SB Nation

Ashley Harrell and Lindsay Fendt | May 14, 2013

The Legend of Malacrianza

Costa Rica’s badass, killer toro

The sun has not risen yet over Garza, a tiny fishing village on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, but already there is movement. On one side of the town’s dirt road, the tide folds itself over the shore, and a monkey howls from behind the pink blossoms of a roble beech tree. On the eastern side, where pastureland stretches into to the mountains, two men on horseback are gathering the bulls.

“Ya! Asi!” one man urges from his horse as he chases a ghost-white Brahman bull from the pasture into a round paddock, where he will be kept with the others until it is time for the show.

Tonight — a Sunday night in March — the townspeople will empty out of the local Catholic church and congregate in a nearby field for an affair held in equal regard. They call it a corrida, which literally means, “run.” What it actually means here is rodeo — and these events largely resemble a typical American rodeo — but some people would call it a bullfight. They would not be entirely wrong.

As in Spain, Costa Rican bullfighting is sometimes a fight to the death, but there are distinct differences. There, bullfighting evolved as a sport for the elite: man slays bull in ritual sacrifice and is revered for taking dominion over nature. The bull never lives long enough to wrest the spotlight from the matador.

Costa Rican bullfighting began as a diversion for farmers who couldn’t afford to kill cattle for sport, and the spectacle is more about man’s lack of control. Montadores — bull riders, not matadors — certainly aim to subdue and conquer the beast, and they are applauded when they manage to remain on top. But the bull reigns supreme. Those most adept at tossing, goring or even killing riders are celebrated more than even the greatest montadores.

If that seems like treachery to the human race, it is. Of all the bulls in Costa Rica, the most celebrated and revered is the bull people call “Malacrianza.” Translation? “Badass.”

The name appears throughout the country on storefronts, restaurants, T-shirts and even the sides of school buses. Malacrianza also inspired a recent documentary film and several cumbia-style songs — Latin American dance favorites involving flute, drums, the accordion and claves. One of the songs turned into a music video features a saxophonist who serenades the bull and a busty cowgirl who seduces him with dance.

Ask a regular rodeo attendant what it is about Malacrianza that makes him so beloved, and you might hear about his style and grace. Ask anybody else why Malacrianza is famous, and the answer is different. “He killed people,” explained a 7-year-old Costa Rican boy.

Back in Garza, the sun has crept over the Pacific, and all of the bulls competing in the evening’s festival have been rounded up but one. Far over the hill, at the edge of the horizon, cowboys come into focus, and then something appears in tow. Malacrianza has been lassoed. His silhouette — horns, body and hump — is only just visible. Yet even at that distance, his mere outline seems somehow sacred.

His 1,700-pound body struts closer, revealing intricate patterns of black and white speckles sweeping under his neck, over his colossal hump and around his haunches, from which a hefty pair of black testicles droops to his knees. His stunning coat and physique, along with his elegant stride and girthy, skyward horns, make him seem otherworldly, oversized, iconic. It’s no wonder that his image is used to sell its own brand of craft beer, a smoky Scottish ale that pairs well with steak. He’s so much more than a bull, and even the cows — about a dozen of which have come running down the street to watch him corralled — seem to know it.

In the slant of the morning light, Malacrianza appears even more majestic than usual. Perhaps it’s because tonight’s run may be his last.

Of all the bulls in Costa Rica, the most celebrated and revered is the bull people call “Malacrianza.” Translation? “Badass.”

Inside the home of Malacriaza’s owner, Ubaldo Rodríguez, two enlarged, framed photographs of Malacrianza hang opposite one of the Pope. On an afternoon in March, Ubaldo, a blue-eyed, 63-year-old Costa Rican man in a pressed plaid shirt and jeans, is seated cross-legged on the living room sofa across from his giddy, curly-haired wife, Amelia Goméz, who reclines in an armchair and does most of the talking.

“Ooh, he loves mangos,” she says of Malacrianza. “He’ll come right up to you and eat them out of your hand.” Unlike any other bull on the farm, she says, Malacrianza responds to his own name. And because he is the favorite, he is often kept in his favorite pasture — basically the penthouse suite of grazing ranges — that features plenty of shade, an ocean view and a hill tall enough to look over not only the farm, but all of Garza. Right now, though, because of a renal infection, the aging bull is in isolation.

If you ask Amelia, the gentle old bull should have been retired last year. “But Ubaldo just can’t say no,” she says. “He isn’t ready to give it up yet.”

Of all things Ubaldo owns — a well-kept country home, two vehicles, 40 bulls and nearly 2,000 acres of land — Malacrianza is perhaps the most valued and loved.

Back in the 1950s, Ubaldo’s father Esaú Rodriguez saved money working as a ranch hand and bought most of the area’s pastureland. He then united his parcels of land into one farm called Hacienda Nueva Esperanza, or, the Farm of New Hope. After Esaú’s death nine years ago, his four children inherited the farm, splitting the profits from its rice growing and cattle operations, as well as the hacienda’s well-known contingent of rodeo bulls.

Ubaldo Rodríguez, Malacrianza’s owner

Ubaldo continued his father’s tradition of buying, raising and breeding bulls. Although the farm had always produced quality bulls, and several had gained renown in bull riding circles around Guanacaste province, the family never imagined a Malacrianza would come along.

“Everyone always talks about how spoiled Malacrianza is by the farm, by the whole town,” says Ubaldo’s sister Jeannette Rodríguez. “What people don’t realize is … Malacrianza came to the farm just like any other bull.”

Back in December 2003, Ubaldo received Malacrianza as part of a bulk purchase of livestock. The bull and his companions had proven too aggressive for farm work at the Urbina family farm, El Palmar, just down the road from Hacienda Nueva Esperanza. For the Urbinas, aggressive bulls caused problems in the pasture and injured the other animals. For Ubaldo, though, an aggressive bull meant a better rodeo performance.

These days, news stories often reference Malacrianza’s grandfather, a rodeo champion famous for violently decapitating a horse after its rider tried to lasso him. But the story is a myth. Ubaldo has no idea where it came from.

It is only one tale of many that adoring fans have spun about the bull, securing his place in the culture and elevating him into a kind of deity.

Actually, Ubaldo recalls nothing remarkable in the history of the legendary bull that Costa Rican children now hear tales about from the time they’re old enough to ride a horse. “Honestly, you just can’t tell when they’re young,” he says. “I suppose he seemed aggressive with the other bulls, but you never know until they run for the first time.”

Ubaldo waited until August of 2004 to debut the bull at a corrida, taking him to Los Angeles de Nicoya in Guanacaste, a popular festival. The then-anonymous bull entered the ring on one of the earlier days of the festival, putting on a graceful and belligerent show worthy of an encore later in the week. “Normally bulls don’t get to go twice in the same festival, especially their first one,” Ubaldo said.

Soon, Malacrianza’s distinctive style began to earn him accolades and nicknames, for instance, “El Corazón de Garza” (the Heart of Garza) and “Su Majestad” (His Majesty). The most popular name, though, was as yet unearned: “El Toro Asesino.” The Bull Assassin.

The most popular name, though, was as yet unearned: “El Toro Asesino.” The Bull Assassin.

When the Spanish arrived in 1502 in what is now Costa Rica, they brought the notion of cattle-ranching haciendas with them. Settling on the northern Pacific coast in Guanacaste, the Spaniards designed their ranches with sweeping ocean views and left their herds in the care of local ranch hands known as sabaneros.

The rugged, sun-baked image of the sabanero — or the Costa Rican cowboy — is now inescapable in the region. Cowboys are ubiquitous in artwork and storybooks; they are featured in nearly every kitschy souvenir shop in the area. Unlike in most of the U.S., however, to this day in Costa Rica cowboys on horseback are a common sight, continuing the ranching traditions of the past.

No one knows which of these cowboys, Costa Rican or otherwise, first had the brilliant idea to climb onto the back of a two-ton bull, but the dangerous contest has been a part of Costa Rica for as long as the sabanero. Over time, their amateur performances of daring and bravery have evolved into commercialized competitions that are popular not only with the country’s ranching community, but also with city dwellers and tourists.

Nowadays, the rodeos are held in conjunction with each town’s annual civic festival, usually lasting a week and raising considerable funds for municipal coffers. Between the months of December and April, the festivals spring up all around the country. Often the large, wooden rodeo arena is built just a few days in advance.

A typical festival features at least 10 bulls each night, their riders sometimes selected randomly and sometimes paired with top bulls according to skill level and experience. The riders are in it for the thrill and the bragging rights. On a typical night they only make $30 to ride a bull, whose natural aggression has been intensified by a 24-hour fast and a rope cinched uncomfortably tight around the midsection. The riders climb on the bull in a small pen beside the arena, and then yell “Puerta!” (Door!). The gate swings open and the bull runs into the ring, a rider clinging to his bare back grasping only a rope and wearing spurs for balance. Then anything can happen.

But a modern Costa Rican rodeo isn’t just about bull riding. There are also dozens of pseudo-rodeo clowns called improvisados who enter the ring on foot, making the scene reminiscent of the traditional Spanish bullfight. These “professionals” try to distract the bull from his instinctual inclination to gore a fallen rider. In addition, anyone from the audience can jump into the corral to become an amateur improvisado. The result is often a combination of chaos and comedy, but occasionally the improvisados are seriously injured.

Some of the more creative improvisados devise elaborate routines to antagonize the bull and woo the crowd: arm waving, cape wielding, hitting, kicking and jabbing the bull, are all permitted. At some corridas, the improvisados are more of an attraction than the bull riders are as the ring fills with macho teenagers and drunken gringos showing off for the crowd.

There is only one rule — although the bull may kill you, no one kills the bull.

There is only one rule — although the bull may kill you, no one kills the bull. Unlike American bull riding, the classic Guanacasteco “rustic style” of bull riding is not a timed event. Nor are riders judged by an artificial set of standards. “The public serves as the judge,” explained announcer Lico Carillo. “You can just tell when a bull wins or when a rider wins.”

Victory is contingent on the adrenaline summoned in the crowd, and on the overall impression a bull makes based on its size, demeanor, how high it jumps and how easily it throws the rider. Charisma and showmanship are as important as efficiency, though. Even if a bull shakes its rider quickly, it can’t truly triumph unless it also puts on a good show.

No bull in history has made more of an impression or put on a better show than Malacrianza.

In July of 2005, Juan Carlos Cubillo was one of the better-known riders in Guanacaste. The fresh-faced 27-year-old was born and raised in Santa Cruz, a town believed to produce the best montadores in Costa Rica. Cubillo was recruited to ride in the grand finale at the San Vincente festivals, where the best bulls from Hacienda Nueva Esperanza would also appear.

The riders drew names for their bulls, and Cubillo was set to ride El Chonchonita. But in a last-minute decision by the rodeo organizers to match the best rider with the best bull, Cubillo was paired with Malacrianza. What happened next was an accident.

It began like any other rodeo, with bull and rider preparing themselves in a small pen at the side of the ring, separated from the crowd by a gate. Outside the door stood a man in a cowboy hat holding the rope that would open the gate upon the rider’s command. When Cubillo was ready he yelled “Puerta!” and the portal sprang open.

Malacrianza frenzied into the ring, bucking his back legs wildly and leaping into the air three times. On the third bound, the bull caught the edge of the gate with his hoof. At first, he seemed unfazed by the misstep, but in fact, he lost his balance, and his body began to twist. Malacrianza managed to leap off the ground once more before toppling onto his side. Cubillo, still on Malacrianza’s back, landed under him, smacking his unprotected head against the dirt.

Immediately after the fall, Malacrianza sprang back to his feet, as if embarrassed by his clumsiness. With no interest in the unconscious Cubillo, the bull whipped around and charged an improvisado, knocking him over. Malacrianza continued to trot around the ring while two men grabbed Cubillo’s arms and legs and carried his limp body away.

Though Cubillo was rushed to the hospital and treated for excessive brain injuries, two days later, he was dead.

“He killed my brother,” montador Willy Cubillo told the press shortly after the incident. Then he said something surprising. “Now I want to ride him.” As the dead rider’s other brother explained to La Nación, the nation’s paper of record, bull riding runs in the family’s blood.

The reminder that bull riding had life-and-death consequences only increased the allure of the sport. It added to Malacrianza’s already-growing fame within Guanacaste.

“He killed my brother, now I want to ride him.”

Then came the last night of the Caimital de Nicoya rodeo in December of 2006. Twenty-three-year-old Jason Gómez, “El Invisible,” as he was known in bull riding circles for his ability to avoid injury, was chosen for Malacrianza.

After entering the ring on the back of the bull, Gómez tried his best to lean back and avoid Malacrianza’s fearsome foot-long cachos, or horns, which he tended to hurl back at his riders. At first Gomez kept his arms straight and his form rigid, but after two full-body bucks from Malacrianza, the rider fell forward. In a rage, Malacrianza flung his head back, jabbing his left horn right into Gómez’s neck. The rider fell from the bull and flopped onto the ground like a doll. A quick-thinking improvisado threw a cape at the bull.

Malacrianza charged off as a dazed Gómez pulled himself to his feet and, bleeding, still managed to loosely jog out of the ring. Perhaps confused by the rider’s ability to walk, for another minute the crowd remained captivated by the bull. Then a commotion in the medical shack behind the ring drew their attention. Everyone stood, necks craned as Gómez, no longer able to walk, was carried on a stretcher to the ambulance. Gómez made it to the hospital alive, but bled to death before the doctors could save him. With two kills to his credit, “El Toro Asesino” had more than earned his nickname, and now the bull was famous all across Costa Rica.

The press began to show up routinely at Ubaldo’s, and his phone seemed to ring endlessly. Festival organizers bombarded him with calls offering hundreds of thousands of colones (several hundreds of dollars) for a Malacrianza appearance, and sometimes as much as $600 — three times the usual rate he received to supply bulls for a festival. Yet as his father had done before, Ubaldo brought his bulls to rodeos in poor communities, including Malacrianza, at no charge.

Ubaldo recognized that although he owned the bull, Malacrianza belonged, in a sense, to the people. When people called to ask for favors, for instance, when they wanted to use him in their music videos, Ubaldo almost always obliged. “He feels accomplished when people come to look at the bull,” his wife Amelia says.

The homicidal bull put Guanacasteco rodeo on the map at a time when interest in the sport was waning.

Malacrianza, and by extension, Ubaldo, saved Costa Rican rodeo. The homicidal bull put Guanacasteco rodeo on the map at a time when interest in the sport was waning. Without Malacrianza, it might even have disappeared altogether, but after the goring, newspapers and radio and TV stations began covering the sport widely. “Thus began the media rampage,” said announcer Carillo. “The legend of Malacrianza grew and so did the rodeos.”

Although he failed to kill again, it did not matter. Malacrianza was untouchable, a bovine superstar. Now 13 — an age at which most bulls are long retired — Malacrianza still reigns. Nearly a decade after he became a legend, he continues to draw a crowd wherever he goes, particularly when he is on the roster at Zapote. The biggest rodeo in the country, Zapote is the Costa Rican equivalent to the Super Bowl.

The 2010 Zapote Festival was supposed to be the bull’s retirement party, but Ubaldo amazed everyone this year by bringing him back. The old bull’s surprise appearance on Jan. 2 put him to the test under the gaze of the entire country. It was as if a god had returned to live among the mortals once again.

Thousands came out to the arena, and thousands more watched the event on television, some to cheer, and some expecting to jeer, confident the old bull was past his prime. Still, the announcement of the bull’s name brought the crowd to its feet, and everyone pulled out their cell phones and cameras.

With the call of “Puerta,” Malacrianza exploded from the gate and careened into the ring’s center. All questions about his ability were erased as he swung his head back furiously at his rider, Mauricio Gómez, over and over. The montador clung to the bull for a remarkable amount of time, dodging horn jabs until Malacrianza curled himself askew with such force that one of the rider’s support ropes snapped.

Gómez was flung sideways and he would have fallen had it not been for the other rope that lashed his right leg to the bull’s torso. For five grueling seconds, Gómez flopped at Malacrianza’s side, struggling to disentangle himself. In his panic, the montador seemed to forget about his form and about Malacrianza’s famously lethal horns.

The bull reared back its head, shot a snot rocket, flicked off the rider’s helmet with his horns and then bashed him in the mouth. Gómez finally freed himself and was quickly dragged out of the corral by improvisados. The rider escaped with his life, but lost his two front teeth.

Announcers and media reported that Malacrianza not only still had it, but was more spirited than in years past. The bull was back.

With two kills to his credit, “El Toro Asesino” had more than earned his nickname, and now the bull was famous all across Costa Rica.

On the evening of Malacrianza’s performance at this year’s Garza Festival, a group of Red Cross volunteers gathered in a shanty beside the arena where injuries are treated. The sky was black, with no stars visible beyond the harsh white rodeo lights. The interior of the medic’s station was bathed in a golden light, and they spoke about the horrors they had seen at the corridas.

One volunteer had been on duty last year when a gringo climbed into the arena and was gored in the neck and abdomen, requiring emergency surgery. The bull’s horns had come within centimeters of his jugular. Others had seen shoulder dislocations, broken ribs, busted knees.

“I saw someone die in the ring,” said volunteer Jennifer Jiménez. “An improvisado. He bled to death when a horn pierced his femoral artery, and there was nothing we could do.” Somebody died at the Palmares Festival this year, she added. Nobody knew how, though.

In the past 10 years, the bullfights have claimed the lives of 17 montadores, most of whom were not yet 25 years old.

In the past 10 years, the bullfights have claimed the lives of 17 montadores, most of whom were not yet 25 years old. The injury and death rates are so high they have actually put a strain on the Costa Rican public health care system. Politicians have threatened to shut down the practice, or force the rodeos to acquire private insurance.

At the bigger festivals in Guanacaste and on the Nicoya Peninsula, 20 to 30 people usually wind up injured, the medics agreed, and most of them are inexperienced improvisados. “They don’t wear the right shoes or clothes, and they are often drunk,” Jiménez said.

On this night in Garza, Malacrianza’s rider was Leonardo Bonilla, a 22-year-old montador from Nicoya who had been riding bulls since he was 12. Minutes before the start of the rodeo, the montadores gathered in a circle, put a knee to the ground, and prayed. Bonilla was not among them.

“I’ll ride any bull,” he said, apparently believing he didn’t need the lord on his side. Earlier in the day, when Ubaldo found out Bonilla would ride Malacrianza, it made him nervous. Bonilla was widely regarded as a top montador for his endurance and showmanship, and that meant the fight would be “duro” (hard) for his bull. Now he sat in the stands with Amelia, toying nervously with his thumbs.

He had eight bulls in the fight, but like the rest of the people in the arena, he only had one bull on his mind. If Malacrianza couldn’t perform in his hometown, it would be time for his retirement.

Usually bulls past their prime are slaughtered for their meat, or if they die naturally, they are often burned. Not Malacrianza. Ubaldo has no children, and Malacrianza is the closest thing he has to a favorite son. So in retirement the greatest bull Costa Rica has ever known will live out his days in his penthouse pasture in Garza, and occasionally be taken for exhibitions in which he will have no rider. When Malacrianza’s time comes, he will be buried on the ranch.

But Ubaldo and most of the others hope that day is still a long way off. Tonight they want to see the bull that kills, and they want to see him right up close. They want to look him right in the eyes and smell his fury.

Near the entrance, a man from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, dressed in a tropic-themed button-down shirt handed a wad of colones to a man selling Malacrianza T-shirts. He bought one shirt for himself, and one for his petite wife, a huge fan of the Calgary Stampede rodeo. “Now we can go home and say, ‘That’s nothing,’” she said. “We heard this bull is a killer.”

“They have a lot of bulls in Calgary, but they’re not Malacrianza,” her husband added.

Another gringo in the crowd, Courtney Clark of New York City, knew the bull’s full story. She said she is a fan of his music video and was even aware of the bull’s advanced age. “Honestly, I don’t even know if he still has it in him,” she said. “I guess we’ll see tonight.”

Atop a sturdy wooden fence that doubles as front row seating, Guanacaste youth in sun-bleached curls fumbled with their iPhones. Behind them in the bleachers, fans moved over wooden planks to their seats, and vendors tempted them with ice cream, light-up wands and yellow cotton candy. The scent of sizzling pork on a stick wafted through the arena and cumbia music alternated with hits by Pat Benatar and the Eagles.

Several sabaneros directed their horses around the ring in short, spastic strides, knees drawn high, as is customary. The montadores presented themselves to the crowd, waving and smiling and kissing the dirt. Even Bonilla kissed it. A recording of the Costa Rican national anthem blared over the loudspeakers.

The announcer, Carillo, began talking about Malacrianza right from the start — the grace of the bull, his historic presence in Garza and how he compared to the younger bulls.

Early in the lineup, a particularly unfriendly beast called Jalapeño tossed his rider almost immediately, then lunged at him on the ground. After the rider was escorted out, the square panel for the medic’s station closed, and for a time the crowd grew quiet. Then another bull was called, and another.

After an hour, the word Malacrianza seemed to form on lips across the stadium, including that of the announcer. When Malacrianza’s signature cumbia entrance song finally boomed into the arena, everyone reached for phones and cameras. One woman cried, as if swooning for her lover, “Aye, que mio!” Oh my!

For nearly 10 minutes, as anticipation built, the announcer filled the lull in action with explanations of how Malacrianza’s rider would earn 50,000 colones ($100) if he could stay on the back of the bull. “You can see how proud the bull is when he comes out,” Carillo told the audience. “And then, whether he knocks the rider off or not, he always leaves with elegance.”

Heeeeeeeeey, Malacrianzaaaaaaa,” he blurted. “Atencion Garza. Listo? Listo Malacrianza. Listo Leonardo Bonilla.” Just when the extent of the teasing seemed to border on the absurd, the announcer’s tone abruptly shifted. “Y, ya!” he screamed. “Puerta!” The white door opened.

In retirement the greatest bull Costa Rica has ever known will live out his days in his penthouse pasture in Garza.

Malacrianza sprang out from behind it, head down, horns gleaming under the lights, a man on his back. He then flung himself up, all four hooves airborne, while simultaneously throwing his horns back at Bonilla, who held tight. Three more times, the old bull jumped entirely off the ground as the announcer called out, “Arriba! Arriba!” Malacrianza’s tail whipped furiously back and forth, and the dust of the arena, kicked loose by his hooves, seemed to hang like a shroud around him. People screamed and screamed, preparing themselves for the bull to do something obscene, something transformative, perhaps even to kill.

Bonilla’s body sagged, but his arms stayed taut, grasping the rope, his strong grip keeping him safe. Over and over, he was knocked forward onto Malacrianza’s hump, but he kept his balance, avoiding the horns and somehow staying upright.

After 10 frantic seconds of commotion, Malacrianza seemed suddenly to grow weary. He bucked a few lackluster times, and then stopped.

A dazed Bonilla took advantage of the pause and slipped off the back of the old bull, then spun around and stepped quickly away. Only then did he wind up and fire a dramatic fist into the air to declare his victory. Improvisados rushed over to Bonilla, hugging him and hitting him on the back. Ubaldo stared at his thumbs, then out at the crowd.

Malacrianza circled the corral once, as if giving the audience one final photo opportunity. Then the door opened again and he went through.

People screamed and screamed, preparing themselves for the bull to do something obscene, something transformative, perhaps even to kill.

Despite the fact that several more bulls were left to compete that night, after Malacrianza’s run, the stands began to empty. The rider’s apparent victory over the country’s most famous bull had left the crowd deflated. It had all happened so quickly and they had not seen how Malacrianza had become airborne and how Bonilla had fought to stay on. They saw only the end, and a very tired bull.

Muy malo, es viejo,” one young Guanacasteco said of the bull’s performance. “Very bad, he’s old.” But how can anyone, even Malacrianza, compete with the expectations of a legend?

Meanwhile, Malacrianza was loaded back into a truck, where he stood quiet and alone, with the stadium lights and truck bars casting long, rectangular shadows across his massive, speckled body. It was dirtied with footprints from where Bonilla’s boots had gripped him, and he smelled of sea salt and hay. A strand of drool bungeed from the right corner of his maw and down past his neck, which in old age had grown flabby like a waddle. He twisted his droopy ears back and forth, seemingly calm.

His awareness that the bullfight is a spectacle for the crowd elevates him, makes him more than just a bull or any other animal.

The difference between this bull and others, people will tell you, is él entiende. He understands. His awareness that the bullfight is a spectacle for the crowd elevates him, makes him more than just a bull or any other animal. He is something better. Something divine. Before the crowd and under the lights, he does not seem to act out of agitation or fear. Instead, he gives. He seems to do it all for them.

On this night, it appeared the bull had not fulfilled the expectations that his legend created. But perhaps the very people who shaped that legend simply were not looking hard enough.

No, they didn’t see it, but Bonilla did not come away unscathed. Although he appeared to have little trouble staying on the bull for those few seconds when Malacrianza was bucking, for at least one brief moment, Malacrianza was young again — the Malacrianza celebrated in legend and song; he thrashed and jerked the rider so hard that he dislocated his forearm, wrenching it loose at the elbow. Although the rider had raised one fist in triumph, as he did the other hung limply at his side. Malacrianza may have been defeated this time around, but make no mistake — he remains a badass.

Before Bonilla became the only attendant to go to the hospital that night, he stood in pain, puffing a cigarette with his arm in a sling as he considered a reporter’s question: Was Malacrianza the best bull he ever rode?

“I haven’t finished riding yet,” he said. “But he is the best so far.” ★

Design/Layout: Josh Laincz | Producer: Chris Mottram | Editor: Glenn Stout | Copy Editor: Kevin Fixler | Photo Credit: Lindsay Fendt

About the Author

Ashley Harrell and Lindsay Fendt are journalists with Tico Times, an
English-language newspaper based in Costa Rica.