Vaquejada: Abuse of bulls and horses in Brazil

+ bull tumbling 5-1A special post to the Other Nations blog, written by lisa kemmerer, Francisco Matos, Eloah Vieira, and Tiago Barreto;photos and video by lisa kemmerer

A little bull, perhaps no more than 600 pounds (272 kg), was herded between two horses down a fenced strip by two riders on horseback. One man, the escort, held the bull’s tail, forcing him forward. As they approached a chalk-line at the end of the runway, the escort handed the bull’s tail to the second rider, the puller, who leaned low and away from the bull off the side of his horse, then yanked on the tail (see photo), shifting the bull’s hind-quarters and causing the bull to tumble to the ground with a thud. The bull rolled, feet flailing in the air, face disappearing into the dust. The escort stayed right on top of the downed bull, keeping him between the two white lines as required in vaquejada competition, while his agitated horse’s hooves pranced around the felled bull’s head and legs.

The bull struggled to rise, flailing, but his hind legs stuck straight out as if paralyzed. He lifted his head repeatedly, struggling to move, then gave up and lay quietly, blowing hard, visibly distressed. The tuft from the tip of bull’s tail lay in the dirt next to him, forcefully torn from his body by the puller’s strong grip. An attendant emerged, grabbed what was left of the bull’s denuded tail, and yanked until the bull struggled to his feet and moved stiffly for what looked like safety—a gate leading to a corral that channels bulls back for a second, third, and even fourth forced tumble into the dirt (video).

Bulls forced into vaquejada competitions such as the one described above are range cattle, completely unaccustomed to and terrified of humanity—controlled only with pain and fear. After the first run, the bulls know what lies ahead—forced between two large horses, tumbled to the ground under the hooves of two large horses. Spectators never see how these bulls are handled just prior to the competition. Pushed down a narrow shoot with sticks, shots, and slaps, the terrified and desperate bulls climb onto each other’s backs, knocking one another down, crushing and trampling one another as they try to escape, perpetually dripping urine in fear. Further along, a piece of lumber is pulled to allow just one bull into the final section of the shoot, though the bull behind, forced forward by the crush, invariably slips halfway into the tiny final space. The men working the shoot stab and smack the bulls, but there is no room for them to move—they are trapped between frightened bulls behind and a wall up ahead, creating a jumble of legs, heads, torsos, and tails.

+ scars, spurs, bloodWhile local range cattle suffer a day of senseless pain and fear because they are forced to participate in vaquejada, the misery of vaquejada horses is ongoing. Riders use jagged metal chinstraps and nosebands that look like part of a steel-jawed trap—guaranteed to stop forward movement under any circumstance. They also wear spurs with large spikes, which they rake across horses’ bellies and dig into their tender sides. Vaquejada horses show visible scars from spurs, nosebands, and chinstraps; many leave the competition dripping blood over old injuries that are never allowed to heal. Riders often use spurs and reins simultaneously to encourage their mounts to look fiery, powerful, and difficult to control, but the opposite is true—these horses are prancing in place, wild-eyed, and frothing at the mouth because they are afraid to go forward and afraid to stand still, caught between pointed silver spurs and jagged metal jaws.

Records indicate that riders have been dropping bulls by pulling their tails since 1870, but this only became a sadistic pastime—a competition in Northeast Brazil—around 1940. Today, competitors pay some 300 reais (Brazilian currency), generating some 600 million reais each year for those who win, those who breed and sell vaquejada horses, those who provide the bulls, those who provide the food and horse trailers, and so on. This abusive form of entertainment is becoming entrenched because such massive profits are at stake.

Even as you read this, the Ministers of Brazil’s Supreme Court are debating process #4983, which challenges the constitutionality of law 15.299/13. This law accepts vaquejada as a sport in the state of Ceará, but Brazil’s constitution protects animals from cruelty, and vaquejada is clearly cruel to both bulls and horses—too cruel to be accepted as a Brazilian sport. Please contact Brazil’s Supreme Court ministers and ask them tovote yes to #4983.

Minister Marco Aurélio (the reporting judge of this process):

Minister Ricardo Lewandowski:

Minister Gilmar Mendes:

Minister Cármen Lúcia:

Minister Dias Toffoli:

Minister Luiz Fux:

Minister Rosa Weber:

Minister Teori Zavascki:

Minister Roberto Barroso:

Minister Celso de Mello:

Minister Edson Fachin:

Special thanks to Bárbara Bastos, Elizabeth Mac Gregor, and Fernando Pires.

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