Tag Archives: “portuguese bullfight”

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.


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?