Interview With a Pastor of the Running of the Bulls

The “pastores”, are one of the most important figure of the running of the bulls, without which there would be the proper functioning thereof, are located behind the bulls with their rod, to try to keep the bulls herd compact, and to draw the attention of those annoying, quote or touch the animals.

Miguel Reta, one of the best-known pastores of Pamplona, ​​going to tell us his vision of the encierro during San Fermín Festival, and will help us understand the importance of their work.

Just left 116 days to reach the festival of San Fermin and I’d like people who are not of Pamplona, ​​understand because there are men dressed in green and with a stick in his hand running behind the bulls every morning.

Could you explain us witch is the work of a pastor?
The pastores role is very important for the Festival, their work is especially visible in the run of the morning. The primary role of the Pastor is keep the bulls in a herd and make sure they keep moving forward and also protect them from the rowdy Festival crowd. The bulls must reach to the bull ring in perfect condition because, besides its economic value, in the afternoon, a bullfighter is going to fight them in the arena fighting for their lives.

The shepherd’s day starts at half past six, feeding oxen to “vaquillas” and bulls that are in the corrals. Is then develop the Running of the bulls, at 8:00 am. Then comes the show heifers and “recortadores” contests in the bullring. At 6:30 p.m. bullfight begins. Pastors have to be present because maybe some bull has to return to the pens. But… that’s not all, because at 10:00 pm, takes place the “encierrillo”, which is driving the bulls for the next day, from Corrals of Gas to the Santo Domingo corrals. This is a very special event, It is a silence run where herd is accompanied only by shepherds. After Encierrillo, we retired to rest to be ready for another busy day.

And… how many years ago and why you decided to be a pastor?
I’ve been a Pastor for 18 years. When I was a child the bullfighting world scared me and I was afraid of being near the dangerous bulls. However, I am grateful to my mother who respected the tradition and taught me to admire the practice. My grandfather was a cattle dealer and I started working with cattle at a young age. Professionally, I help protect endangered species, but fourteen years ago I decided to create my own herd to try to recover the race of Casta Navarra for the fight. I was initially offered the Pastor role when another pastor had an accident that damaged his hand. Due to that accident he offered me to take his place and I was happy to begin as a Pastor and hope to continue for long.

The people can recognize the pastors because you wear a green T-shirts and hold a long stick in your hand. Why did you carry that rod?
The rod is an instrument of protection. In principle we use it to protect the bulls or if they turn around. We also use it to turn them back on the route. However, I will not deny that runners sometimes have felt a slap from my rod if they try to provoke or touch the bulls. As I mentioned before, my primary role is to protect the bulls on the route and moving forward.

Do you think the people running with the bulls are aware of the danger involved?
In the encierro are typically 2,000 people each weekday and on the weekends numbers can reach 3,500 or 4,000. Obviously, there are people from all walks of life. There are runners who train all year to be in good shape and know how to act during the race if there is a hazard. Moreover, there are people who do not really know what they may face. Normally people who come from abroad and are not knowledgeable about the behavior of the bull and the risks. In these cases, I recommend they enjoy the run as a spectator, especially if they partied hard the night before. It is important to be alert, sober and well rested to run!

Most of our clients have never run with the bulls before, what do you recommend to them, to watch or to run?
Going back to what I just mentioned, running is complicated. In addition to the bull, you have to know how to move among the other runners. You are not only trying to avoid a bulls’ horns, but also sharp elbows and other people in the way. I do not recommend running if you have not rested and if you are not in shape. Also, just watching the running of the bulls is exciting. It only last only a few seconds, but those few seconds are exhilarating to watch, is a time of great excitement and speed.

It is not easy to explain how it feels, After the run is over, I like to watch them them recorded in slow motion, as that can show even the skeptics would see that there are moments during the race when even experienced runners may be protected by San Fermin. In Pamplona, we say San Fermin protects us with his cloak (capote).

And, what do you think is more dangerous, the bull or the runners?
Certainly the goring of a bull can be fatal, but if you analyze the data that the medical services offered at the end of each closure, are more injured by bumps and drops than horn wounds. Clearly we can not forget that the bulls are strong animals, brave and unpredictable. However, humans being chased by bulls can act very differently than they expected to! Among the runners should prevail calm, prudence, and why not say the companionship.

Your job is hard, but allows you to enjoy the San Fremín Festival from another perspective. What do you like most and least like about to be a pastor?
Be pastor allows me to live San Fermin near the bull, whom I adore. We have a team of eleven pastores and we are like family. Besides the work we share, we also have our moments of conversation and relaxation. My favorite is the breakfast time, just after Running of the bulls and beforethe the contest of the vaquillas. We also take great care to our families. Our wives and children are close and we all get together for dinner to discuss how the day has passed.

As for what I like least about to be pastor, is when someone gets hurt during the race by goring, hit or any other reason.

To finish this interview, I would like that you give some tips to the people who are thinking of running?
When you’re thinking of running I recommend you do it as prudently as possible. Think about whether you are physically and mentally able to handle the race, run in front of bulls and deal with other runners. Not everyone is valid for the same, and enjoy the encierro as a spectator is also an experience worth living.

Maitane: Personally, I saw the pastores at the street each morning and thought that the pastores were one of the most important people in the fiesta, but now I’m sure, and I’m glad to know that, profesionals like Miguel work with the bulls and the people each morning in Pamplona to care of the bulls and runners.

I hope that Miguel will has a wonderful year in the running of the bulls and I wish him much success with his project to rescue the fighting bull of Casta Navarra.

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