Bullfighting: A Spectacle of Cruelty in Three Acts

Humane Society International

A bullfight is split into three “tercios,” or thirds, with two bullfights per session, each lasting about 20 minutes.

Act 1

The matador’s (bullfighter’s) assistants provoke the bull using large colorful capes in order to observe the animal’s movements and patterns in the ring. The president, the official who presides over the bullfight, then signals the entry of the picadors (the armed men on horseback), whose job is to pierce the bull’s neck using a barbed lance. The purpose of the lance is to injure the bull in such a way as to prohibit sudden and abrupt movements.

Act 2

This act is called “el tercio de banderillas.’’ The purpose of the second “tercio” is to revive and liven the attack of the bull from the previous act’s fight and injuries. According to bullfighting regulations, the matador must stab at least four “banderillas,’’ or decorated wooden sticks with spiked ends, into the bull before the next and final act can take place. The function of the banderilla, a type of harpoon, is to tear muscles, nerves and blood vessels.

Act 3

The matador has ten minutes to kill the bull. If the bull is not killed at this ten minute mark, the president allows him another five minutes. If the bull is still alive after these five minutes, he is returned to the corral to be killed. The matador’s goal is to insert the sword in the cervical vertebra and cut the animal’s spinal cord.  

The prizes and trophies awarded to the matador at the end of the fight vary depending on the performance. They range from cheers from the crowd, to a “vuelta” (lap) around the ring, to being rewarded with one or two of the bull’s ears, to the cutting off of the bull’s tail.  

The bull’s carcass is then dragged out of the ring by a team of horses to be sold to butcher shops or local markets.  

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