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Saturday, 19 February 2011

Los toros de Ixtaltepec

I have wanted to go and see a rodeo since I was old enough to understand what a rodeo is. The experience of growing up with horses, watching my da getting thrown off horses, falling off them many times myself has left me with a fascination for an event where people spend the day getting thrown off and possible chased by wild animals for fun. Unfortunately Ireland is not the land of the rodeo, so I had to come the whole way to Mexico to get the chance to fulfil my boyhood dream. And there really wasn't a better person to go to the rodeo with other than the man who is to blame for all the falling off horse trauma that I have endured , my own Da.

We caught wind of a town festival that was taking place in a town about 20 minutes from Ixtepec called Ixtaltepec. As part of the town festival they hold a 'Jaripeo' which is a mixture of bull riding and bull fighting. Before all the greenpeacers among you start to cry and complain, the bull fighting is a simulated experience and none of the bulls are harmed............well none of them are killed anyway, but there is quite a lot of harassing of the bulls to get them into the arena.(for those greenpeacers who want to cry and complain about something, you can refer to one of my previous posts entitled 'Peleas de Gallos'). On the other hand, when we asked one of the locals whether many of the bull riders are injured during the contests, he laughed and said its not really a normal Jaripeo if somebody isn't killed during the proceedings.

We made our way into town to find a makeshift bullring which closed off the square and roads leading into it.We were advised to get down to the ringside very early as the Jaripeos are extremely popular,and in Ixtepec if you want a seat for the event that starts at 10am in the morning, you need to be in your seat by 4am. A lot of people stay over night but when the opportunity came round i gave it a miss, as yes i wanted to go, but not the sitting and waiting for 6 7 hours type of wanting to go. Fortunately, where we went was a smaller town, and we arrived at 9 o'clock and found a space at the side of the ring easily.

The day started off when the 'jinetes' or horsemen and matadors where presented to the spectators. They consisted of local men that worked on cattle ranches within the area. I'm not really sure what the background of the matadors is and where they learn their skills from, but we were told that they where local men too.

After the short ceremony the men made their way to the enclosure which is located in the top right hand corner of the photos. Inside the enclosure there were usually about 10 bulls tied up at any one time. As the bulls left the ring after their performance they were loaded onto a lorry and another bull was led into the holding pen. The men made their way out and using a pulley system of long ropes, they chased or dragged the bulls into the centre of the ring, using the big pole in the middle to wrap their ropes around and eventually secure the bull to.The entrance of the bulls was a large part of the entertainment during the day as everyone tried to avoid getting run over by the bull and the odd near miss during the process. A few times the bulls ran into the ring unaided, but in general it involved many men vs bull comedy moments, and the slightly more exciting moments of men nearly losing their lives in the name of 'having the craic'.

When all the drama of the bulls being dragged into the ring was over, and they where finally secured against the pole using the ropes, the matadors entered. The matadors carried a small red cape or 'muleta' and a sword or 'estoque' which traditionally is used to kill the bull. In this region however,the bulls are not harmed.
After the matadors walked out into the centre of the ring to salute the crowds, the bulls were then untied and released. At this point the matadors commenced taunting and testing the ferocity of the bulls. The matadors moved gracefully and calmly around the arena as the bull charged around attempting to gore them. As the performance progressed , the matadors displayed more and more dominance over the bulls which eventually began to tire. As the matadors became more daring they brought the bull closer to their bodies before kneeling in front of the exausted animal and touching their heads with their own forehead.

We watched the matadors 'defeat' a few bulls before the bulls were taken back out of the arena tired but unharmed. They were then loaded onto trucks and taken back to their ranches.

The performance is of the matadors is graceful and beautifully executed. They remain so calm and composed despite the aggression of the massive animal which interacts so closely with them. It takes nerves of steel and a lot of experience with the bulls to do what they do.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the bull fights, but what we had really come to see,was the bulls being ridden. So finally the moment that i had been waiting for since childhood arrived, the riding of the bulls.

The bull was wrestled into the ring and tied to the pole in the middle and where possible, forced to kneel down on the ground. A contestant, usually a young local man was then brought out and helped up onto the beasts back. I have watched a few rodeos on you-tube, and in all the videos I have seen, the rider usually holds onto a strap which is tied around the horse or bull, and their legs are loose.In this case however, the riders had what looked like two long red handkerchiefs or pieces of cloth, which were made into loops so the riders could secure their feet to the side of the bull. Da and i discussed the idea that at first it may seem like a good idea as it means the rider has more chance of staying on the bull for longer, but for someone who is destined to fall of eventually, falling off is always a better option than nearly falling off and being trailed around by your foot with your head bouncing along the ground.

After the first bull was mounted it was released bucking and spinning around the arena until inevitably the rider fell off, after around 3 seconds. The second bull that entered was quite a docile beast, and the rider quite skilled, so after bucking for a little while, the rider managed to stay upright until the bull seemingly became bored and decided that it didn't really have any objections to be ridden around. The bull wandered around the ring for a few minutes until everyone became a bit bored, the rider dismounted and the bull was lead out.

At this point it was around 1 o'clock and the events were due to stop at 1.30 for a few hours while everyone had lunch and a siesta before returning. The next bull was wrestled into the arena and a young man, probably in his twenties stepped in to try his luck. He mounted the bull which at first seemed quite docile. but as soon as it felt the ropes going slack it jumped forwards whilst throwing its head and horns backwards towards the rider. Unfortunately the rider seemed to be more inexprienced and as a result of being leaned forward when the bull jumped up, his head crashed into the bulls head and horn. The impact burst the side of his head open and blood started running all over his face. As I explained earlier, the riders put their feet through hoops which are tied through the girth around the bull, so being unconscious, the rider was stuck fast as the bull continued galloping and and bucking around the ring. The poor lad was flapping around helplessly bleeding heavily out of the side of his head, obviously going in and out of consciousness. At this point the matadors and some other bull handlers set about try to get the bull to stop, but having agitated it well before untying it, the bull had no plans to stop running until it had thrown the rider from its back. It galloped round and round the arena with the now semi conscious rider tied on like a rag doll until it ran alongside the fence and gave some spectators a chance to pull the badly injured man off and lift him out of the ring. He was swiftly rushed to an ambulance that was on standby nearby and taken to hospital.

Speaking to the locals afterwards it was made clear to us that injuries in the Jaripeos are a common occurrence. At least one person is seriously injured and quite often killed during the day. Many people commented that a large factor in many of the injuries is that it is commonplace that the bull handlers and riders drink quite heavily during the day to maintain the courage to take on the bulls. This obviously makes for a lot of brave but quite inebriated competitors, which can only lead to the odd catastrophic outcome.

(With the internet being a bit slow I still haven't successfully loaded the videos, but ill get it done soon)

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