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The Other Side of a Bull Fight

Written by Jeff Drake
7 · 05 · 18

Today we had a “learning and discovery” activity. We got to spend the better part of a day at a bull ranch, owned and operated by a well-known Spanish matador, Rafael Tejada. All I can say is that being a matador must be very lucrative! He has a huge 500 acre ranch populated with bulls, of course, but horses, too, for he is also a horse breeder. The horses are a mix of Arabian and Andalusian, with the result being some beautiful horses, to be sure! Oh, and watch out for the geese, they bite!

I must say the day forced me to think about bull fighting, a subject that is easy for non-Spanish to write off as simple acculturated animal cruelty. It is quite apparent that in Spain, bull fighting is deeply ingrained into their culture. It was interesting to hear our guides today talk about bull fighting using words and phrases like, “the brave bull” or the “noble bull”, “a bull that is fearless”, etc. My first reaction to hearing this was to think they are simply using these words to help fool themselves into thinking what they are doing in a bull fight is somehow a good thing when it is just torturing some poor, frightened, animal. But, then I tried to think of any animals I have known in my life and whether I could apply adjectives like “noble”, “fearless”, “brave”, rightfully to them? The answer was, “Yes, most certainly.” Granted, these are subjective terms in both situations and both are carrying on a common practice for us humans – to anthropomorphise the animals we come into contact with, attributing human traits to them, perhaps seeing in them what we want to see, rather than what it is. Then I wondered how my doing this is different from the locals talking about them this way? I came to the conclusion that it really isn’t different. It’s just that when I do it, for example, I am talking about a pet and when they do it, they are talking about an animal that has been bred for the singular purpose of fighting and dying in the bull ring.

Next, I thought about the life these bulls live before they enter the bull ring.

[By the way, did you know that when a matador enters the ring to fight a bull it is the first time they have ever met? There is no studying up on your bull to allow any kind of strategy to develop. The matador has to size that bull up in seconds.]

The bulls that are bred for the bull ring lead remarkably pampered lives, compared to other types of bulls or cows. They are allowed to free range and they are fed the best food and their health is closely monitored. The young bulls are separated from their mothers, then the bulls are grouped according to their ages. Young bulls (e.g., 3 years old) are used for young bull fighters. A bull that is 6 years old is considered to dangerous for a young matador. When bulls get old, up to 10 years, they are considered too dangerous for anyone to fight, so unless they were fortunate to be picked as a stud, it’s off to the meat market for them. Learning about the way they are raised made me do a mental comparison of the way cows, pigs, or chickens are treated. It is certainly better than it has been in the past, but still, any beef or dairy cow would be happy to enjoy a taste of the life these bulls are leading (assuming they don’t know what is waiting for them at the end).  I have to consider the question, “Who am I to condemn the Spanish for their treatment of bulls?” Maybe if I was a vegan who was barefoot and used rope to tie up my pants, then I could rightfully proclaim the horrors of bull fighting, but in my case, I’m a carnivore. I don’t like the idea of a bull fight, but realistically, these animals are treated extremely well up until that last hour in the bull ring.

And even in the bull ring, we were told today, things may not be what they seem. For instance, we all know about the awful way the matadors stick their thin swords into the bull, causing it to bleed. It was explained to us today that because of the life the bull has been living, the bull ring is the first time the bull has ever been alone. Suddenly, the bull is by himself and surrounded by thousands of people, screaming and making noise. Prior to this, he was always in a herd. This stresses the bull out immensely, and causes it to get seriously agitated, afraid of anything that moves. This stress, they told us, can lead to the bull experiencing a heart attack! Thus, they “stick” the bull in order to take off the stress on the heart by allowing some blood-letting (and thus not ending the bull fight too soon). This sounds reasonable, but also sounds like a story used to cover up a rather grotesque aspect of the bull fight.

Spoiler alert: In the end, the bull dies. In some very few cases, a bull that has been declared “so brave”, “such a great fighter”, is pardoned and allowed to live out his days as a stud on a bull ranch like the one we visited today. In fact, they had such a bull. It was a bull that the owner had fought a few years ago. Today he sits among a huge herd of cows, smiling.

So, I don’t know anymore how I feel about bull fighting. In some ways, it seems more honest, to be very up front about the fact that these bulls are being bred to die, compared to the way we hide in the sand when confronted with the realities of our meat consumption. On the other hand, it appears a brutal practice, some would call it barbaric even. So, the jury is out.

This bad boy was massive and not real happy about getting sprayed for vermine.


This horse was trained to resist being pushed over by the bulls. Lisa tried to push on him, but he somehow was able to resist. 🙂


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Jeff Drake

Retired IT consultant, world-traveler, hobby photographer, and philosopher.
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