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After the bull’s death the matador returns to the wooden fence to wash his hands and take some refreshment. A team of mules enters the arena to remove the bull from the ring to the abattoir.
In the meantime, the crowd may be on its feet asking for an award. The level of art, elegance and perfection needed in order to obtain an award depends very much on the standard of each individual bullring. A performance that will be granted both ears and a tail in a small village might not even be worth a single ear in Madrid or Seville.
Are you planning to attend one? Make sure to get your tickets well in advance!
There are three ways in which the torero is awarded.
1. The audience demands the matador to take a lap of victory around the arena. This is called dar la vuelta al ruedo.
2. Eventually, if his faena and estocada was exceptional, the spectators can petition the Presidente to award him one of the bull’s ears. He will do so if at least half of the crowd is waving a white handkerchief.
3. The award of the second ear, whether or not the public continue to request it, and the tail (the highest trophy) is at the sole discretion of the President. The tail is sometimes awarded in minor events, but for example Las Ventas in Madrid has not seen one in over 40 years.
The President can also award the bull a lap of honor, with the crowd standing and applauding the animal as it is dragged around the arena, and then out of the ring. In very rare cases where an animal displays exceptional qualities and bravery, it may be spared and allowed to return to the ranch as a breeding animal. This decision is considerer an extraordinary success for the matador, as he has successfully showcased the bull’s qualities.
At the end of the corrida, while the band plays a pasodoble, the successful matador who got at least two ears is given the permission to leave the plaza carried on the shoulders of an admirer. It’s called salida a hombros (exit on shoulders), and in Spain, bullfighting experts consider it the highest recognition a torero can have.
The salida a hombros is done through the plaza’s most important gate – the Puerta del Príncipe or Prince’s Gate in Seville, or the Puerta Grande or Big Gate in Madrid, for instance.