I must admit it was exciting. The horses ridden by the cavaleiro and caveleira were magnificent, obviously trained in dressage. They swerved and swayed. They danced. They eluded the sawed-off but nevertheless powerful horns of the bulls by millimeters as their riders skillfully hit their targets.
Yes, one of the horse riders was a woman and she was really good. And this bull fight happened in June in Toronto’s Downsview Park.
The matador – no he wasn’t a killer –used a red cape and the audience applauded and cheered wildly when he made particularly graceful classic passes.
Sometimes the matador walked without the benefit of the deceitful cape into the face of the angry bull. Like the others, the man stabbed the animal with a velcro-tipped banderilla. This was a stick which stuck to the velcro pad attached to the back of the animal. No painful, bloody stabbings are allowed here in Ontario.
Theforcados were eight men uniformly dressed, spiffy like the others, in beautiful skin-tight toreador pants and heavily-embroidered jackets. They lined up one behind the other, also without protection, facing the beast. The first man jumped up between the horns and grabbed it around the neck. If he did it right, his buddies could help him subdue the animal.
But the bull could toss him in the air and trample him – as a couple of them did. The man then tried to do it again. We did not, however, see any human seriously hurt though some of them ended up under the bull.
It was all very colourful and thrilling, especially with a brass band playing what the world has come to know as bull fighting music. The traditions we know were there too. After each bull fought– and we watched three of them – the cavaleiros and matador would parade around the bull ring accepting flowers, applause, and spectators’ hats. The latter were thrown back into the audience. I wondered if it was a souvenir thing – even though the principals didn’t autograph them.
Only Portuguese was spoken except by one visiting politician. In fact, I never saw a sign advertising the corrida in English. It was as if the organizers didn’t need outsiders there. All one thousand hard seats were filled.
Were the bulls hurt?
What makes an animal flip like this as he leaves a chute and enters a ring. Was he pushed? Swatted? Hit on the balls to get him angry and bucking? Once in the ring here, fighters taunted him with shouts and the waving of more red or pink capes.
The humans encouraged them to run and to chase the horses and the capes. But I only saw one panting bull. Some of them fell, but they got up quickly and didn’t seem hurt. One refused to leave the ring and was lassoed. The rope caught an ankle and I worried about a broken leg. It didn’t happen – but it could have.
Since it was over, I have been brooding about the practice. Was it any worse than the mass machine killing of the terror-stricken chickens that we eat? No, it wasn’t. These bulls were not killed and they spend most of their lives feeding in pastures – except on summer weekends when I think they “fight” for 30 or 40 minutes. Was it any worse than keeping a dog or cat penned up in an apartment all day? In Portugal, these pets are let loose even in towns where they can happily chase after mice.
Maybe bull fighting is where the word “bullying” comes from? If we want to stop bullying among our children, should we encourage it against animals?
Does pulling the tail hurt? Try this on your cat if you dare.
We would have to be vegetarians if we wanted to avoid exploiting animals and other sentient beings. We would have to cover our noses with masks, like the Jains in India who sweep the ground in front of them as they walk lest they accidentally kill a bug.
I think it’s up to each of us to decide what road to take. I would go along with Lebanese-American Kahlil Gibran who wrote in The Prophet: “…since you must kill to eat, and rob the newly born of its mother’s milk to quench your thirst, let it then be an act of worship…” Do I consider a bull fight an act of religious worship and are bulls worthy of respect?