Spectacle of Cruelty – “Bloodless” Bullfighting Comes to Toronto


Horses are at grave risk in bullfightsWritten by:  Heather Clemenceau

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


Who here will be the recipient of the next Darwin award?

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.


Downsview Park, Toronto

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).

A non-bloodless bullfight includes the showstopping drama of a gored and maimed matador.

A non-bloodless bullfight includes the showstopping drama of a gored and maimed matador. Bull – 1, Julio Aparicio – 0

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.

petos horse protection garment

The Petos – cloth horse protection “armor.”

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.


This butcher shop on Bloor Street W. in Toronto might be a good place to watch for the announcement of the 2014 bullfight! And they’re on Facebook!

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.

inside the stadium

Fun for the entire family at Downsview Park. Check your compassion at the gate.

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 blood spursanimal 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.”

feature of humane bullfight

Somehow, there is dignity in this?

About heatherclemenceau

Hopefully as I've grown older I've also grown wiser, but one thing I've definitely become cognizant of is the difference between making a living and making a life. Frequently outraged by some of life's cruelties, and respect diversity. But.....I don't suffer fools gladly, and occasionally, this does get me into some trouble! I have the distinction of being the world's worst golfer - no wait, I do believe that there is a gypsy in Moldavia who is a worse golfer than I. Nor am I much of a dancer - you won't see a booty-shakin' flygirl routine from me! I'm also not the kind of cook who can whip up a five-course meal on a radiator either! And I've never figured out how to get an orchid to bloom a second time. I love to discuss literature, science, philosophy, and sci-fi , or even why Seinfeld is funny on so many levels. Words move me. I'm very soft-hearted about most things, especially animals, but I have a stoicism about me that is sometimes interpreted incorrectly. I do have a definite edge and an often "retro-adolescent" sense of humour at times. I'm a big advocate of distributed computing projects to advance science. Check out http://boinc.berkeley.edu/ if you want to find out more. I'm an eclectic plant-based eater, and as such, it's a personal practice of mine to seduce innocent meat-eaters into cruising the (salad) bars at every opportunity. You would be powerless to resist. I was recently surprised to find that a computer algorithm concluded that I write like Dan Brown, which is funny because I didn't think Dan Brown could actually write. Check out your own style - http://iwl.me/ Oh, and I love impractical shoes and funky hats.

17 responses »

  1. Pingback: Spectacle of cruelty – “Bloodless” bullfighting comes to Toronto | Canadian Horse Defence Coalition's Blog

  2. Pingback: Spectacle of Cruelty – “Bloodless” Bullfighting Comes to Toronto « Susan R. Bates

  3. This is a horrible practice. Many years ago, I was in Portugal and went to one but could not stay and watch for more than a few minutes…The bull was bleeding profusely and so was the horse from the spurs of the rider! This is really horrible!!!!

  4. Hi Heather – some of your facts are incorrect. First of all there is no bullfighting done in Ontario without the the OSPCA surpervising. The bullifighting that is done here is called “torreada a corda”, which means – bullfighting with a rope. The horses are not used. There is a rope tied around the horses horns and usually old men go up and taunt it. The horses are not used in this type of bullfighting. The Ontario Government and the OSPCA have never, I say never allowed the traditional type of Portuguese and Spanish bullfighting here. You are right in the fact that the Portuguese and Spanish bullfighting are completely different. We are more humane than the Spanish. Please note that the Spanish as of a year or so ago have disallowed the killing of the bull in front of the audience. We, Portuguese have never allowed it. The Nosso Talho tee shirt on the man is his advertising for his butcher shop which is a very large, well known butcher shop in Toronto. The Portuguese to my knowlege have never eaten bull nor horses. At least I have never seen it on a menu. Although I am Portuguese, I do not like bullfighting and it is one the traditions I frown upon. It is a big tradition on the Islands of the Acores. The Lusitanos that were used and again I am not in favour of this, are very highly trained and are well prized by their owners. I do not agree with this either. But then these old European traditions die very hard. I suggest you check with the Ontario Government first because I have never heard of the typical bullfighting as you describe come to Ontario. The only venues that have this are the Orangeville Fairgrounds and Madeira Park (which i am member of) which will take place on Saturday August 3. You are very welcomed to attend and check the “torreada a corda”. Madeira Park is in the township of Georgina and before they could present this sport, they were inspected by the Humane Society and the Town Council. If you wish to attend the “torreada a corda” let me know and I will give you directions,. Cheers

    • Hello again MJ, Much of what you’ve written is only confirming what I’ve already written. I agree with you that there are many deeply lamentable things happening in both styles of bullfighting.

      I’ve seen the pics of an event in Arthur Ontario where the rope was used and participants taunted the bulls with umbrellas. To my mind, this is still an example of cruel treatment of an animal, not to mention that they may be injured (along with the people tainting them) by umbrella tips. I am also wondering what kind of insurance the towns ask the organizers to maintain – if you’ve seen any videos of matadors losing their balance and being gored, you know that if the pros can make mistakes, amateurs can surely do so also, even with young, less aggressive bulls. I’ve organized events in parks myself and have been required to provide proof of millions of dollars in liability, AND the presence of a St. John’s Ambulance attendant – just so that people could WALK around a park. I sure hope they have an ambulance on standby at these events!

      As far as the possibility of horses here goes, we contacted the organizers and we were told that two horses were being used at the event in Downsview Park, so I based my blog in part on what we were told about the event. It seems the time of the protest and the actual event didn’t align up, so we didn’t get to confirm the presence of horses with a visual. The event was out of the jurisdiction of Toronto Animal Services but they did attend along with the OSPCA. I do not personally know whether the OSPCA have attended in the past or have been invited to future events but will ask. The man “handling” the bulls while wearing a butcher shop T-shirt makes me uncomfortable TBH. Everything I have read about both Spanish and Portuguese bullfighting indicates that the bulls are slaughtered after the event. The difference has typically been that the Portuguese bulls have been slaughtered out-of-sight.

      In the recent past I’ve found that in Toronto particularly, there are all sorts of unorthodox and unexpected foods being consumed, even apparently bushmeat and other types of meat that are apparently uninspected. Slaughtering of bulls would be my expectation. I’d love to be able to rule that out but it’s impossible to follow the movement of the bulls after they leave the stadium. You have to admit that it’s quite an odd coincidence that the man overseeing the bulls is advertising a butcher shop?

    • Why can’t humans leave animals alone and find something else to entertain their stupid selves. Go abuse humans. Pathetic.

  5. Hi Heather. I have heard that the bulls are slaughtered out of sight, however I have also heard that the better ones are not. In other words the “good” fighting bulls. I have never known Portuguese to eat bull. I am not from the Island of the Acores, so maybe they do. Where I am from we do not. The owner of the “Nosso Talho” won about 15 million several years ago on Loto 649, so the reason he may be there is probably because he may be financing everything (Not sure though). He himself is Acorian. As far as the horses go, I have met the guy from Arthur. He performs every year at Madeira Park up in Georgina and brings his whole managerie down. He has ONE Lusitano that piafffes and passages and the rest are all some mishmash of crosses that he likes to pass up as Lusitanos. But in speaking with him he couldn’t fool me, because I have one and know better. At the time I saw him, he performed with his Lusitano, doing the piaffe and passage. That is all he did with that horse. He was approved by the OSPCA and Town Council in Georgina to perform the ‘torreada a corda’. The Toronto Star did a big write up in and around July 2007. I am sure the article is available in the archives. This torreada is to make the “old men from the Acores, happy”. They are reliving their customs from the Island to see their Lusitanos and bulls. The younger generation here does not seem to interested in this sport. I am hoping that it will eventually fall of the face of Ontario. Cheers

    • I have no problem with people performing on a horse WITHOUT a bull in the same arena. But you mention that people have a desire to see “Lusitanos and bulls,” so I’m unsure whether the Madeira Park event includes them both at the same time. Again, I think the teasing of bulls with umbrellas is a very risky venture for both bull and human.

  6. Yes, they will include the horses and the bulls. He does not perform on a horse with the bulls in the ring. He does his little dressage thing with the horse. After that he puts the horses away and out come the bulls. He can’t ride the horses with the bulls in the ring. I do not think the OSPCA will allow it. He can only perform the torreada a corda. I am led to believe that there is someone of “authority” that comes to the Park, during the event to check, so they really can’t deviate from the program that they are allowed to do. There could be someone watching! However, the umbrella thing is odd. I don’t remember if I saw them using the umbrellas. I think anything with bulls is risky. I compare it to the running of the bulls in Spain. The crazy traditions that people can’t seem to get away from. – Cheers

  7. Pingback: Cruel Intentions? “Bloodless” Bullfights Still Cruel to Animals | heatherclemenceau

  8. Pingback: By The Horns: Bulls Make Contact With Horses at “Bloodless” Bullfight in Dundalk | heatherclemenceau

  9. You people that are still putting on some sort of Bull torchering should have it done to YOU.
    WTF is wrong with you??? We should tether you and see how it feels. We are not in ancient times. People should step back and think first would i like this treatment??? They are still living animals with feeling just like us.
    Stop the cruelty

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s