I was recently shocked to discover that Portuguese “bloodless” bullfighting (corrida incruenta) was occurring in Toronto a few weeks ago, and was sanctioned by the Ontario government. You may think that a “bloodless” bullfight is comparable to teasing the angry neighbourhood dog, but such is not the case. Bullfights, whether traditional or “bloodless” all have the same narrative of dominance over the “beast.”
“Bloodless” bullfights are actually something of a misnomer – anyone – human or animal, can still be maimed or killed at this event. And the bull still dies at the end. Furthermore, bullfights inhibit bulls and horses from enjoying all of The Five Animal Welfare Freedoms: (The concept of Five Freedoms originated with the Report of the Technical Committee to Enquire into the Welfare of Animals kept under Intensive Livestock Husbandry Systems, the Brambell Report, December 1965 HMSO London, ISBN 0 10 850286 4). They are:
To be free from thirst and hunger (bulls are frequently denied food the day before a bullfight)
To be free from discomfort
To be free from pain, injury and disease
To be free to express normal behaviour
To be free from fear and distress that may be caused when a person fails to give some of these freedoms
The fact that bullfighting spectacles are public (although in the Toronto area fairly secretive as they are advertised only in Portuguese) has made the practices of animal abuse difficult to hide. It’s important to distinguish between traditional (Spanish-style) bullfights and the Portuguese –style that took place in Toronto.
This style of bullfighting began in California in the 1980s, launched by the Portuguese since traditional bullfights were not allowed in that state (and probably not in others either). Growing intolerance towards animal abuse has forced the bullfighting industry to reform its image and redefine its activities to attempt to dispense with the cruelty label and appear more politically correct.
For years, bullfights of this type happened without the animal welfare movement complaining … because the anti-bullfighting movement had no idea that these “bloodless” events existed, considering the lack of publicity about them.
The main (human) characters in a any style of bullfight, probably require some explanation. They are:
Cavaleiros – A horseman or woman (rider), dressed in traditional 18th century costumes fights the bull from horseback.
The Forcados are a group of eight men who challenge the bull directly, without any protection or weapon of defense. The front man provokes the bull into a charge to perform a face catch (these guys are otherwise known as the suicide squad).
Matadores – The unmounted killer of bulls.
Bandarilheiros – These men are the matador’s and/or cavaleiro’s helpers in the arena. While in the arena, they are holding the cape to distract or position the bull.
In a typical (Spanish) bullfight the tools of the trade are all sharp spear-like implements designed to cause great injury and blood loss. The banderillas (speared flags) have sharp pronged spikes that penetrate the bull’s withers. Another tool of the Spanish bullfight is the pica, a long spear that is stabbed in the bull’s back by the picador on horseback. The pica is used to produce pain and to cut the bull’s muscles. This dagger remains deeply embedded in the bull’s back during the remainder of the fight. Finally, the bull is killed with a verdugo while he is either still standing or lying prostrate on the ground or while engaged in mounted pursuit. The verdugo is aimed at the heart, but sometimes (or usually) the bull does not die instantaneously, so the onslaught may be continued to paralyze him, before cutting off his ears and tail. The Portuguese bullfight scenario uses all the same methods of torture for bull and horse, but the sharp tools are replaced by Velcro attachments, including a Velcro “saddle” as a means of affixing the banderillas. The horns of the bull are capped with leather or brass fittings, and the bull is not killed afterwards within public view (but god only knows what happens afterwards).
The Toronto bullfight is touted as “bloodless” since the bull wears the saddle pad attached to its large withers, and he is “stabbed” with the banderillas that have Velcro tips. The bull isn’t killed in the arena, but apparently killed later, and his ears and tail are not cut off. That the bull is still eventually killed seems to be reinforced by the presence of a “bull handler” in at the Toronto event, who bore the name of the the Nosso Talho butcher in Toronto on his T-shirt.
The horses used in Portuguese bullfighting suffer less than traditional corrida, but they are still terrorized and the possibility of injury or death is always present, even though the bulls have capped horns. The horses also endure a severe and painful training regime, which includes the continuous and heavy use of the rider’s spurs. Riding a horse in an arena towards a bull requires the use of heavy spurring, which often leaves patches of blood on the horses’ sides. Anyone who rides or interacts with horses will know that they are not the most courageous animals, hence the use of sharp spurs.
Unlike the horses in a Spanish bullfight, who are there primarily to be gored by the bull, these horses are beautiful and well-trained. They are usually Portuguese Lusitanos, who are skilled in dressage and truly exhibit their art in the arena. If you take the bullfight out of the equation, you would very much enjoy their graceful movements.
The purpose for including many horses in the Spanish bullfights is to wear out the bull by continually presenting opportunities for him to have to lift and throw the blindfolded animals into the air. In this way the bullfighters make the fight somewhat safer for themselves (at the terrible expense of the innocent horses) while they execute their passes and/or twirls. By being presented with these “obstacles,” the bull is weakened to reduce the risk of accident.
Although the horses used in the Spanish fights have cloth armour, this “protection” is insufficient, and the bull can easily knock the horse down and gore it in the unprotected parts of the body, adding real wounds (sometimes fatal) to the terror horses endure from the moment that an invisible being – since the horse is blindfolded – charges against it with all its force. The horses used for this type of bullfight are old ones, and after they have served all their lives in a faithful way to mankind, they are sold for few coins to the bullfighters when they should have earned their retirement.
Before the fight, their vocal cords are mutilated without any anaesthetic, so when the bulls approach them, they cannot neigh in fear or pain if already gored. This is so that the audience is not aware that the horse is suffering, which must prompt you to wonder what kind of “special” person could not be aware that the horses are terrified or in agony. Even where there is no accident to the horses, they are occasionally seen to be bleeding, since the riders use the spurs with so much intensity to make the horse react quickly to their instructions, that these cause visible injuries.
Another aspect that makes the bloodless bullfight cruel for the bull is due to the fact that the bulls have high mass and a not very efficient mechanism to control the excess of body temperature (they neither sweat profusely like the equines or human beings, nor do they have very long tongues to eliminate heat like dogs). As a result, after fairly limited exercise they are easily exhausted and at risk of suffering hyperthermia. This can be verified simply observing their facial expressions – the open mouth and the tongue out, while breathing intensely.
Nevertheless, the dangers to horses in Portuguese bullfights are similar to the dangers of the horses in Spanish bullfights, despite the capped horns of the bulls. This GRAPHIC and disturbing film shows what may happen to them. I’m sure everyone can anticipate what can happen in a mounted bullfight, so unless your imagination isn’t very good or you “need” to see, I’d suggest you don’t watch it. It’s here in case anyone needs any further persuading only. And even though the bull’s horns are capped at the “bloodless” event, a horse can still be seriously or fatally injured.
Bullfighting has surely reached its lengthy final phase. The desperate search for “less cruel” bullfight will never end, because the bullfighting industry is trying to create something that cannot exist, like “humane horse slaughter.” It will ultimately fail, since with the passage of every generation, we are more sensitive to animal suffering and more sophisticated in detecting it. And anything that the bullfighting industry does to get rid of the cruel label will ultimately fail is because its activities are absolutely cruel, and this fact can easily be documented.
For cruelty to occur two elements are needed: that unnecessary suffering is caused to an animal, and that those who cause it keep on causing it even though they are free to stop doing it. To deliberately and repeatedly cause suffering, even psychological suffering in the case of “bloodless” bullfights – for entertainment, while ignoring pain of the victim, is an act not only of cruelty but of torture.
Also disturbing at the Toronto event, bullfighting aficionados have brought teenagers so that they can also become fans, through desensitizing and “tribal cohesion” (you can see teens with adults in one of the arena pics). You end up with a younger culture that continues to be desensitized to the suffering of animals. There are already well-known studies that relate the abuse of animals to the abuse to human beings, and there are more scholars and welfare advocates who join the rejection of bullfighting not only for animal protection reasons, but to create awareness of the human cost as well.
Even “bloodless” bullfights infringe on The Five Animal Welfare Freedoms. Therefore, the bullfighting industry, in charge of the well-being of its animals, is in breach of those five animal freedoms, and it is therefore also guilty of animal abuse. In the 21st century there is no room for cruel spectacles that cause suffering to other sentient beings, (not that there ever was such a reason) and changing the name, the form or intensity of such cruelty does not give them the right to continue existing.
Torontonians made a valiant effort and in a scant few days amassed over 1,700 signatures on a petition, in an attempt to stop this event. The OSPCA and Toronto Animal Services were present to examine the bulls and the Velcro saddles they wore. Unfortunately, we were disadvantaged by not hearing about it soon enough, and the event not being widely advertised. But we will be ready in 2014.
Ernest Hemingway aspired to be a matador. His novel The Sun Also Rises has autobiographical elements and includes bullfighting themes, as do his short stories. He also wrote two non-fiction books on bullfighting – Death in the Afternoon and The Dangerous Summer. However, Hemingway was clear about one thing:
“Bullfighting is not a sport. It was never supposed to be. It is a tragedy. A very great tragedy.”