You find your seat in the grandstands and sit down. In front of you is a big circle of yellow sand, surrounded by a red fence.
Horns blow, a gate opens, and the toreros (bullfighters) come out into the ring. Band music starts up.
The Parade (paseillo)
All the toreros walk together across the ring in a little parade, along with the horses and mules that will take part in the fight. They bow to the president (presiding authority) who sits in the box of honor; then they get behind the fence.
The Bull Appears
Spanish Fighting Bull (public domain photo by Fiskeharrison (talk)
Suddenly a gate opens in the fence and the bull comes running into the ring, its head high. It charges anything it sees moving, man or cape. Bullfighters (subordinates) wave a big cape at it to make it come their way, then they get behind the fence before it reaches them.
Now the main bullfighter steps into the ring and stands firm while the bull charges him. It looks like the bull will get him. But he holds out a big cape and the bull barges right through it, galloping past, just inches away from him. The crowd cheers, maybe they already shout “Olé!”
(Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license photo by Valentín Balas)
The bull turns around and comes back. The torero again stands still and receives the charge, holding open the big pink cape. Again the bull drives right by him through the cape. This will happen several more times and then a trumpet blows and the torero gets back behind the fence, leaving the bull alone in the ring.
Out into the ring come men (picadores) mounted on big horses. They look a little like heavy-set Don Quijotes because they wear some armor and hold a lance.
The horses (there are two) wear a long padded skirt for protection. The bull charges one of them and while it is trying to gore the horse, the picador on top drives his lance into the bull’s shoulder muscles. The lance has a pin to keep it from penetrating more than a couple of inches.
Two or three times the bull charges a horse and gets lanced. Then a trumpet blows and the horses walk out of the ring.
Now it is the turn of the banderilleros, bullfighters who put in banderillas—decorated sticks or harpoons. Holding these in both hands, they provoke a charge and when the bull arrives they avoid his horns by deftly stepping aside and at the same time they drive the two sticks into its shoulder muscles.
Three times they do this, so the bull has six banderillas hanging from his shoulders (if none fall out). Then they leave the ring.
The Bullfighter Alone with the Bull
Now comes the final part: the close passes and the killing of the bull. The head torero comes out holding a smaller cape and a sword. Alone with the bull and working very close, he provokes charge after charge. The danger is evident.
The horns just miss his body as the bull drives through the cape. The torero’s way of effecting these passes, his grace and timing, make this final part of the fight the most tense and exciting.
Finally, he raises his sword and, running directly at the bull, drives it between its shoulder blades.
If the sword is well-placed, the bull will die immediately. Sometimes the bullfighter needs more tries before it falls down dead.
That is all. If the crowd likes the torero’s work they will wave handkerchiefs to ask the president to give him one of the bull’s ears as a prize. The torero walks around the ring, receiving the ovation of the spectators. The dead bull is dragged out of the ring by a team of mules.
Six bulls will be fought and killed in the same way during a bullfight—two for each of the three star toreros.