On a warm August afternoon in Málaga, a crowd sat waiting in the arena for the start of the first of three afternoons of novilladas sin picadores. Six sturdy two-year-old bulls from a renowned ganadería already waited in their pens to each confront a young lad, anxious to show off his taurine skills in public. Twenty minutes later, the first boy had killed well and the animal lay dead on the sand waiting for the mules to drag him away, a woman jumped the barrier and walked across the ring heading straight to the dead bull. She crouched beside the cadaver and climbed on to its back. “Bullfighting should be stopped” and “killing bulls was no culture,” she shouted.
For a few seconds the people in the stands were dumbfounded. The fans were still cheering their triumphant torero. They didn‘t understand what she was shouting, but soon caught on and started to hurl abuse at her, calling her names and ordering her out. Meanwhile, the mule team had come in but were unable to hook up the dead bull. After a few minutes the woman realized she had made her point, stepped away from the dead animal and was led out of the ring by a couple of policemen. Peace returned to the plaza but we all wondered what would have happened if she had tried it on with a live novillo or what fun it would have been if she and the dead bull had been dragged out together.
Afterwards, in a statement to the press, the woman declared: “I could hear him screaming in pain, so I jumped into the arena and ran towards him. He looked at me and I think he sensed my energy. I wanted to make him feel loved before he left this earth.”
So, when did the anti-taurine movement start?
An important factor in the crusade against bullfighting was the vast expansion of urban areas which resulted in the separation between city dwellers and those living in the country. Furthermore, the decline of farmland had forced the agricultural industry to become an (according to Animal Freedom Foundation) industry in which care and welfare of the animal were aimed at maximizing production. Everything that would make animal life more pleasant, but reduced productivity, was left out.« In my contribution to Ole!: Capturing the Passion of Bullfighters and Aficionados in the 21st Century (4 Square Books, 2013), I wrote:
“In most Western countries, hornless cows with udders the size of university globes, their hind hooves grotesquely deformed by the weight, trudge to milking posts to be hooked up to sucking, squeezing, churning machines. An electronic chip on the animal’s collar signals a food-dispenser to administer a well balanced diet of bone meal pellets and a mix of vitamin pills. And while the animals eat they are relieved of their precious cargo. Only then will the machines free them to go back to their concrete cubicles…”
“There’s no place for bulls. Bulls are unproductive and usually killed at birth or more often kept in a crate, fattened up and slaughtered before their meat gets too tough. Maybe one or two are left alive. They are condemned to life in a sterile seed station where every once in a while they’re allowed to mount a metal contraption covered in cowhide while a man crouches underneath to catch their semen. In our industrialized society, cattle are part of a highly efficient, but brutal conveyor belt. This is how we treat our animals.”
Modern city dwellers had no idea what nature was. Once they became aware of the origin of their carefully wrapped premium sirloin steaks and understood that milk did not grow in cardboard boxes, the result was a massive overreaction of guilt. In their eyes cows had to be rescued from their miserable existence. Anything that was done against the wellbeing of these poor defenseless animals had to be avenged. Cows became almost saintly creatures and were converted into black and white therapeutic aids on pseudo-spiritual health-farms. Places where the bored middle class could regain its contact with nature by cuddling a cow (never a bull) as if to apologize for all what had been done to them. Man had become so scared of the animal’s wrath, they had to humanize them to control their fears. In their view, animals were part of a Disney-fied unreality in which ducks talked, mice wore coats and Bambie wept.
The fashion industry worked overtime to create designer outfits for downsized handbag dogs and produced diamond studded collars for their clients’ beloved tabbies. Pet food producing companies sold products that could compete with the finest cuisine for humans. (It is rumoured that the anti-taurine movement is largely subsidized by the pet food industry.) At the same time, so-called animal lovers began to look elsewhere to protest against what, in their eyes, was an inhumane treatment of their fellow earthlings. According to one of the pamphlets issued by the anti-taurine movement, they protest against the treatment of “animals that are bred to confront sadistic men who taunt them, bleed them and torture them until they die a gruesome death.” They are convinced that these pitiful animals need their help notwithstanding that the fighting bull can very well take care of himself and has done so ever since the first Iberian took up a spear to hunt him.

They seemed to forget that in the first four years of their existence they are treated like kings in circumstances very different from their western European namesakes. Instead of cement-floored stalls, or boxed up in a wooden crate, they spend their lives outside in the fields of large estates. They graze, find faraway waterholes and are only now and then disturbed by men on horseback. Growing up, the bull sharpens his horns and learns to use his instincts. He stands his ground in sometimes bloody territorial disputes. For the last 10 minutes of the almost 2 million minutes of his life he is given an opportunity to prove himself. To use his strength and to show his cunning and his stamina. Most of them will die, as no life is eternal, but to a Spaniard the way he dies is more important: not like an anonymous piece of meat in a sterile slaughterhouse or as garbage in the metal jaws of some piece of modern farming machinery, but proud and dignified. Or in the words of the poet Ruben Darío in Gesta del Coso (a poetic dialogue between a toro bravo—about to play his part in the corrida—and an ox):
The bull: “What’s worse than this ordeal?”
The ox: “Impotence”.
The bull: “And what’s blacker than death?”
The ox: “The yoke!”
But then, their ignorance shows in their arguments and to contradict them would land you in big trouble. One of their favorites is: “They explode a blank cartridge, inserted in the animal’s back.” But even after protesting this stupidity, their next round opens with: “How can you be in favor of bullfighting when you know they clamp a bull’s testicles and run 220 volts through them?” And: “You know they starve the bulls of drinking water but let them drink just before they chase them into the ring? The water in their bellies makes them sluggish, so it is easier for the toreador to kill.” And another example of their misguided reasoning is: “Don’t you know they hammer a bull’s kidneys with sand bags before he is released?” A protester in Gijon carried a sign that read: “The bullfighter is a coward who fights against an already mortally wounded opponent.”
Their assertions are ridiculous. You might well say a Spanish toro bravo isn’t the most docile animal to approach. Moreover it is one of the best protected animals in Spain, in the fields as well as in a plaza de toros. How and when would they be able to do all these terrible things these so-called animal lovers say are done to them? Besides, how would the public react if an animal came into the ring an invalid? As for the exploding cartridges, which supposedly are stuck under the bull’s skin to (literally) fire up the animal, it is true that a long time ago banderilleros were allowed to use banderrillas with points that were charged with a small firecracker when a bull refused to charge; the so-called “banderillas de fuego.” They were banned in 1928 by Royal Decree. Around that time another declaration announced the introduction of heavy padding—the peto—to protect the picador’s horse from the bull while the introduction of a white, painted circle on the sand determined the territories of horse, rider and bull. In taurine history the decade of the 1920s is known as the years that changed the appearance of the corrida forever.
So, was the division of the arena—and indeed the introduction of the peto—a concession to complaints of spectators who were tired of seeing dead horses scattered over the floor? I believe it was. But was it the start of an organized anti-taurine movement? Did people gather around the puertas grandes carrying signs and banners expressing their discontent? There is no evidence this took place.
Of all the arguments, the illegal manipulation of the horns, better known by its popular name “afeitar”or “shaving,”remains the achilles heel of bullfighting. It is a criminal act and consists of removing a small part (sometimes not more than a centimeter) of the tip of a bull’s horns. According to the Spanish Reglamento Taurino: “It is the duty of the breeders to guarantee to the public the integrity of the fighting bulls as regards fraudulent manipulation of their defenses.” Even so, it is alarming to know that bulls with illegally manipulated horns are still very much part of the corrida. But we don’t need the opposition to tell us that.
However, there is one aspect of the corrida that never enters discussions with anti-taurinos. It is the moment of el indulto when the public pardons a bull for his exceptional behavior in the ring and allows him to leave the arena alive. Although it only happens a few times a year, in my view it is the most essential moment of a corrida. These bulls are returned to their ranches where they are given the best possible care. After their wounds have healed they become seed bulls and are vital for the existence of the ganadería. They live out their days as a “sultan in his harem of cows,” making sure their genes are passed on to further generations of toros bravos for the benefit of the corrida de toros.
You can find an enchanting video clip from 2015 of Morante de la Puebla casually passing a demonstration of antitaurinos in Ronda. While everyone is shouting “Asesinos, Asesinos,” Morante walks up to the organizer of the protest and after exchanging a few words, tells her: “I am no asesino.” Find the video at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=B62OWYt4W8w
Valencia’s Fallas Feria is on the doorstep. The 2024 season is about to start and it is already dubbed “The Season of Enrique Ponce’s Final Farewell.” After a half-dozen corridas in mostly second category arenas (he is not announced in San Isidro or in Sevilla’s April Feria) his definite exit will be on October 9, in his home town Valencia. With him on the cartel is the 37-year-old Alejandro Talavante and yet another local crown prince, Nek Romero who turns 21 this month, will be given his alternativa. The tickets for this event are already flying out the ticket window, as they did 40 years ago when Ponce (who was born in 1971) started his glorious career.
In spite of all the efforts by the anti-taurine movement, it seems the future of the corrida de toros looks as bright as ever.

Cronica de Pieter Hildering