Tapia said the sport is growing in the United States. His group held exhibitions in June and August that attracted about 5,000 spectators in total, he said. And while the group is trying to make it safer for the bulls, it remains dangerous for the horsemen, he said.
“Could you die out here? Yes, you could die out here,” he said as he wrapped one hand in white tape. Asked whether he was injured, he shrugged it off. “I’m not injured, just sore.”
Coleo rules differ from country to country, but in Colombia it works like this: If a rider can roll a bull once, a campana, he gets 20 points; if the bull rolls twice, or a campanilla, it’s 30 points. To roll a bull three times, or a remolino, is as rare as a grand slam, and is worth 40 points.
John Alejandro Useche, 25, is one of Colombia’s top coleadores. Thin and spindly, he somehow manages to force 1,100-pound bulls to flip side-over-side like rolling logs. He claims that only llaneros from Colombia and Venezuela have the ability to make a bull roll three times. But he says Team USA has impressive skills.
“Their level of competition is very, very high” he says. “One of these days, they’re going to beat us here in Colombia.”
During a recent event in this small town they came close, taking third prize and winning recognition as the best visiting delegation.
Luis Espinoza, 33, is an avid coleo fan, traveling the country to watch the sport. He said the practices is part of Colombia’s culture and tradition, and reflects the region’s love of animals — something city folk simply didn’t understand.
Before becoming part of the show, the bulls are well taken care of, he said. Only rarely does a bull get injured, and they all end up at the slaughterhouse anyway. As for the horses, they’re groomed and pampered like show ponies, he said.
“Look at that white horse,” Espinoza said, nudging a friend. “It’s more beautiful than my girlfriend.”