Writing, art, and photography by: Heather Clemenceau
Despite opposition, the annual Bull-on-a-Rope Rodeo at the Oriental Sports Club in Cambridge, Ontario went ahead as planned on July 18th. This is the event where the bull is tied to a hundred metre-long rope while challengers wave capes and umbrellas at the agitated animal, trying to escape without getting gored. Of course bulls are not easily intimidated by flimsy umbrellas and will not run away, but instead will defend themselves and charge their tormenters. And both the bull and the guys on the rope know, the rope around the bull’s neck is more of a nuisance than anything else. Professional matadors still get gored, so why does the bull-on-a-rope event seem like a good idea to anyone?
The good news is that attendance is down by about 2/3 rds over the heyday of Portuguese bull-themed events in the 90s. I guess the bad news is that while we might hope that people were finally losing touch with their inner matador, there are two more bull teasing events being held at this club later in the summer despite more opposition from Town Council members, protesters and the general public.
If you check the Oriental Club’s Facebook page you’ll see that a local resident who lives on the same street has left a review claiming that the noise level at this event has become unbearable. She accuses the club of blaring music from 9am to 2am, setting off firecrackers and various other noisemakers, and remarks on the intoxication of the attendees. Apparently, people living on Shellard Rd.will have to suffer two more weekends subjected to the sounds of a shooting range in their backyard along with an accompanying soundtrack by Seether (my guess is that they’re not into soft rock) blasting them at 100 decibels.
I also left a review, and someone, who appears to be associated with the club, left me a polite response that included a generic invitation to attend the event and make up my mind for myself. He cited the Cambridge Humane Society, who have rubber-stamped this event, as the quintessential authority on animal abuse. But I ruled it out, this time at least, because I’m not keen on going alone to any event two hours away from home on private property where drunkenness is apparently the rule rather than the exception. Even if it’s for charity.
There was another Portuguese-themed event being held in the equestrian town of Caledon the same evening, which was advertised as featuring a “mock bull-fight” with Lusitano horses. My interest was piqued – I wondered what a mock bull-fight could be, especially in close proximity to Lusitano horses? I knew that traditionally, the Portuguese bullfight took place while mounted on a pure bred Lusitano stallion.
Grelo Farms was the first Lusitano breeding facility in Canada and is currently home to over 30 horses, many owned by the students of Riding Master Frank Grelo’s school for the Portuguese tradition of Haute École. It was out of war exercises that these intricate movements and maneuvers eventually influenced the creation of the modern Spanish Riding School of Vienna and the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art.
Since the establishment of his riding school in 1978, Frank Grelo has devoted himself to breeding and training of the Lusitano horse while teaching the art of classical riding to his students. On this evening, Frank, his daughters, and his students, who rode stallions and mares together in the arena, put on an engaging show featuring both Lusitano stallions and their own horses – Lusitanos, Arabs, cross-breds, and other breeds. In addition to the presentation of baroque riding style and “airs above the ground,” the participants showcased collected movements like the passage, piaffe, travers, renvers, half-pass, pirouette, the spanish walk and the levade – where a horse is asked to hold a position about 30 degrees from the ground while standing. The show, part of the 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Equestrian Games, also featured demonstrations of vaulting, Portuguese-styled gamesmanship, and riding while blindfolded, in both traditional and military costumes. The entire group demonstrated the classic Portuguese quadrille, all set to classical music. Frank and a student, riding a beautiful Lusitano/draft-cross mare, demonstrated a typical lesson format as well.
Real men do not taunt or hurt animals, and there are other ways of honouring one’s culture. In my opinion, a far more appropriate (and safer) event for charity, and one that offends no one, is the gala featuring baroque riding style rather than one featuring a testosterone-fuelled suicide-squad yanking a frustrated animal around on a rope.
Oh and the “mock bullfight?” The event was completely sans-bovine – the “bull” was a stuffed head with horns attached to a unicycle-like prop that an assistant pushed around the arena while Frank and a student rode their stallions. The “bull” never makes contact with the horse at all. The horses are not afraid of the prop either – they don’t shy away because they’ve seen it many times before. Their practiced maneuvers around the bull-on-a-wheel were fluid, graceful, cadenced and……. cruelty-free.