The rain in Spain leaves bulls skinny and in pain

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MADRID (AP) — As bullfighting aficionados await the pageantry and trumpet blasts of a new season, breeders are fretting their beasts might not be up to snuff: a tad skinny, tender-footed and achy, and even sporting longer hair, all because of a miserably wet winter.

The rain in Spain is usually good news, but it’s been coming down hard pretty much every day for two months in Andalusia and Extremadura, the southern regions where most of the country’s fighting bull ranches are. The ground is soaked and so are the bulls, heralding an odd and unpredictable start to the bullfighting calendar.

Among other problems, all that water causes the bulls’ hooves to swell and soften, and makes their joints sensitive, sapping their mobility.

“You try it. Spend two months with your feet in water and see how they end up, even if you have your shoes on,” said Alfonso Vazquez, foreman at Fuente Ymbro, a ranch in Cadiz province.

Furthermore, bulls won’t eat wet feed pellets, and because of the chilly, inclement weather they spend more energy just keeping warm — meaning the first ones to head into the ring this year will be a bit lighter: say, 25 kilos (55 pounds) off an average weight that can run from 450 kilos (1,000 pounds) up to 700 kilos (1,540 lbs) for jumbo specimens.

Looking ahead to the full-blown spring and summer, no one is worried because the sun will eventually emerge and dry everything out. But the season has just started, and there are big dates imminent in arenas known for savvy crowds, like the Vistalegre ring near Madrid late this month and Valencia’s Las Fallas festival in March.

A fighting bull should be good and ornery even if its feet hurt, but there is no guarantee against sluggishness. And topflight plazas require strong, swift animals.

“Right now, we are worried,” Vazquez told The Associated Press on Friday. “As we get through the first bullfights of the season, we’ll see what state the animals are in and how they perform.”

Alvaro Nunez, owner of the Nunez del Cuvillo ranch, which is due to supply bulls in major upcoming fights, noted that bulls also lose a huge amount of weight — up to 30 kilos (70 lbs) — during hours-long truck rides from pasture to plaza because it is too cumbersome to feed them along the way.

“We will go with whatever we have. We have no margin to choose because we don’t know what we end up with,” Nunez told the newspaper El Mundo. “There is no denying we are afraid because the fans in Madrid and Valencia demand a lot in terms of the bull.”

Another foreman, Angel Perez Trinidad at the Jandilla ranch in Extremadura, said he has not seen so much rain since he was a kid and all that wetness means a lot more work for his crew.

“If the feed gets wet the bulls won’t eat it. You have to keep giving it to them. We have to stay on top of them,” he told AP.

Bravado and snorts aside, the deadly minuet of bull and matador will feature new-look animals for the next few weeks or months.

Bulls grow a longer, thicker coat of hair in winter and by now the ones raised down south should have shed it, but they have not, said Vazquez.

Plus, standing around in flooded pastureland rather than running around and getting exercise means they will be less filled out, less buff. Even ones that do have good physiques will flash them less because of the long, dull hair, in contrast to the shiny, short coats they boast in warm weather.

“You don’t really see the muscles, nor, say, that good clean look,” he said.