It was raw, it was intense, and it was an experience that I will never forget. It is permanently engraved upon my mind and soul and even if I wanted, I will never be able to forget it. I watched six bulls futilely fight for their lives. I do not regret going, but I can say, once was enough for me, and I will never see one again. I have heard in Portugal, that they do not kill the bulls… If that is true, maybe one day I’d do that…
As a warning, if you continue reading this post, you will learn about the bull fights conducted in Spain. The process of the fight, and the feelings and emotions I felt throughout this process. This is not the place for the argument of one’s belief of whether or not this is wrong or right. As far as I am concerned, this simply is. The bull fights are a part of Spain’s history and culture, and as such, they were something that I wanted to see before they are gone for good. If you wish to keep reading, please do so with the knowledge that I have not included any pictures that are too graphic, and there is limited blood that is not obviously blood (black and white photos help lessen that effect…).
I showed up early for the bull fight. I had finished my dinner with a good 30 minutes to kill, so I decided to just go and sit at the stadium since there was nowhere else in the area that I still wanted to wander through. I was apparently very early according to the Spaniards, the stadium was pretty empty. Along the way to my seat (I had paid for a front row seat, if I was going to see this, I might as well see it…), I passed by the area where they kept the horses that would perform in some duty or other throughout the fights. They were heavily padded, with practically every inch of their torsos and legs covered in heavy, thick padding. They were also blindfolded. That surprised me and I would learn later why this was the case. There was also a pair of horses that rather than being padded, wore ornately, religiously decorated “blankets” over their backs. Obviously they were blankets, but my horse gear terminology is pretty non-existent, so… it was like a blanket!
The seating turned out to be hard wooden stadium seating, so I returned to a little stand I had seen, and paid 1 euro to rent a seat cushion (very worth it). I returned to my seat and eagerly waited for things to get started. I know a lot of people throughout the world are against these bull fights, but the older Spaniards are most assuredly all for it. They slowly started arriving, and would bring large shopping bags with them. They’d happily greet their friends/family, and starting digging out tinfoil wrapped sandwiches and beverages and laugh amongst themselves. It is a big social outing for them. I did notice however, everyone seated around me was in their 30’s or much older. I saw very few young individuals in the crowd. If you don’t like the bull fights, you can rest assured, they will likely die off with this crowd. The youth of Spain do not seem to care for, in fact I heard several of them talking against it and saying they have never and will never attend one.
Eventually, as it got closer to the appointed time, a band came out into the stadium. They were playing as they proceeded to complete a full circle around the stadium, stopping and facing the audience at intervals. They eventually exited and took up a place amongst the audience on a platform for them. After a short period, they started to play, and a slow procession (called a paseíllo) of individuals who would be performing in one way or another came out into the stadium. These included the horses I had seen, with their riders (called picadores or lancers), and the prettily decorated horses. Then a bunch of photographers gathered at the entrance to the stadium and the matadores or toreros came out, along with their assistants, called banderilleros (“flagmen”). They stood and posed for the photographers, before eventually proceeding across the stadium.
Once the stadium was cleared of everyone, and final preparations were completed, a man stood in the center, slowly turning a sign with information about the bull and where it came from. He exited, and the bull was then released into the arena and the fight started. There are 3 stages to a bull fight. The first stage is the tercio de veras (“part of lances”). The bull comes charging into the arena and is baited by the banderillos with large pink and yellow capes. The bull charges back and forth amongst them, with the men hiding behind little walls that protrude from the stadium wall. After a few minutes of this, the band sounds a trumpet, and the picadores enter on their horses. They intentionally attract the bull’s attention so that he charges the horse.
The first time the bull charged the horse I was shocked. My shock quickly turned to horror as I realized that nobody was doing anything to get the bull away from the horse. They all let it happen! I was absolutely horrified for that poor blindfolded horse! As I later realized, this is intentional… The horses are padded to protect them from this exact thing, and blindfolded so that they don’t try and get away from the bull. The bull has to charge the horse so that the picador on top of it can use his lance to stab the bull in the back of the neck, to weaken it. This wound bleeds and from that point on my pictures are in black and white and specifically chosen to not be too gory… After the bull has been successfully “lanced” twice (that’s right, he charges the horses twice), the trumpet sounds and the picadores leave the arena.
There were two occasions that I watched the bulls flip the horses right over. Absolutely horrifying, edge of your seat panic. The banderillos are very good at their jobs however, and extremely quick to react and distract the bull from both horse, and unseated rider. However, one time, the bull flipped the horse, and kept going at it. The padding completely wraps around the torso, so he was unable to gore it. Until he got to the tail end of the horse. There is no padding where the tail is, its not an area that would be capable of covering. I could tell one of his horns slid up in there, but I can not say if he managed to wound the horse. They distracted the bull finally, and the horse was surrounded by individuals attempting to get it back on its feet. They tried to pull it up, the horse stumbled and fell back to its side. They tried again, same result. I was practically crying at this point. Seeing the horse possibly gored, and now unable to get back on its feet due to all the heavy padding on its body and legs… It was horrible and I was so scared for the horse that the bull would turn its attentions back to it. The men unhooked a few straps and were able to get the horse back on its feet the third time and stayed there. It seemed to be fine for the remainder of its time in the ring, such a relief.
Once the picadores are out of the ring, the next stage (tercio de banderillas) starts. The banderillos keep the bull running between them while the matador (or sometimes one of the banderillos) collects a pair of banderillas which are barbed sticks with colored paper along them. The matador then picks a spot in the stadium and waits for the bull’s attention. When the bull sees him, he starts his charge, at which point the matador runs at the bull, yet in a circular motion towards his side. At the right moment, the matador jumps and stabs the banderillas into the bull’s shoulders. This further weakens the bull. Three pairs of banderillas are placed in the bull in this manner, with some more charging on the capes as well.
The third stage, the tercio de muerte (“part of death”) then begins. The matador enters the ring by himself with a small red cape and a long, thin sword. This is the stage that most people probably associate with bull fighting, the man with the little cape that the bull charges, so incredibly close to his body… The matador repeatedly, for several minutes tempts the bull to charge his cape, which he has draped over the sword to keep it out and away from his body. The bull charges this small cape, passing just inches from the matador’s body. It is incredible to watch a man practically dance with a large bull in this manner, and that it never connects with his body. The more daring the matador was, the crazier his tempting became. I watched them wave the cape behind their backs, having the bull charge behind them. Others… would drop to their knees and tempt the bull with the cape! Incredibly risky! One would think the bull would eventually figure it out, but I guess not.
Once the matador has decided that the bull is tired and weak enough, he goes to the edge of the stadium and swaps the pretty, shiny sword he’s been using, for an older, more drab looking sword. He then approaches the bull and holds the sword out, pointing at it. He takes his time, waits, for what I am not sure, but I do not doubt he is taking his time for a purpose. He then charges the bull for a final time. The bull, who has been tiredly staring at him this entire time, seeing the charge, summons one last burst of enemy and charges the matador.
As the two come together, the matador drives the sword between the bull’s shoulders, aiming to pierce its heart. The matador jumps to the side to avoid being hit and the banderillos immediately appear, surrounding the bull with their capes, getting it to charge back and forth. I presume this is to work the blade into the animal. Eventually, really only after a brief moment, the bull collapses. An individual approaches the bull with a small blade and cuts into its spine behind its head, quickening its death, so that it doesn’t suffer. The first bull fight I watched, the bull dropped with an immense groan, right in front of me. It was horrible, absolutely heart wrenching. One of those moments that I will forever remember.
One matador, while in the final stage, found himself underneath the bull. I’m not sure how it happened. I had been snapping pictures when it did, and looking them, it almost looks as though he managed to trip on the cape. Regardless, it was fast! One moment the bull charged, the next he was underneath it. The most incredible part, though, was the reaction of everyone else, they were there in a heartbeat, getting the bull off of the matador. Looking at my photos of it, as soon as the matador started his trip, he had barely stumbled, the banderillos who were outside of the stadium are on the edge on the photo starting their charge in to the stadium to help him. He had barely started his fall and they were already in the stadium on their way to help him! It was incredible that they could have even recognized what was happening at that point, let alone start to react to it!
I only have pictures of the initial fall. As soon as I realized what was happening I stopped, and just stared. I was horrified and scared that I might be about to watch somebody die, or at the very least be horribly gored. The matador tried to climb to his feet when they got the bull off of him, but he stumbled and fell. I just stared, desperately hoping he was alright. The men around him helped him to his feet and held on to him as he stood there. There was talk amongst them, and eventually somebody removed the fancy, tight jacket they wear. He stood there, favoring his right arm, and they escorted him out of the stadium. After a moment, though, he returned with his sword to finish the job. He held the sword up and faced the bull down, still favoring his injured arm. I was so tense and nervous watching them stare each other down, petrified that he wouldn’t be able to do it and might get hurt even further. They charged each other, and the matador drove the sword home. As he walked away, I felt such a surge of relief pour through me. I hadn’t realized how tensely I had been sitting there! The crowd went wild cheering for the young man. He performed his victory walk around the stadium (most of them did this), waving to the audience with his good arm.
During the six bull fights I watched (each of 3 matadores performed twice), I seriously experienced the full range of human emotion. And yes, that includes happy, ecstatic emotions as well, for I can not express the relief and happiness to see that young man get back on his feet and then walk around the ring… Especially after the absolute fear for his life that I had felt only minutes before. As I said, I have shared this with you all so that you might learn from my experience. It was intense, in every sense of the word. I never wish to see another, but I do not regret going. Hopefully you can use my experience and information provided, along with the pictures I have chosen to share, to make an educated decision for yourself as to whether or not you wish to see this. I will repeat, one more time because there are those people who need reminding… please don’t try to tear this apart or spout your believes on the right or wrong of the bull fights. That is not the purpose of this post, and your comments will never be approved for viewing if that is what you choose to do… So just save yourself the time and effort!