Writing and Photos by Heather Clemenceau (except where otherwise indicated) In southern Ontario, animal advocates have noticed that so-called “bloodless” bullfights (corrida incruenta) and bull runs 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. With few exceptions, it’s been difficult to observe these bullfights because most take place on private property such as that owned by Elio Leal, whose 3,000 seat arena – Granadaria Sol y Toiros – hosts these events several times a year. The “bloodless” bullfight is so named because the bull wears a Velcro “saddle” on his back, to which the cavalieros stab the bull with their Velcro-tipped spears, and his horns are squared-off and wrapped with a covering. You may think that a “bloodless” bullfight is comparable to teasing the angry neighbourhood dog, but all bullfights, whether bloodless or not, all have the same narrative of dominance over the “beast.” The bullfights take place in the small town of Dundalk, Ontario, population < 2,000. The arena, built in 2010, is about 90 minutes northwest of Toronto and was the project of Leal, who wanted to recreate the corrida on his farm. This year the event was easier to locate, since the Paso Fino horse showcase immediately preceding it was advertised by Equine Canada as part of the celebration of the Pan Am Games in Toronto. If you emailed the organizers of the Paso Fino event, you would get a reply promoting the bullfight, which wasn’t openly advertised. On this day there are an estimated 1,300 people in attendance, as reported by the Toronto Star, who was also present at the event.
Leal’s farm is open to the public but the event itself is a fairly closely-held secret, and normally promoted in Portuguese. The remote location has made animal abuses fairly easy to conceal. Aside from the fact that teasing bulls is regarded by many as inhumane, it puts horses and other participants at risk. At this event, I confirmed for myself that, even though the bulls’ horns are capped and squared-off on the ends, they can injure the horses when they make contact. Can anyone honestly assert that a capped bull’s horns are harmless if striking a human or another animal with all the force that the bull can muster? The following are the cast of characters in the Portuguese “bloodless” style of bullfight:
- The cavaleiros/cavaleiras are the horsemen or horsewomen, dressed in traditional costumes who fight the bull from horseback. In this event, there is no matador. There are two cavaleiras here today – Mara Pimenta and Joana Andrade, who also participate in traditional Portuguese bullfights (the bloody kind that ends in death for the bull).
- The forcados are a group of eight men who challenge the bull directly, without any protection other than a thick “cummerbund” around the waist. The front man provokes the bull into a charge (these guys are otherwise known as the suicide squad), in an attempt to bring the charging bull to a standstill. The other seven men, lined up behind him, wait for the bull to come at their leader (who must surely be in line for a Darwin Award), and then rush in, piling on top of the bull to stop him in his tracks. Afterwards, the bull is distracted long enough for the first 7 men to escape, while the last man latches on to his tail, spinning him in circles before escaping himself.
- The bandarilheiros are the cavaleiro/cavaleira’s helpers in the arena. While in the arena, they are holding the cape to distract or position the bull. The men agitate the bull—with shouting, fancy footwork, the wave of a cape—as part of an elaborate ceremony designed to show off their skills. Their presence serves to tire the bull, giving a brief respite to the horse in the arena, whose continual lateral movements would be tiring.
- The campinos are men on foot, armed with long sharp poles, who herd both the bull and Spanish cows among them back out of the arena and the fight is over. This particular role doesn’t seem to require much skill or daring, since both the bull and the cows are determined to get away from people as quickly as possible, and don’t need much direction. I’m relieved that the sharp poles appear to be mostly for show, since when challenged, the campinos climb the arena wall to escape rather than face-off against the indignant bovine.
- Unlike the horses in a Spanish bullfight who are there primarily to be gored by the bull, these horses are beautiful and well-trained. In this case they are Portuguese Lusitano stallions, who are skilled in dressage. If you take the bullfight out of the equation, you would very much enjoy their graceful movements. They bow and perform lateral movements to avoid the advances of the bull, who is not nearly as athletic (but is very determined to charge the source of his torment). There are frequent horse changes by the same rider during each session – each horse is used for perhaps 10 minutes only.
- The breed of bovine featured are Spanish fighting bulls who live on the Leal farm adjacent to the arena. Females of this breed are also used in this event, and they are also quite aggressive, occasionally stampeding and charging the arena walls. The cows are used to escort the bull out of the arena after the fight is over, after which a fresh bull will be used with a different team.
The crowd cheers wildly whenever the cavalieros stab at the bull or reach out and touch the bull’s head in passing. The horses leap aside, and the spectators gasp accordingly. Even though the various performances at the show are designed to wear out the bull, there is not much doubt that the bull is in charge, and the bull sees the horse as his enemy as much as the man. In three instances, the cavaleiros positioned their horses too close to the bulls, and the enraged animals made contact with the horses. One stallion was left with what I presume is a bloody scrape on his flank, but it could have been much worse. In addition, one of the forcados was very visibly in pain after his event, clutching his sides and gasping for air for several minutes afterward. Why wasn’t this mentioned in the Toronto Star article, which published a very sanitized version of this event? Bulls have a high body mass and an inefficient 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. This can be verified simply observing their facial expressions – the open mouth and the tongue out, sides heaving with exertion. Pulling on the bull’s tail also further agitates the animal, who spins around trying to hook his tormenter with his horns. Several bulls vocalized loudly when they were pulled by the tail, certainly a sign of pain. Afterwards, the forcados, cavalieros, bandarilheiros and campinos all walk the arena, to congratulatory waves and cheers. Spectators toss their hats into the arena where they are kissed and tossed back.
In most bullfighting countries, statues of bulls regularly stand outside of bullfighting stadiums, and depict the animals in the most stately, majestic way possible. But these statues are incongruent
with the reality of the bullfight where the bull is visibly exhausted and tormented, and in many cases, killed outright. The truth is, if a creature suffers then there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration. We can have no right whatsoever to make them suffer for our “enjoyment.” Ignoring the potential for human injury at this event, the torment and potential injury of both horses and bulls is deserving of condemnation, and bullfights are surely the worst kind of torture since they are performed solely in the name of entertainment. How is the risk to horses, bulls, and humans acceptable?