Secret moonlit bullfight ends in arrests

Would-be matadors face €53,000 damages payment after testing skills without permission

José Luis Madrigal, one of the three arrested, in Talavera de la Reina.
José Luis Madrigal, one of the three arrested, in Talavera de la Reina.uly martin

They unfolded the cape under a full moon. Clandestinely. Furtively. In pursuit of an animal that would charge, then follow the movements of the red muleta, from right to left, step by step. For three would-be bullfighters, the night would offer the chance to put their skills to the test with real bulls, albeit without the permission of the animals’ owner. But after being caught in the act, the trio now face having to pay €53,000 in damages.

“When they arrested us, the Civil Guard asked what we were doing,” says José Luis Madrigal, one of the three arrested on the night of February 1. “And I told them: well, bullfighting, because we want to be bullfighters.”

The 32-year-old novice says he is still looking for his big break in bullfighting. In Talavera de la Reina, a small town in the central province of Toledo where he lives with his girlfriend, Madrigal casts his mind back to the night at the beginning of the month when he found himself chased across the countryside by law enforcement officers after being discovered in a bullring on private land.

In total, around 20 animals had to be slaughtered because they could no longer be used for fighting” Civil guard spokesman

“We were in the bullring when they caught us,” says Madrigal. He and his two friends had met earlier in the evening and agreed to trespass on land owned by Adolfo Rodríguez Montesinos, a breeder of fighting bulls. They had left their vehicle around three kilometers away, and walked to the bullring. But instead of bulls, Madrigal says the trio found only cows.

But Montesinos and the police say the animals the three attempted to fight were males, and much more valuable. “They had a young bull in the ring, and eight others in the corral. But in total, around 20 animals had to be slaughtered because they could no longer be used for fighting,” says a Civil Guard spokesman.

“That’s the minimum number of animals affected, because we suspect this isn’t the first time they have trespassed here,” says Antonio José Martínez, Montesino’s lawyer. Spanish law requires any bull that has been used for a bullfight to be slaughtered, given that it will have learned something about the likely movements of the bullfighter.

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“One of us was acting as a lookout. He saw a light, and within seconds we were surrounded,” says Madrigal. The three tried to escape, and were pursued by Civil Guard officers. One was caught immediately; Madrigal was caught a kilometer away; while the third managed to escape, but was soon located by officers.

Many of Spain’s most famous bullfighters, such as Juan Belmonte and El Cordobés, learned their art practicing with bulls by moonlight on farmland, but the practice has largely died out, and these days most matadors are trained in special schools. “We know that what we did was not right, but these kinds of acts are the result of desperation,” says Madrigal in his defense, adding that he had approached Montesinos a few weeks before to ask permission to practice. “They threw us out, and told us not to come back. So we decided to return when the moon was full to take advantage of the light.”

A Civil Guard spokesman said the force had been tipped off by an employee of the landowner after the three had been turned away. “We imagined they would try to do so when there was a full moon,” he adds.

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