Study Abroad

Mess with the Bull and You Get the Horns

Looking at the calendar, I am realizing that I have been living in Spain for three full weeks. Time is a nonexistent concept here. Each night as I get ready for bed, I think to myself “Wow, today went by really fast.” It makes me stop and cherish each moment I am here because I know once I return to the States, I will miss this place so very much.

To spend my third weekend here, a couple other students and I decided to attend a bull fight. This was considered an off-season bull fight that featured some of the best matadors in the business – Enrique Ponce and Cayetano to name a few. Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I just heard the word “bullfight” and knew that this is a huge part of Spanish culture so I had to go. Everyone else was going, and I had no other plans, so why not?

Upon arriving and taking a look around, the Plaza was packed. I noticed the general demographic was older, but also a lot of families with young children. I sat there thinking, wow this is kind of like a baseball game in the United States. Everyone was hyped up and cheering on the bullfighters like their life depended on it. Before the first bull came out, a man would walk into the center of the ring and flash a sign that stated how old the bull was and how much the bull weighed in kilos. Once the bull was let loose into the ring, the crowd went wild. I sat there in shock with no emotion in my face. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.

There seemed to be three different stages of the bullfight. First, a man on a blinded horse would come strolling out with a large spear. The horses had blindfolds on so they would not get scared by the bull. Sad to think that these horses have no idea they are helping someone stab a bull as a form of entertainment. He would ride around with the horse for a while as the crowd cheered, then start to mess with the bull only making him more angry. He would stab the bull at least twice right on the spine, closer to the neck.

Next, three more men came out with purple and yellow capes to tire out the bull. They all switched off by stabbing two smaller spears at a time into the neck. At this point, I noticed the bull was red. Not realizing that these men were actually stabbing the bull, it popped into my head that oh, maybe that was blood? That realization really ruined it for me. I started to feel nauseous and wasn’t sure if I could actually stay the entire THREE hours. All of my friends kept turning around and asking me if I was doing okay. I guess I looked a little shocked.

The last stage of the bullfight is when the matador comes out. He walked out majestically and tipped his hat to the crowd. He then threw his hat into the center of the ring and used his red cape and sword to piss off the bull. At this point, the bull will have at least six or seven spears stuck in his spine. It was easy to tell that the bull was getting tired. After about fifteen minutes of torturing the bull and continuous stabbing, the band will stop playing music and the entire Plaza falls silent. The big finish. The matador stuck his entire sword into the spine of the bull, between the shoulders. The ENTIRE thing. We waited for the bull to fall over, and one of the other flag men came out to stab the bull one last time in the neck and then boom. The bull is dead. The crowd goes wild. The matador then pulls the bloody sword out of the bull’s back and raises it to the crowd. As he takes a victory lap, three very majestic looking horses will come out into the ring, and the men tie the dead bull to a rope as the horses drag the bull out of the ring.

Everyone in the crowd had white flags they would wave after each bull died, and we decided to ask a man sitting behind us what the meaning was behind them. He told us that the matador will typically get a souvenir (the bull’s ear) at the end of the fight. The crowd decides if he gets one ear, and the President decides if he gets two ears. There was one matador who actually did get two ears, and he threw them out to the crowd. One went to a little boy who looked maybe 10 years old? He seemed to be very excited. If that was me, I would say nope. Get this away from me. The President sits at a table with a red flag on the right side of the Plaza (seen in the picture above). There is definitely an obvious hierarchy that is highlighted throughout the bullfight.

There were a total of seven bulls that came out, and some matadors were better than others. One of them almost got taken out by the bull which was scary to see, but also hyped up the crowd even more. All I can say is what an interesting experience. After the first bull, you kind of get used to the whole idea and by the end most of us were getting into it. When I told my host mom that I was going to a bullfight, she was very excited. She said it’s one of the best things to attend while in Spain, but there is a lot of opposition to the idea of killing bulls as a sport. From my understanding, Southern Spain does not support bull fights in general. Basque Country has much more support of bullfighting in general, especially since Pamplona is not far from here. While I can agree that yes, it is extremely inhumane to kill a bull right in front of my eyes, I also see it from the cultural side. After seeing the fight in person, I feel neutral.

Bullfighting originated in Spain in 711 A.D. as a gladiator game reserved only for aristocrats performed on horseback. As the years went by, it became more commonplace to stab the bulls on foot. Symbolically, it is supposed to represent man facing death and the courage, class, and strength it takes to survive. The legacy is something that Spain is proud of and unwilling to sacrifice. I am so proud of myself for making it through the entire three hours of bullfighting and really embracing the culture here. So important to have an open mind while traveling abroad!

Plaza de Toros
Legacy Of Bullfighting 1850
History of Bullfighting in Spain

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