The Spanish version of the event, called a corrida de toros, begins with a procession accompanied by band music. Next, the bull enters the ring, to be tested for ferocity by the matador (toreador or torero) and banderilleros with pink and gold capes.
After a period of time, picadores on blinkered horses go past the bull and put lances into the bull's neck, further enraging and weakening the bull, and, crucially, weakening its neck muscles. The audience often objects to excessive use of the lance to tire the bull too much.
Next is a suerte de banderillas, in which three banderilleros goad the bull so they can stab the bull's shoulders with coloured, sharpened sticks.
Finally, in the suerte de matar (death act), the matador reenters the ring alone with a small red cape. Having dedicated the bull to an individual or the whole audience, he uses his cape to attract the bull in a series of passes, demonstrating his control over it. He then attempts to manoeuvre the bull into a position to stab it between the shoulders and through the heart. This often fails, and the toreador must cut the bull's spinal cord with a second sword, killing it instantly.
Very occasionally, a particularly resilient bull will be spared.
A typical bullfight will involve three matadors fighting two bulls each though, occasionally, a mano-a-mano confronts two matadors fighting three bulls each.
Trophies and prizes (usually a bull's ear, or both ears, or both ears and the tail) are awarded to matadors, mostly according to the reaction of the crowd to the fight.
The Portuguese version is conducted on horseback and does not involve injuring the bull.
The aesthetic of bullfighting, which is regarded as a deeply ingrained part of the culture and an art in the countries where it is practiced, is based on the interaction of the man and the bull. Rather than a competitive sport, the bullfight is more of a ritual which is judged by its aficionados based on artistic impression and command.
Animal rights campaigners object strongly to bullfighting on account to the slow, painful death the bull suffers, and kill bullfights are banned in most countries. "Bloodless" variations, though, are permitted and have attracted a following in California. A number of animal-rights activist groups undertake anti-bullfighting actions in Spain and other countries (see links).
However, these views are not widely understood in the countries where Spanish bullfighting is practiced; the argument is that bulls are bred for the ring, live well before they are killed, and if the bullfight went, the bulls would too. Furthermore, part of the artistic impression of a corrida is based on the "cleanliness" of the kill; prolonged suffering is regarded as part of a very poor performance, and experienced bullfighters are able to avoid it.
Spanish bullfighting is a traditionally male sport. Only recently have a very small number of women ever been toreadores, such as Cristina Sánchez. Many bullfighters have met their deaths on the horns of a bull, including one of the most celebrated of all time, Manolete.
See also: List of bullfighters