Deadly dance, or load of bull?

The corrida - an afternoon's bullfighting with three matadors and six bulls - begins with a picador, a man on a padded and blindfolded horse dressed as if he belonged in the Middle Ages.

As the bull charges the underside of the horse, the picador ruptures the bull's neck muscles with a lance. This prevents the animal swinging its head too vigorously when near the matador.

This is followed by banderilleros: three men on foot who, usually while a band plays, run towards the charging bull, jump in the air when near it, and land three long pointed flags in its back.

The third step is the faena, a "dance of death" between animal and human where they taunt each other through a set of death-defying stylised moves.

To make matters even more daunting, the faena must end with the incredibly difficult estocada (this is where the bullfighter runs the biggest risk) where the matador performs a similar move as when landing the flags, but with a sword. A sable must be driven directly into a small spot on the animal's back which leads to its aorta. Done correctly, the animal dies in seconds in a tragic bending of the knees and buckling at the neck.

If the estocada fails (which happens often), it must be repeated until it works, or until the matador is booed off the field for his inaccuracy and prolonging the animal's suffering.

The whole event takes place in silence, except for the crescendo of "Ole" if the show is being performed correctly and with flair. If the matador is incompetent or the bull shows resilience or wit, the audience can wave white handkerchiefs requesting that the animal be spared - something which happens often.

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