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On a recent trip to Portugal I was able to witness another example of how versatile horses can be. As we drove through Spain and Portugal, my niece and I decided the bullfights of Portugal would be better for us. In 1757 the reining Marquis banned the killing of the bulls after a friend of his, the Count of Arcos, died in a bullfighting accident. The bullfights were used by nobility to train for the battlefield, riding the Lusitanian horses, known for their agility and intelligence.
The Portuguese view the fight as a display of skill, elegance and courage instead of taking the Spaniardís view of bullfighting as a contest between intelligence and instinct. The Portuguese replacement of intelligence with courage becomes even more apparent near the end of the fight!
The bullfights are called touradas and are very popular. The contest we saw started at 11:00 p.m. and was nearly sold out. If I understood the ticket seller correctly, we bought middle stadium seating for $30. which is a hefty sum there.
The opening ceremony is a real spectacle with the toureiros (matadors in Spain) entering the ring first in costumes covered with glitter and carrying pink, yellow, or other bright colored capes. They are followed by the teams of forcados; groups of eight men dressed in brown or red short pants, knee socks, and jackets, following a leader wearing a green Santa Clause type hat. Watching them in these outfits makes you a little suspicious of their purpose but does not begin to prepare you for their real duties!
Following the forcados are the two cattle drivers dressed in their unique outfits and carrying long sticks. At the end of each fight they bring out six very fat oxen which circle the ring and exit through the door from which they entered, hopefully with the bull in tow.
Not to be forgotten are those gentlemen responsible for keeping the ground smooth after each fight and discretely covering the blood from the bull (at least we hope it is from the bull). There are at least twenty of these dressed in white shirts and trousers.
At the peak of the excitement, the horsemen, or cavaleiros, enter. Each one is on a stallion who is wearing a caparison, or skirt of very brilliant cloth. The Cavaleiro is dressed pretty fancy as well, right up to the plumed three corner hat. The entire costume has probably changed little since the 1700s. There are three cavaleiros and each has two fights. The horsemen circle the arena to thunderous applause.
The ring is then cleared and a sign board with the identification and weight of the first bull is raised. The first team of toureiros (the Portuguese version of the Spanish matador) enters the ring. The first takes his place 1/4 of the way around the ring from the door the bull will enter. The second is across the ring. The purpose of these two men is to position the bull. They are available if the horse is trapped against the wall and are ready if the bull traps one of them in the ring (this did happen and that Toureiro was pulled over the wall by his rescuers while the other kept the bull busy). These men are very nimble and when threatened by the bull, can be over the wall in a heart beat.
The door is opened and a large (475 to 500 kg (1,000 to 1,100 lb.)) mad bull enters at a run and heads for the first Toureiro, who quickly jumps the wall! The bull continues around to the second one who works him with his cape. While they are busy, the Caveleiro (horseman) enters the ring. Seeing the horse, the second Toureiro immediately jumps the wall.
The bull soon sees the horse and rider and charges them. The horse is moving fast to stay out of the way. He stays under control of the rider because the rider must stick farpases (boned darts) into the bull. This horse, a Lusitanian, which closely resembles Andalusians, must be on the move during these early minutes. The bull is fresh and strong. The Caveleiro usually sticks three darts into the bull as they race around the ring. By the third one, the bull is beginning to show signs of slowing and is beginning to be a little smarter. He is no longer racing across the ring to catch the horse.
The Caveleiro will take the first horse out and return with a second. This is where horsemanship and courage truly are evident. They must now work close to the bull or he will just stand and look at them without giving chase. Only when close enough to think he has a chance will he charge. The darts they are now using have two parts. Once the dart is embedded into the withers of the bull, the handle pulls away revealing a flag. The Caveleiro waves this in the face of the bull to keep him charging. The contest between the horse, rider, and the bull is a spectacular sight. The bull often has his horns rubbing against the horse or covered with the hair of the tail as he tries to gore him. The rider often directs the horse to sidepass so they are perpendicular to the bull. During this time the Caveleiro will implant another three or four darts, whatever he thinks necessary to enrage and tire the bull. He will then leave the ring as a Toureiro takes control of the bull.
While the Toureiro is positioning the bull near one side of the ring, the band of eight Forcados enters the ring and congregate at the other side. The Toureiro leaps the wall and the leader of the forcados, who is wearing the long pointed green cap, lops forward shouting at the bull. This is where the last hint of any sign of intelligence is traded for courage (or stupidity). When the leader is about half way across the ring, the bull has had enough. He charges the waiting man who is now facing the bull. The bull hits him in the stomach, bending him over his head. The man grasps the horns as the bull charges into the waiting group of men. They then attempt to subdue the bull and surround him (which often means above and below) until he quits charging. This is just as crazy as it sounds. Once the bull stops, one man grabs his tail and the others move away. The bull makes a half-hearted attempt to reach the man and stops. The tailman will then turn loose and walk to within six feet of the bulls horns, strutting and yelling. Of the six bulls fought that night, not one charged the tailholder!
After this exposition, the cattle drivers bring out the oxen and move the bull out of the ring. The next day he will be slaughtered for meat or if he gave an outstanding performance, he will be used for breeding.  His little mind is so confused after what he has been through that he is unfit to fight again.
The toureiros, the Cavaleiro, and the leader of the forcados (if he is able) walk around the ring receiving flowers and articles of clothing thrown from the audience. The cavaleiro and the leader touch them and the toureiro returns them in the general direction of the thrower. The grounds are prepared and the process starts over again. We caught the last ferry across the bay for Lisbon and were back at our hotel by 3:30 AM. We will never forget the demonstration of control and agility by the horse and rider, or the sheer courage of the crazy man in the green hat!
Thanks to our friends and new partner in Europe, BEFF® Best Equestrian Footing Fibers...
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