Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Horse Racing in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Bullfights in Puerto

At Las Marias, on Bienvenida and Romera
Horses have been an ongoing theme here with us.  Sasha, Tia, and I have started riding lessons Inglesa, which is the fancy dressage way of riding.  My many years of riding make me comfortable with the horses, but I have NO idea what I am doing in terms of style!  Tia and Sasha and I love it, though, and the Andalusian horses are just plain gorgeous.

Ready to ride...
Along with the Andalusian caballos, there are some horse things that are truly different in Spain.  You might think that Spain, as part of the EU, would be more tightly regulated, bureaucratic, and strict about everything.  And in some ways that is true:  to get our own horse (the Mercedes) on the road here and out of the storage lot, we had to buy two reflective triangles you could set up around your car if it were to break down on the highway, plus a reflective vest to don in order to leave the car.  These three items MUST be within the driver’s reach from the front seat—no storing them in the trunk!  Plus, you had to have one of each of the lightbulbs that are on the outside of your car:  headlight, brakelight, blinker.  Also in reach of the driver (not that I would know how to install them!). 

However, there seem to be a lot of things that are tolerated here, such as parking in a no-parking zone (well, except in front of the Cruz Roja, as we found out, see blog #1), high school kids openly having rum-and-cokes in the plaza of the castle, and on-track betting on the beach in Sanlúcar.   Sanlúcar de Barrameda is a small town about 20 km from Puerto.  Like Puerto and Rota, it is also on the beach, but at the mouth of the Rio Guadalquivir (the same one that Cristobal Colón, aka Christopher Columbus, sailed from on his way to the New World).  The sand and mud make the beach very flat here, and twice in August at low tide there are horse races on the beach.  Thought to have begun with fishermen racing their horses while waiting for the tide to come in, these horse races have become a local phenomenon.  Just a thin plastic fence of sorts separates the crowds from the “racetrack.”  Bathers stream over this fence and into the water, playing paddleball and walking the beach, until the National Guardsmen stationed every 50 meters or so blow a whistle.  Within 30 seconds, the once-crowded beach clears, with everyone piling back over the floppy fence. 
Waiting for the ponies with Daniela and Isabella
First the horses come cavorting down the beach at a walk or trot on their way to the starting gate, tossing their heads.  This is so you can choose your favorite and place a bet.  Once you decide who you like (one race, I took “Cannibal”  while Todd chose “Vodka Lemon”), you head to the betting stand.  Do not mistake the betting stand for a lemonade stand, although the resemblance is unmistakeable.  Also do not mistake the 8-year-old bookie taking your money for a child—well, although he or she IS a child.  Betting at Sanlúcar works like this:  a kid sets up his betting stand, draws a line across the racetrack even with his stand, and begins to sell caramelos (yes, you actually get a caramelo candy when you place your bet).  Choose your horse, place your bet, and you get a little handwritten slip of paper written in crayon with your bet and your horse, along with your carmelo.  No matter where you are on the beach racetrack, whichever horse first passes the line in the sand is the “winner” for your bet. 
Next, wait for the police car to come racing down the beach, lights flashing and siren on.  The horses are coming!  Both times we scored a spot right on the orange plastic fence, and the horses thundered by only 20 feet away.  Our third race was the most spectacular:  the tide had gone WAY out, leaving large flat areas in front of us.  Three trailing horses, trying to make better time, cut across this mud flat.  Suddenly the horses slipped, sinking nearly knee-deep in mud, with two of them throwing their riders.  Out came the ambulance as the riderless horses slogged their way out of the mud and cantered on down the beach.  We never did find out if anyone was seriously hurt, but both jockeys walked to the ambulance.

Our next horse adventure came in the middle of our first trip to the bullfights.  Todd and I had discussed taking Tia and Sasha with us; while neither of us had actually seen a bullfight, we knew it didn’t end well for the bull.  But it was the last fight of the year, and we simply couldn’t wait until next summer to find out what it was all about.  Plus, the bullring in Puerto is a 10-minute walk from our house.

La Plaza de Toros, El Puerto de Santa Maria
The spectacle was just like the book Ferdinando.  First came the guy with the sign displaying the bull’s name, ranch, and weight.  Then the bull marches in, with the junior toreros teasing him to make him show his stuff.  Next come the picadors with their long lances; they wait for the bull to charge their horse, then stick the lance into the bull.  To further slow down the bull, the banderilleros come out and stab some more muscle-relaxing picos into the bull’s neck (this is quite spectacular, as it consists of the banderillero running directly at the bull, the bull charging him, the banderillero running a half-circle around the charging bull, and stabbing these three-foot-long harpoon-like things into the charging bull’s neck).  Finally the matador takes control with his cape, strutting and getting the bull to charge on his orders. 

During the second fight, we had an intense shock:  out came the huge, beautiful, armored horses with the picadors astride.  The bull, a 450-kg feisty thing, charged one of the horses and lifted him off the ground.  Then, to our horror, the bull swung his horns and knocked the horse completely over.  I gasped in panic, looking at Tia and Sasha, while the bull proceeded to gore the soft underside of the horse, swinging his vicious horns and repeatedly smashing into the horse’s abdomen.  The horse was apparently dead, lying on its side and showing no signs of life.  The junior toreros closed in, distracting the bull and drawing him away from the poor horse.  By this time Tia and Sasha were bawling their eyes out, and all I could say was, “I’m so sorry.  I’m so sorry.”  We watched, unable to draw our eyes from the downed horse, as the picador (who had jumped off and run away when his horse went down) stooped down to caress the dying horse’s head.  We then watched in disbelief as the horse raised its head, then got up, gave a little shake, let the picador mount up, and walked out of the ring as though nothing had happened.   We realized that the horse’s body armor extended all the way around the horse, and that these horses must undergo some outrageously against-their-nature training that has them play possum when downed and repeatedly charged by a bull. 

Like I said, there are some things—like underage betting and bullfights—that you just won’t get to experience in the U.S.!

1 comment:

  1. I've been to a bull fight in Mexico, what a treat it must be in Spain! Lucky you! I need to vacation in Spain sometime. Don't leave anytime soon, I need to save up and take the family there.

    Miss you at leads/business (BLEADS).


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