Of all the thankless jobs in the world, one of the highest on the list must be that of the picador. This is the guy that everyone likes to heckle and shout at because, for the most part, he’s just doing his job. The problem with the picador is that everything about his duties seems to suggest he has an abnormally unfair advantage over his foe. He plods in on an enormous horse which is heavily padded on its right side and blindfolded. He is perched in his saddle in a portly way, often because his body is portly too, and wields a lance the length of a tree. Clearly, the picador could sign up for a session or two with a public image consultant.
So, seemingly, there is very little about what he does that requires finesse and artistic skill. Yet, after a closer look, we will se that their is more to his role than meets the eye.
Two picadors appear and gently walk around the outer ring until they are positioned to take on the bull. In reality, it’s just one. The other acts as a sub and he moves around to the far side to avoid distracting the animal. Half the horse’s body is draped with an enormous heavy pad which allows the bull to slam into it with causing any major damage. This is a stark change from bullfights 100 years ago when this was not the case and the horse would be the victim of horrible wounds and many times death. Being a picador back then required excellent horsemanship.
But that’s all changed. Now all you have to do is brace yourself for the impact. As I mentioned before, the horse also has its eyes fully covered to keep it from freaking out when a 1.200 lb beast with two horns comes charging at it. The result is that the horse just sits their quietly until “boom!” it gets blindsided by somthing large and snorting. We can imagine it saying something like “Holy cow! What the f*** was that?”
Once the clash of the two titans has occurred, the picador uses his lance to lean on the back of the animal; he drives it into the flesh and muscle. The techniques used depend on the strength of the bull. If it especially bold, he might jab numerous times, but if it seems quite docile, then he might just apply pressure and keep the animal from getting to aggressive with the horse. With big bulls, this process is often repeated.
Why does the picador do this? For several reasons: one is to test the bull’s ferocity and bravery. In other words, how does it react to having a a spear stuck in its back? I know how I would. Many bulls actually seem to dig the pain and get angrier. Others kind of leap away and say, “Wow, that sucks!” The reponse will give us a good idea of how the outcome will be. Another reason is to drain the bull of its strength. Tiring the animal out will allow the matador to later fight the bull with any chance of success. Otherwise, it would be nearly impossible. And finally, by poking around the back the picador softens the bull’s muscles. This will come in handy when the time arrives to kill it, as we will see later.
So where is the skill involved in doing all of this? Well, there isn’t a whole lot, but one entails luring the bull into the trap. This is not as easy as you might think. Bulls don’t just go for anything. Plus, in the middle of the ring, there are a million sounds and colors to distract it. So the picador has to loop around with the horse and raise his lance and get the bull to lunge towards him. That may or may not happen, depending the man’s technique and the bull’s willingness. Once the bulls charges, the picador will want to make sure if sticks the point in the right place. Normally that occurs, but from time to time, he is off the mark, and there is a big scandal with a protesting crowd for being to rough with the beast. Ironic, don’t you think? After all, they have come to see it get stabbed to death; why should they be particularly bothered now?
And finally, you need a heck of a lot of strength.
So, why does the picador get so much flak? Well, basically, as I said before, because his job seems to be the least challenging, the safest and the one which inflicts the most damage on the bull.
As far as saftey is concerned, well, there is a great deal of danger involved if the bull manages to overturn the horse. It doesn’t happen that often, but it’s not rare. I have seen it done several times, and when it does, all hell breaks loose. Once the horse fell on top of the picador. These are clydesdale weight animals, mind you, so that has got to hurt. Once on its side, the horse’s health is also at risk because the bull can get to the non-padded areas. It all becomes a big mess.
And what about the bull? There is no doubt that the lance piercing takes its toll. I personally can’t stand it when the picador just jabs away relentlessly like an angry butcher. But anyone who is familiar with bullfighting will tell you that the picador is an unsung but essential member of the ritual and when his duties are well performed, a tactically fascinating part of the process. Let’s give him a well-deserved round of applause.