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September 24, 2013

Bull Fiestas: Break a Spear

Humane Society International

  • Bull fiestas, such as the annual Toro de la Vega fiesta, inflict suffering on bulls. PACMA/HSI

The Toro de la Vega is a Spanish fiesta that involves the tormenting, spearing and stabbing to death of a bull.

During the event, held each September, a bull is chased out of the town of Tordesillas into the surrounding countryside. Men on horseback and foot brandishing long spears hound him, taunting him until he is exhausted, cornered and can no longer flee. At this point, one of his pursuers approaches and stabs him to death. The pursuer is then deemed the winner and presented with a prize.

The event has been recognized by Spanish authorities as a "Nominated Event of Tourism Interest" since 1980.

Opposed by Spanish citizens

Widely condemned by the Spanish public and a number of prominent politicians, HSI has worked with the Animalista Party (PACMA) to publicise the “Break a Spear” campaign in order to ensure that the reality of this terrible fiesta is brought to the attention of politicians across Spain and that they are made aware of the wishes of Spanish citizens who are calling for an end to the suffering of animals at this and other Spanish festivals.

An Ipsos MORI opinion poll, commissioned by HSI in 2014, showed that almost three quarters (74 percent) of Spanish citizens aged 16 to 65 opposed the Toro de la Vega bull fiesta. In addition, 71 percent believe public funds should not be used to support bull fiestas.

A timeline of events

December 2016: The Spanish Constitutional Court unanimously confirmed the prohibition of the public killing of El Toro de la Vega (and all bulls used fiestas apart bullfights). The Court rejected the City Council’s challenge of the ban on the basis that the Region had allegedly exceeded its powers and overstepped the City Council’s competences. HSI will continue to monitor the events in Tordesillas and work to end all cruel bull fiestas.

September 2016: HSI warned against a substitute event, the ‘Toro de la Peña, put forward by the City Council of Tordesillas, stating it was not a humane alternative as the bull would still be chased and suffer great distress for public entertainment. HSI was also concerned that there may be attempts to injure or kill the bull during the event. The event took place on 13 September and it was reported that although chased by crowds, the bull was not killed in public, as the June 2016 decree stated.

June 2016: Politicians at the Regional Assembly of Castilla y León approved a decree to that will prohibit the public killing of the bull used in the Toro de la Vega fiesta. HSI welcomed the move, as an important step forward but, concerned for the suffering and stress involved in the chase, called for a complete end to the Toro de la Vega and all other fiestas involving cruelty and suffering to animals.

September 2015: HSI condemned the gruesome cruelty inflicted on bull, named Rompesuelas, killed during the 2015 Toro de la Vega fiesta, and call on Spanish politicians to end the cruelty for good. 

September 2015: HSI campaigners joined Spanish colleagues in Madrid to protest against the annual Toro de la Vega event. We also presented the finding of our opinion poll showing 74 percent of Spanish citizens oppose the Toro de la Vega taking place and 71 percent believe public funds should not be used to support bull fiestas (indeed, only 13 percent do believe public funding should be used for that purpose) to politicians in Madrid.

November 2014: A proposal was presented to politicians, by PSOE political party spokesman Antonio Hernando, that would outlaw acts of "animal abuse in public performances and the festivals”.

September 2014: Tens of thousands of compassionate people converge on the street in central Madrid to speak out against the Toro de la Vega and other bull fiestas. The event is part of the “Break a Spear” campaign organised by PACMA, with the support of HSI.

September 2014: General Secretary of the PSOE political party, Pedro Sanchez, says of the Toro de la Vega: “I’m opposed to it, I don't like it" and “In the 21st century, this type of festivities (or fiestas) shouldn't be celebrated"

September 2014: El Pais, one of Spain’s foremost daily newspapers, publishes an editorial that calls the Toro de la Vega an “Unworthy spectacle” and that “Sadism used to kill the [bull at] Toro de la Vega is not compatible with a modern Spain”. It continues: “A show based on the abuse of an animal to death, as in the feast of Toro de la Vega [in] Tordesillas, can not be considered a cultural event or a dignified tradition. Certainly not in the XXI century.”

September 2013: Plural Left party Submits Motion
A motion calling on the Spanish government to ensure animal abuse plays no part in the Toro de la Vega fiesta and other similar events was submitted to the Environment Committee in the Congress of Deputies by Laia Ortiz, spokesperson for the Plural Left party.

November 2012: Culture Committee Motion Defeated in Senate
The Catalan Convergence and Union (CiU) party put forward a motion to the Culture Committee in the Senate calling on the Spanish government to amend regulations to ensure fiestas benefiting from official recognition as events "of tourist interest" do not involve animal abuse. The motion was proposed by Senator Maldonado, spokesman for CiU in the Culture Committee.

During the debate, the Toro de la Vega event was discussed at length and politicians heard from a highly experienced veterinarian who explained the suffering caused to the bull during the fiesta. Although the motion was rejected by 19 votes (Popular Party and Socialist Group) to 1 (CiU), with 1 abstention (ENTESA), it is encouraging to see the issue being raised and debated in the Spanish parliament, a move that surely reflects the concern voiced by Spanish and international citizens.

October 2012: Political Questions in Spanish Senate
Senator Maldonado submitted a written question in the Senate, asking what measures the government planned to take to prevent the barbarism of the event. The government replied stating that the authorisation of such performances fell to the regional administration, not the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

September 2012: Motion to the Environment Committee
Politicians from the Plural Left party initiated a motion, debated by the Environment Committee in the Congress of Deputies, calling on the Spanish government to end animal suffering at the Toro de la Vega fiesta and similar events.

June 2012: Petitioning the Castile and León Administration
Our 73,000 signature “Break a Spear” petition was handed in to the Spanish autonomous community of Castile and León. It called on the administration to stop issuing permits that allow the cruel event to take place.

October 2011: Cruelty Dossier Submitted to Politicians
A delegation from a number of Spanish animal welfare organisations presented a dossier detailing the cruelty associated with the Toro de la Vega fiesta to politicians in Madrid.

The information included a harrowing report, authored by a number of Spanish veterinarians, detailing the terrible suffering caused to the bull killed a month earlier. Images and film of the event were also supplied. The campaigners, including HSI, called on the authorities to strip the cruel spectacle of its official status as a tourist event.

September 2011: “Break a Spear” Campaign Launched
HSI joined with CAS International and the Spanish Animalista Party (PACMA) to launch the “Break a Spear” campaign, aimed at raising awareness of this cruel fiesta among Spanish citizens and politicians.

How you can help 

  • Read our article "Culture is never an excuse for animal cruelty".
  • Never attend a bull fiesta or bullfight: There are many good-natured events held in Spain each summer that never involve cruelty to animals, but there are still many that do: Always check in advance, ask your tour guide or travel agent, or ask at tourist information centres in the towns or at airports, and make it clear to them that you would never support events that cause cruelty to animals.
  • Sign our pledge "Cruelty is not a Tourist Attraction" today.
  • Find out more about our campaign to end cruel bull fiestas.
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