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A year ago I had eight inches of needle-sharp horn slammed like a blow from a pickax into my inner left thigh. My first thought when I saw the blood pumping out fast and flooding my pants was neither one of terror or panic. It was relief.
"Thank God," I thought, "it happened where he is only an hour away!"
It was a damn fool thing to do in the first place, getting myself hung up like that. I'd gone out with five other Americans to the ranch of Pedro Gand�rias for lunch and a pleasant day. Pedro's finca is about 50 kilometers out of Madrid, near El Escorial. He raises fighting bulls, and when he invited us out he said: "We'll throw a few animals into the ring and have some fun before lunch."
It was said casually, and I replied "fine" casually, but there really is never anything casual where fighting bovines of any age or sex is concerned. You risk your neck every day you stride into an arena. For the last 10 years I've fought very rarely and under the safest conditions, absenting myself hurriedly whenever there was a risk of getting what the toreros call a high colonic from a horn.
As we drove up the dirt driveway we saw that everyone was already down at the little bull ring. It was a dazzling whitewashed white against the green fields, and there were about 30 guests in the stands chatting and drinking manzanilla. We parked and climbed up the steps.
There was a picador on a padded horse in the ring. This was to be a tienta, where the young cows are tested for bravery. It is an important phase of bull raising, because while a bull might get his size from his father, they say his fighting heart comes from mama.
"Just in time!" Pedro called up to us. Then he motioned to the man on the wall and said, "All right, turn in the big one."
The man jerked the rope that went down to the latch on the toril, and the gate clanged open. Into the ring dashed a 2�-year-old heifer, sleek and greenish black and surrounded by a haze of dust.
People unfamiliar with fighting stock have a hard time telling a young fighting bull from a fighting cow; fighting cows have long, sharp horns, virtually no udder and a conformation totally unlike that of a dairy cow. Besides that they are crafty, speedy and can turn like a revolving door.
This cow of Gand�rias' charged the picador hard, nearly spilling the horse as the man shot the small point of the lance into her withers. If she took the pic several times bravely and willingly she would be marked for breeding—if not, the abattoir. This one's back legs were driving her into the padded side of the horse, and she kept hooking into the mattress hard. The cow had probably been caped many times before and tended to head for a man's body instead of going at the cape. Usually at affairs like this one inch or two of horn is sawed off. But for some reason they left the murderous horns intact on this cow.