Bull Runs

Bull runs form an integral part of traditional celebrations in towns and villages across Europe. While Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls has garnered global notoriety, various incarnations of bull running and bull-centric activities have taken place in England, France, Greece and India for thousands of years.

Bull Leaping – an ancient custom

Another fascinating custom entrenched in ancient cultures is bull leaping, known as Recorte in Spain and Course Landaise in France. The athletes themselves are called Recortadores. The sport is exactly what it sounds like: athletes jump directly over charging bulls. In some countries, the men use the horns to flip themselves across the bull’s girth. Others will somersault over the beast’s back, planting themselves out of goring range.

Frescos painted in 1400 BCE depicting bull leaping have been discovered in Knossos, Crete’s cultural hub. The ancient murals show men doing handsprings and flips across a charging bull, which is flanked by two women. According to National Geographic, artifacts portraying different forms of bull leaping have been unearthed throughout the Mediterranean basin, including Syria and Egypt.

Today’s bull leaping is more of an organized competition. In some of these events, cows are used instead of bulls, but the goal remains the same: to avoid being touched by the beast and score the most points. Bull leapers work together as a team, without the use of swords or weapons. Each team may have four to seven members who use their skills and athleticism to outmaneuver the bulls as they gracefully flip and fly over the animal’s body (sometimes aided by a vaulting pole).

Spectators can watch bull leaping in Valencia, Spain at the Plaza de Toros stadium and at many smaller villages throughout the region. The matches can go on for hours, and judges assign points for panache, elegance and composure. The bulls are not harmed or killed in the event.

Course Landaise is the key attraction of the annual festivities held in the south of France. The cows used in the bull leaping and dodging competitions are slightly smaller and tip the scales at between 650-1,000 pounds.

Jallikattu – India’s bull taming tradition

Jallikattu is practiced in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. While it shares some similarities with France’s course Landaise, like team competition, Jallikattu does not involve leaping or flipping over the bulls. During this traditional Tamil sport, the bull is released into a crowd of people, where the goal is to grab onto the animal’s hump and keep it from escaping. To win some competitions, participants must pluck flags or prize money bundled to the bull’s horns. In most villages where Jallikattu is still common, participants are disqualified if they grab onto the bull’s horns, neck or tail – as only the strongest and bravest can hold onto the hump for prolonged periods of time.

There have been hundreds of injuries and deaths, mostly to gorings and tramplings, in Jallikattu competitions. The so-called bull taming sport was banned by the Indian courts but then reinstated in 2017.

Bous al carrer – bulls in the street

Bous al carrer, also known as correbous, is Catalan for “bulls in the street.” Unlike Pamplona’s bull runs, the animals are not directed to a bullring for an evening fight. Bous al carrer events are very popular in Spain’s Valencia region, as well as Catalonia and Majorca. These highly anticipated bull runs are attended by thousands of people, and typically entail a short period of time when a herd of cows is allowed to run through the street. The villagers and participants run alongside the bovines, trying to get out of their way. Bulls are used in other correbous events, though only one animal is released at a time. In these courses, runners can dodge behind metal gates for protection, but hundreds of injuries occur nonetheless.

Stamford bull run in England

In England, the origins of bull running dates back to the reign of King John, circa 1199-1216. Legend has it that a pair of Stamford butchers attempted to break up two bulls fighting in a field, resulting in one beast thrashing through the town streets. An earl, following the rogue bull on horseback, found the spectacle so amusing he decided the butchers should provide an animal for a bull run every 13th of November. This riotous sport became tradition in the village of Stamford for more than 700 years. The last Stamford bull run was held in the mid-19th century. While bull running has long been banned in England, the town of Stamford still celebrates this custom with the Stamford Georgian Festival, which features enormous bull floats, performances and fireworks displays.

Other bull runs in Spain

For those who cannot make it to the San Fermin Running of the Bulls, there are plenty of other options to see bull runs in Spain:

  • Tudela, Navarra – bull run held the final week of July
  • Chinchon– held outside of Madrid in August
  • San Juan — bull runs in Coria, from the 23-27 of June
  • Collado Villalba – Takes place mid-June in Madrid
  • Tordesillas, Valladolid– Bull runs are part of the festival of the Virgen de la Peña, held the second week of September

Additional Resources:

  1. National Geographic, Bull-Leaping https://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/bull-leaping/
  2. Medium.com, The Beautiful Art Of Bull Leaping https://medium.com/dose/the-beautiful-art-of-bull-leaping-79699238438a