There is little doubt the moment I mention bullfighting there is going to be some strong negative reaction from English speakers.

       I mention bullfighting not because I oppose, defend or praise the practice.  I mention it because I have never seen greater horsemanship than that of "Toureio Equestre," the art of bullfighting on horseback as practiced in Portugal.

       For more than seven centuries--711 AD until 1490--there was a constant struggle between Iberians and the Muslims who occupied parts of Portugal and Spain.  Much of the fighting was from horseback and both horses and riders were specifically trained for martial arts.  From the war exercises evolved many of the movements which influenced the European riding academies of the Renaissance, and eventually the Spanish Riding School of Vienna and the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art.

      Iberians had run bulls from horseback in open fields for centuries.  When that practice was combined with the equestrian war exercises within a confined arena, the equestrian bullfight was born.

      Bulls bred to fight will not run away in a confined area, but instead will charge.   Cavaliers changed their war maneuvers on horseback into intricate movements calculated to avoid being gored by the bulls.

      The Portuguese bullfighter is dressed in 17th Century outfits of plumed hat, shirt with ruffles down the front and at the cuffs, skin-tight pants, boots which rise above the knee and a satin jacket which extends to the knee.  In her book, Cavaliers of Portugal, Huldine Beamish says just the mention of Portuguese bullfighting "conjures images of one of the most exquisite forms of equestrian display."

      Traditionally the Portuguese bullfighter is mounted on a pure bred Lusitano stallion.  The breeding selection process of the Lusitano is essentially based on its ability for the bullfight.

      The action begins with exhibitions of "haute ecole," which are "high-school" exercises demonstrating the superb training of the horse.  It is dressage above and beyond the highest levels commonly seen.  The cavalier rides around and around the arena enticing the bull to follow and attempt a charge.

      While the bull is killed, the objective is not the killing, but the demonstration of skills of the horse and rider.

      The most spectacular exhibition of horsemanship is seen in the placing of the banderillas.   The banderillas are darts on the end of sticks about 3 feet long.   The banderillas are placed by getting the bull to charge the horse.  The rider keeps the bull from goring the horse while he leans over the horns of the bull and jabs the banderillas into the mass of muscle just behind the bull's neck.   The horse and bull, of course, are moving constantly, changing directions and speed.

      Many cavaliers will place several pairs of banderillas, then break a new pair of banderillas so the sticks are just over a foot long.  Attaching the reins to his belt buckle, the cavalier has a banderrilla in each hand, rides his horse to incite the bull to charge the horse, out maneuvers the bull and leans over the horns to place the darts.

      The cavalier speaks with the horse only through the use of his legs and weight.  View this video on your computer:

      I have seen great riders, but only the Portuguese cavalier rides in an elegant and relaxed manner of nonchalance while under the pressure of instant maiming or death.

      Since the Portuguese bullfight is done in a small arena, running speed has no bearing on the outcome.
      The success in evading the bull depends on skilled movements instantly performed-a true partnership between horse and rider.

     Sylvia Loch has described it as "a symbol of complex dependence, one upon the other.   The centaur-man and horse joined together in a way in which no other equestrian sport can demonstrate.  Something deeply primeval within us is touched when we see such perfect empathy between a man and his horse."

      If you have the opportunity, recognize that cultural differences exist, see the positive and understand that all is in balance.


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