Bull Pulling – Guernica, Basque Country

The world has many interesting sports such as Bog-snorkelling, Conkers, Egg-and-Spoon Racing, and Sack Racing. Sports the Olympics Forgot describes 40 more sports in a similar vein, all of which haven’t started yet.

All the stories are individual and distinct and can be read independently if necessary; a book for the busy individual who perhaps has five minutes to spare to understand the complexities of Bull Pulling or Unicycle Volleyball.

None of these sports should be attempted at home; the best way to research these sports further would be to find the relevant sporting associations on the Internet and contact them. These associations would also be able to put you in touch with like-minded individuals.


In 2006 the Basque Government identified 18 particular rural sports, called H18K, in its Strategic Plan for promotion. These 18 categories include sports such as wood chopping, stone lifting, and also what’s called in Basque Giza-abere probak, which translates roughly as dragging games. One of the most difficult dragging games is called Bull Pulling. This sport is often seen in summer at local festivities and open-air dances, held in towns all over the country. The main Bull Pulling event of the year takes place in Guernica in August.

The idea of Bull Pulling is that a contestant will pull a bull a certain distance by grabbing hold of its horns and not letting go until both bull and puller have completely crossed the finishing line. The pulls take place over 250, 500, and 1000 metres. There are three categories of bull that can be pulled: 150kg and under, 151 – 250kg, and 251 – 325kg.

17 is the minimum age to take part in the pulls. They start off with the lighter bulls and progress to heavier categories as they get older. Brute strength especially in the arms and shoulders is essential as is an iron grip and a mean stare to transfix the bull with.

The rules are straightforward. Lots are drawn to decide which puller gets which bull in the contest. If the bull tosses the puller then the bull pull must recommence at the place where the tossing occurred. At least one of the puller’s feet must be in contact with the ground at all times – this is to prevent the puller taking advantage of a charging bull and hitching a ride by holding on to its horns. The only parts of the bull that the puller can hold are the horns; pulling the bull’s tail results in instant disqualification.

What typically happens is that the bull is released into a small area cordoned off with wooden fences – the puller enters the area and engages with the bull by slapping it on the head. Once this occurs the puller has five minutes to bring the bull to the start line. Usually a certain amount of staring goes on between bull and puller before the latter grips one of the former’s horns and attempts to wrestle the animal to the ground to show it who’s boss. Once this happens it’s slightly easier to pull the bull around.

Some of the strong bull pullers such as Andoni Perurena from Navarre don’t bother with the wrestling technique; they just grab the bull by the horns and shake the animal’s head around so the bull can feel how strong the person is and acts more meekly as a result. This works with some bulls but others are antagonized into trying to toss their puller and this when some goring can occur.

Bull Pulling started in the 1750s and some of the stories from the first few years are quite remarkable. In 1753 Pedro Zabala a contestant in the 151 – 250 kg bull category carried his animal for the last 500 metres of the race because it had developed a limp. In 1766 Fernando Mendizabal felled his bull with a left hook after it had tried to gore him; he then dragged the dazed animal 1000 metres to claim first prize in that category. After this event the rules were changed to state that the bull must be fully conscious during the entire race.

In 1772 Inaki Arrieta hurt his right hand when wrestling the bull to the ground yet still pulled the 350kg animal to the finish line with his left hand. Inaki was one of the greatest stone lifters of all time in the Basque Country and so he was used to handling large weights with relative ease. It was said that Inaki had a very hypnotic stare and so the animal might have been mesmerized during the pull but hypnosis isn’t outlawed and the result stood.

At the Guernica event the quickest time for pulling a bull is 2 minutes and 57 seconds by Pedro Adan in 1940 – this was in the 150kg and under contest over 250 metres. Adan won 6 more times in this category in the next 10 years making him the most successful competitor ever. Berrio Azpuliqueta has won the 1000 metre pull in the 251-325kg category six times; he trained by carrying 250kg stones up and down the local mountains for 2 hours at a time.

There have been some fatalities in the Bull Pulling events at Guernica. The most recent was in 2008 when Diego Montes was picked up bodily by his 300kg bull and then trampled underfoot.

Published by Julian Worker

Julian was born in Leicester, attended school in Yorkshire, and university in Liverpool. He has been to 94 countries and territories and intends to make the 100 when travel is easier. He writes travel books, murder / mysteries and absurd fiction. His sense of humour is distilled from The Marx Brothers, Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and Midsomer Murders. His latest book is about a Buddhist cat who tries to help his squirrel friend fly further from a children's slide.

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