Sunday, January 20, 2008

What Happens When a Bull Won't Fight?

We bought tickets for seats ground level with the arena where we would be shaded by the bleachers above. We had a clear view of the ring where the matadors would fight the bulls. To our right, the press reporters sat poised with cameras and pens to record the event for the small town Rio Grande newspapers. Behind us, fajitas sizzled as they were served. The people eating them washed down the spicy food with cold beer from the cantina. To our left, a wall nearly six-feet high made of wooden two-by-fours separated us from the bull.

The bull stood very still, not moving or protesting. He stood in the narrow pen with no room to turn. He faced toward the arena. Quiet, he made no sounds. When I stood on tippy toes, I could see the tips of his pointed horns, his black hide, and the red rose attached by Velcro to his neck, the matador’s quest in the bloodless bullfight. This would be the first bull to fight today at Fred Renk’s Santa Maria Bullring in LaGloria, Texas.

When the bullfight music began playing, the wooden door to the bull pen swung open. The crowd hushed, waiting but no bull emerged. Where was the thunderous charge, the angry snort, the bull looking to fight? Nothing happened. Again, the music trumpeted and still no bull.

We heard commotion from the pen. Handlers of the bull stood on the catwalk above the bull made sounds like the cowboys in old Western movies moving cattle across the open range. “Yah, yah,” they shouted and kicked the sides of the wooded pen with their boots. The bull slowly walked into the ring, the center of the ring and that’s where he stayed.

The matador tried to entice the bull into a fight. He circled the bull and waved his cape daring the bull to charge. He walked close to the bull then stroked the dirt with his right as if he too were a hoofed bull ready for a fight. The bull simply took a few steps left of center and turned away.

Lyn Sherwood, the Master of Ceremonies and one time bullfighter, reminded us that bull brought into the ring have never been exposed to bullfighting. Bulls fight one time because they learn too quickly that they are to go after the man with the cape. When the gate opens, that is the moment they are expected to fight. “This bull,” he told us, “doesn’t know he’s supposed to fight.”

A second matador stepped into the arena waving his cape and still the bull stood firm. Now, Lyn’s voiced expressed the tension, “This bull is dangerous. He is unpredictable. We need to get him out of the ring.”

The matadors found small stones and tossed them at the bull. He was not agitated. Fred Renk gave an order to send a second bull into the arena, as an attempt to rile the sedentary one. This bull had little effect. Finally, the main gates to the arena flew open and closed rapidly behind the fast moving tractor. Fred Renk, with a stern look of determination on his face, was driving the tractor straight toward the bull which refused to fight. Now, the bull moved. Fred’s grandson tried to lasso the bull. He missed. He once more, and missed its neck again.

Bull and tractor circled the arena. The young cowboy tried again with his lasso and roped the bull. A tug of war ensued as the bull was inched toward an open gate. Don nudged the bull with the tractor until it finally was pushed into the pen next to our seats. Now, the bull snorted and kicked. It had lost its domain in the center of the arena. It had lost its one and only opportunity to star in the ring.

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