Tag Archives: bullfighting

An Evening Of Classical Portuguese Equestrianism – With No Bull…


Portuguese riders copy

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.


Cruel Intentions? “Bloodless” Bullfights Still Cruel to Animals


bullfight3Written by:  Heather Clemenceau,  with commentary by Kimberly Spiegel. Artwork represents traditional bullfighting,  not bloodless bullfighting but has been included here as handcoloured vintage postcards.

In the Toronto area, animal advocates have noticed that so-called “bloodless” bullfights (corrida incruenta) seem to be on the increase.  Members of the Portuguese community defend the practice as a “benign” ritual that is part of a celebration of their cultural heritage.  In 2009, California animal advocates urged Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley to press charges against a company that was staging the bullfights as part of the Festa da Bola, a three-day celebration of Portuguese culture. A humane officer working with the group Animal Cruelty Investigations reported that bull fighters were seeing using “long wooden sticks with several-inch sharpened nails on the end to stab, torment and infuriate the bulls.”  The bulls do not necessarily spend the rest of the lives in pastures: as Jose Avila, editor of the Modesto-based Portuguese Tribune, says in the LA Times, the next stop for some bulls is the slaughterhouse.

As Animal Cruelty Investigations says in the LA Times, ”No animal should ever be made to suffer for so-called entertainment.” Bulls in any sort of fighting, “bloodless” or not, endure plenty in the ring, with people throwing darts and running at them, the noise from the audience and more. How “ethical” and “humane” can such a practice be?  Is it really possible to make something that is inhumane (traditional corrida or bullfight) and make it acceptable to the masses or non-invasive to animals?  Can it ever be said that even teasing an animal is humane?  In my opinion, bloodless bullfights are merely another form of staged animal fight, either between man and bull or between horse/coriador and bull.  Animal fighting of any sort should be banned.  The padding on a bull’s back is only an inch to an inch-and-a-half deep. It will hurt the bull. Is it enough to kill the bull? No. Is it enough to torment the bull and make him mad? Yes.

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.

Paul Gallo tweets

It seems that Mr. Gallo loves to take things out-of-context and off-topic, in an effort to promote his radio show.

Please read biologist Kimberly Spiegel’s letter below  and petition to stop a bloodless bullfight event being held this weekend in Jackson, Mississippi. Kimberly was also interviewed by ultra-conservative radio station Supertalk Mississippi host Paul Gallo on December 3rd.  Listen below to the broadcast, where the host shamelessly baits Kimberly and takes the interview off topic into a discussion on religion and then closes out the interview with an ad hoc advertisement for hamburgers and BBQ – Nice!.  Kimberly has also appeared in this blog as the author of a letter to Bowmanville Zoological Park Director Michael Hackenberger,  asking for the release of now deceased asian elephant Limba.

“To Pete Castorena:

I know you know who I am by now. Please know that none of what I am doing is in any way a personal attack on your culture, your business, or your livelihood. I apologize for any stress we may have caused you, but please know that I am guided by my conscience and I have to speak out against something that I believe is wrong.

Myself, and many others, have a system of belief in which we think it’s ethically wrong to do something to an animal that we would not do to a human, because all sentient life should be respected. As you have clearly stated, the bulls will not be killed at this event, and I do appreciate your efforts in trying to make this “sport” more humane, but why not find other ways to celebrate your culture? Why must you exploit animals in which humans are the only ones who gain? Owning slaves was once part of our American culture, until we became morally evolved and realized it was not ethical. Do you think culture is really a defensible argument for continuing to do something that exploits animals? Anybody can use culture as an excuse to do something immoral, it is not justifiable and history proves that.

Bullfighting is not a sport. A sport is something in which both parties have agreed to participate. Bulls belong in pastures eating grass, they do not belong in arenas being provoked into defending themselves against a human. As a biologist, I know something of animal behavior, and the bulls are not going to know that this event is not meant to harm them, their fear will be very real. All animals feel fear, it is instinctual and is an evolutionary adaptation. Empathy is putting yourself in their position and imagining how it would feel if you were in their place. So please take a minute to see it from their eyes, not understanding what is going on and why they are out of their natural setting, how frightening that would be.

What I am concerned about is the psychological suffering the bulls will experience through stress and fear. I was watching a youtube video of a bloodless bullfight to see what it looks like and in it I saw the bull with its tongue out looking very distressed. I have spoken with someone who owns bulls and is familiar with them. They stress easily and they also do not have the means of cooling their bodies as humans and horses do by sweating, and they also do not have tongues like dogs in which they can pant and cool themselves. They get overheated with little exercise. If you care about animals, why would you cause them this kind of suffering? How can you still call it humane? This is also not art. Art is meant to uplift and inspire others, this lowers us as humans.

I have read an article from a similar event in California in which the bulls were harmed because the Velcro padding was only an inch and a half thick which was not enough to protect them from the spears and they were bullfightactually being stabbed and were bleeding. How can you ensure this will not happen to these bulls? If it does, what sort of veterinary care will they receive? What happens to the bulls at the end of the show? Please also note the poll at the end of the article in which 65% of people agree this form of bullfighting is animal exploitation. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/unleashed/2009/05/animal-activists-cry-foul-over-bloodless-bullfighting-event-in-artesia.html.

Of course the matadors will be in danger also, and I wouldn’t want to see them get hurt either, but they made that choice to put themselves in that position, the bulls had no choice.

Everyone’s mission should be to protect weak ones, may they be animals or humans. This kind of activity shouldn’t be supported if we consider ourselves as humane beings. As Milan Kundera said “True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind’s true moral test, its fundamental test (which is deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals.”

I received several comments on my petition from fellow Mississippi residents I would like to share. Deborah in Jackson wrote, “As a clinical social worker, I have strong concerns about an event that celebrates torture and cruelty – even simulated with rubber sticks. There is a well documented connection between animal cruelty and violence. Any event in which the crowd cheers (simulated) abuse of an animal is not an event that should be brought to this state and our community.”

Julie from Flowood wrote, “We have enough animal cruelty in this state with pit bull fighting! We are trying to get MS people to respect life!! We don’t need any more violence or even a simulation of it!”

Matthew in Jackson, “Encouraging bullfighting promotes other acts such as dog fighting and cock fighting. Such acts are cruel and lack a sense of compassion that is needed in society, and further encourages such acts as fight rings occurring in Jackson schools.”


Bloodless bullfights, if they feature the use of horses, can still cause horrific injuries even though the bull’s horns would be capped. Can anyone honestly state that they feel that a capped bull’s horns are harmless if striking a human or another animal with all the force that the bull can muster?

Errol in Flora wrote, “Why are we still teaching our children these violent practices? Why can’t we show peace during a time of worldwide unrest?”

Carol in Jackson wrote, “Animals should not be enslaved to perform for humans! Some traditions need to be rethought!”

Karen in Cleveland wrote, “Even if the bull isn’t killed in this form of “entertainment” it is cruel and will cause the bull much distress. If humans want violent entertainment they should stick to cage fighting and leave all animals out of their sick amusements.”

I hope I have at least made you think about this issue from the other perspective, and shown you how much more beautiful it is to have love, compassion, and respect for all animals and that we should be caring for them. Thank you for your time.”

You can sign Kimberly’s petition “Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau : Cancel the Mississippi Bullfighting Event Dec.7th Jackson, MS” here.

We’re Goin’ to the Rodeo Y’All – Protest of the Ram Rodeo Tour


When it comes to the abuse of animals in entertainment, rodeos rank among the top culprits. While it’s very typical to see many rodeos in Alberta,  there aren’t so many appearing in Ontario,  until the Dodge Ram brand brought it to Newmarket Ontario.  At this event ticket holders can expect to see saddle bronc,  bareback,  bull riding,  steer wrestling, tie down,  and team roping.  Today,  we’re in horse country in York Region Ontario,  home to over 1500 horse farms and more than 20,000 horses,  and during three shifts on Saturday and Sunday – thousands of people,  including horse owners,  will see our signs.

Many Canadian rodeo aficionados cite tradition,  culture and athleticism as justification for events such as steer-riding, chuck wagon racing,  and calf-roping.  In the face of increased public critique,  animal welfare groups are helping to shed light on the cruelty of these events. Canada’s animal cruelty legislation is a disagrace – the laws have not been substantially changed since 1892.  Grassroots movements of Canadians say things need to change. There have already been at least 25 walks across the country and around the world, trying to bring awareness to Canada’s horrible animal cruelty legislation.

Animal welfare groups, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), also object to rodeos. The ASPCA calls them “a cruel form of entertainment that involves the painful, stressful and potentially harmful treatment of livestock.”  The Vancouver Humane Society was instrumental in bringing international focus to the issue of rodeos in Canada,  via the League Against Cruel Sports.  This is a first step toward internationalising opposition to rodeos in Canada and making it  harder for rodeos to justify their use of animals as “entertainment.”

“Sometimes tradition and habit are just that, comfortable excuses to leave things be, even when they are unjust and unworthy. Sometimes–not often, but sometimes–the cranks and radicals turn out to be right.”
Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy

Tradition and heritage are two very emotional words,  heavy with meaning.  Yet,  despite those historical connections,  the Catalonians have banned bullfighting,  which was intensely tied to their nationhood and heritage.  The British have outlawed foxhunting.  The scarlet coated riders are now gone,  even though few things were more “British” than stately homes,  country weekends,  and The Hunt.  I wonder, with regard to Canadian tradition,  how many settlers had to ride or wrestle steers and race chuckwagons at breakneck speeds across the prairie?  I don’t believe that calf roping has ever been a sport but it was made so for entertainment and prize-money, as was bull-riding. Think about it: why would anyone ride a bull? It was created for entertainment and was not something based on culture or tradition.  But despite the fact that their own country outlawed rodeos many years ago,  royal couple Will and Kate visited the Calgary Stampede.  These events are not sports,  but an entertainment spectacle and part of that spectacle are the accidents that inevitably result.  Horse tripping relies on the horse to fall down as part of the spectacle.  Rodeos are a brutish business.

“The less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it” Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

There are many cultural traditions that are not morally acceptable. Think shark finning, whaling and bear bile farming.  If many of these cruel practices against animals were promoted as a brand new form of entertainment,  virtually every animal lover would demand that the practice cease.  Imagine if “horse tripping” were not tied to tradition and parlayed about as a Mexican cultural practice?  The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), which sanctions about 600 rodeos each year in the United States and Canada, does not even allow horse-tripping,  which is exactly as stupid and dangerous as it sounds.  I sent a message to the account holder of the above video (Randy Janssen – read more about him here).  He sent me a reply, but still didn’t post my statement – coward!   This means that he cannot rebut even the most reasonable arguments against the practice.

“If you have proof of animals being injured in Charreada, send it to me and I will post it. Proof is not unsubstantiated ranting from someone who has never been in a lienzo. It is pictures or videos of injuries in the lienzo. You can see live Charreada on Spanish TV or the decharros (dot) com. You can also see videos of complete Charreada if you google livestreamdecharros. I want you to watch it so you will see that Charros and Charras are good people who would never intentionally hurt animals.Please watch this video.” Looks like I can’t provide any proof unless I’ve been in a “lienzo,”  whatever that is.  Oh,  and he tells you right upfront on the video that he doesn’t allow postings from “animal rights activists,”  and of course ratings are disabled too.  If these people think their “sport” is so harmless,  why don’t they have the courage to allow the general viewership of YouTube to comment and vote on some of these practices?

This truck tried to side-swipe us with the stock trailer

Come at me ‘bro.  This truck tried to side-swipe us with the stock trailer while we stood on Davis Drive.  Stock trailer wheels nearly ran over our feet,  and this was no accident!

Many rodeo participants are sincere when they say that they love their animals.  Recall the chuckwagon driver Chad Harden of the Calgary Stampede, who cried when his horses died in a terrible wreck this year.   But what does the word “love” mean if we are willing to profit from and place in injurious situations those we “love?” Rodeo animals are sent to slaughter, not to retirement and pasture, when they cease to perform at a profit.   Whilst it is a sad fact that many animals sustain severe if not fatal injuries when used for entertainment in rodeos, it is perhaps sadder that one can almost guarantee each and every one of them has felt fear and confusion.

“I ask people why they have deer heads on their walls. They always say because it’s such a beautiful animal. There you go. I think my mother is attractive, but I have photographs of her.”
Ellen DeGeneres

“In riding a horse, we borrow freedom”
Helen Thompson

“When I hear somebody talk about a horse or cow being stupid; I figure it’s a sure sign that the animal has somehow outfoxed them”
Tom Dorrance, True Unity: Willing Communication Between Horse & Human

“Animals are my friends…and I don’t eat my friends.”
George Bernard Shaw

“If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.”
Woodrow Wilson

“What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it: elementary kindness.”
Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

“There’s nothing more embarrassing than to have earned the disfavor of a perceptive animal.”
Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys