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The authentic Spanish bullfighting is a ritual that starts with the paseíllo and is followed then by three different stages or tercios (can be translated as thirds). Each one starts and ends after a member of the music band blows a bugle.
The tercio de varas starts right after the bull enters the ring. It’s the first time the bull is in a plaza and has human contact, so its first reaction is generally confusion. As the bull runs towards the tablas (wooden fence), the banderilleros members of the matador‘s team immediately begin to test and assess the bull’s reactions and condition. All toreros are carrying a capote, a large cape managed with both hands.
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The capote’s fabric is traditionally fuchsia and yellow. However, some bullfighters, out of superstition, use a fuchsia and blue combination, as yellow is considered to be unlucky. The size of the cape varies depending on the height of the bullfighter, and weighs heavily (between 4kg and 6kg).
After a few of minutes observing the bull behave, the matador takes the lead and thrusts his capote, performing the suerte de capote (art of the cape). This strategy will allow him to notice how the bull charges, either with strength or not willing to at all. He pays attention to head movements the bull might do while charging, and thus, tries to avoid its horns.
Finally, the matador wants to know if the bull tends to go to an area of the ring. In this case, the bull has a carencia, a trend towards this area. A bull with a carencia is always a dangerous one because instead of attacking the cape, the bull might run away and gore someone unexpectedly.
The art of the cape is one of the most visual acts of Spanish bullfighting, with the matador making impressive lances (passes), and has gained in importance in the crowd’s perception over recent decades. The passes can be performed with an open or closed stance, and vary between a more technical approach to a more expressive interpretation of the basic movement.
Then, the President indicates for the two picadores to enter the plaza, riding their horses. Each of them is armed with a vara or lance. Because of their importance, they are the only toreros apart from the matadores who are allowed to wear gold embroidery on their jackets.
Once the picadores position themselves on opposite sides of the arena, the matador ideally positions the bull close to the center of the ring facing the picador who is further away from the gate where they entered the ring. Depending on his ability to do so he will get the crowd’s approval and respect.
As the bull is encouraged by means of movement and voice to attack the horse, the picadores‘ mission will be to stab the bull’s neck. While the bull is charging into the horse, the picador attempts to withstand the charge by placing his vara into the morrillo (the bull’s large shoulder muscle). A truly brave bull needs very little encouragement to charge.
Fortunately, horses are completely protected by a padding armor and blindfolded to avoid eye contact with the bull. This allows the picador to control the horse without it panicking as the bull approaches.
The matador commands the picador how many times he has to stab the bull, but it’s generally no more than three. The reason behind this fight between the picador and the bull is to weaken its neck muscles. If the picador succeeds, the bull will lower his head and horns during the rest of the fight, becoming less dangerous.
In between the different puyazos (jabs) the matador lures the bull back towards the center of the arena in order to perform further capote passes. With this passes the matador is able to measure the effect of the previous stab, to further display his art, or a combination of the two.
If during the tercio de varas the bull displays any sort of physical impediment, it can be rejected. Only the President can take this decision, though the crowd can express its opinion and put pressure on him whistling strongly or shouting. The President uses a green kerchief to return the bull to the pen. As soon as the injured bull is out, a replacement one is sent into the ring.
What are the differences in a corrida de rejones? Not many, really. As in a corrida on foot, the rejoneador receives the bull after it enters the ring.
He or she tries to provoke the bull to attack and run after the galloping horse (as in the matadores do with their capote). He then stabs one or two of rejones de castigo (punishment lances of) into the bull’s back. As with the puyazos of a standard corrida, the rejones de castigo weaken the bull through blood loss to allow a less dangerous confrontation between the rejoneador and the bull.