate to them what their culture should be. They’ll come to their own decisions with time. Until then, I hope that the recortes, the amazing bull jumping that I have so thoroughly enjoyed, will continue and gain popularity. That is truly a heroic sport that embodies the bull culture without hurting the animals themselves.