Merlin the Bullfighting Horse

7/8/2013: Having learned more about the format of the rejoneador or mounted bullfighter’s craft, I’m updating this piece. There’s also a detailed account in The Age of the Horse: An Equine Journey Through Human History.

Well, you call it a bullfight and you put the horse in the ring. What do you expect? This bullfighter, Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza, has another exceptional horse too.

I’m not the first person on the internet to publish the video below with the proviso, “I don’t approve of bullfighting but look at this HORSE!” Orpheo/Merlin is spectacular. This is haut école dressage in the face of a charging bull. I suspect there’s a lot in Portuguese and Spanish on the horse, but not so much in English, though The Circus: No Spin has done some footwork:

Merlin(Orpheo) is a Bullfighting Lusitano stallion 7/8’s Lusitano X 1/8th Quarterhorse, bred by former Rejoneador Jacques Bonnier (the tall gray haired gentleman in the video who greets de Mendoza before he returns to the bull). Merlin was initially trained by Rafi Dumond [SF – Rafi Durand], who is seen in the opening segment schooling Merlin. He is currently owned and ridden in the bullring by Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza. … De Mendoza is often called the finest Rejoneador in the world by aficionados and press.

I do not know what mixture of training, obedience, fear, bravery and, perhaps, sheer bravado goes on in the mind of this stallion. No bulls are killed in this footage, and Orpheo/Merlin doesn’t get a scratch on him, if you want to watch.

Some history on the sport here. Social anthropologist Kirrilly Thompson‘s academic articles on mounted bullfighting and Sylvia Loch’s The Royal Horse of Europe: The Story of the Andalusian and Lusitano were a great help in untangling what is going on. The Portuguese form is the same as that practised in Spain up to a certain crucial point, as I’ll explain below. Mexico, France and Colombia also follow the Portuguese form.


A parade of the rejoneadores and the matadors who provide their back-up by distracting the bull from the horse. Includes dressage moves.

First Tercio

The bull is fresh and uninjured. The rejoneador endeavours to stab it in the shoulders with a long barb that, when it jabs into the bull, breaks off to reveal a flag. If the bull does not charge, the rejoneador and horse perform haute école to provoke it. For one spectacular example, disable your pop-up blocker and click here.

Second Tercio

More lances/barbs are jabbed into the bull from horseback, with the matadors stepping in when required. The rejoneador often uses different horses for different lengths of lance/barb. As the bull tires (and bleeds), the horse and rider must get closer to attack it with shorter lances/barbs.

When about six darts have gone home, the Portuguese rejoneador leaves the ring and the bull to the forçados, who are another brand of insane altogether. After they’ve done their stuff, the Portuguese bullfight ends as the bull trots out of the ring with a herd of bullocks. It is killed “backstage”.

Third Tercio

In Spain the rejoneador does not leave the ring when all the barbs are in place. The rejoneador has two chances to try to kill the bull while still mounted. For this he/she uses a lance-like sword. If he or she fails, they must dismount and kill the bull on foot.

A further distinction is dress. The Spanish rejoneador wears very plain, traditional vaquero clothing. The Portuguese rejoneador dons high-eighteenth-century style, complete with frock coat and marabou-trimmed tricorn. Furthermore, the Portuguese bull has its horns blunted and covered with leather shields.

Merlin is no longer with Hermoso de Mendoza, having moved first to the Portuguese rider, Joao Moura, and then to his son. I was in touch with Joao Moura Jnr’s press contact last year, and he told me Merlin is, contrary to daft internet rumours, very much alive and well, and “on the field playing mares” rather than in the ring taunting bulls. He added that all the people who come to this blog post wanting to breed a mare to Merlin should contact Moura Jnr.

UPDATE: January 2013: Some footage of Merlin with the great rejoneador Joao Moura Senior. No slow-mo, no black and white, no soft rock, just the realities of the ring.

He’s now with Joao Moura Junior:

UPDATE: January 2017: Here’s a video of one of his foals.

I’m the author of If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of Equine Obsession, a cultural history of girls and horses.

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Published by Susanna Forrest

Writer Amazons of Paris, The Age of the Horse and If Wishes Were Horses.

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  1. Wow,finally somebody else that appreciates this horse and the schooling / training / movements he’s got!!! This is the most spectacular clips I have ever seen,and have tried to share it with people but with no success. I will watch it a thousand times over and every time I will get goose bumps. The dressage arena can stand aside in my opinion. This is, as they would say in Afrikaans “dis bo hulle vuurmaakplek” (this is above their fireplace) meaning out of their reach… This is what I would say, horse riding is all about!

    1. I agree. True horsemanship rarely resides in the stuffy dressage arena. Modern dressage is pretty rough, and falsely prettified, with rare exceptions. If one does not know the names Oliviera, Henrique, Domecq, and Konyot, they don’t truly know horsemanship. And no, it is almost impossible to get a non- horseman ( and I mean the ones who think they ride, but really cannot) to watch a horse like Merlin, Garacho(so) or the rider Hermosa de Mendoza who is likely the greatest rider in the world today. I hate what the sport is, but I can appreciate what is historically was, and the militaries built n the backs of horses through well executed, light training techniques. I have literally watch d some of the top cutting horse trainers beat the sides of the heads of their novice cutters when they thought no one was watching. Top German riders piling their horses in warm up arenas, and so called famous Arab and Andalusian halter trainers beat the living daylights out of their horses. Not one, not a single one, could ride a Merlin. Not a single one could properly train a horse. Modern horsemanship is basically an oxymoron.

  2. This horse is too me a perfect eg of hove loyal they are to the rider and show just how connected both horse and rider are and how much trust there is

  3. Hi Peggy,

    I’m not sure where he is or what he’s doing now, as I think most of that material will be in Spanish or Portuguese, neither of which I can read. Maybe we should all team up and send an email to his former rider, via his website. I would love to know what’s happened to him, and I have SO many people arriving here who are also keen to know.

  4. does anyone know how big Merlin is. optimal agility in a horse is supposed to be 15-16 hands, I would like to know how big he is or was, he was such a tremendous athlete.

  5. apparantly merlin died in 2011
    i havevheard from one due to a colic but someone else told he was actually badly hurt in a bull fight and mendoza had to kill him himself in the ring….

    i have studied mendozas homepage but apart frommthe fact that he lists merlin as a former horse nothing else is said about him

    in the spanish sites and around mendoza himself merlin aparantly wad just a good horse among a lot of other good horses

    its maybe just that youtube film which led to such a hype , …. but having said so …. i have seen mendoza on a lot of other horses….. non seem so agil as merlin

  6. I love that there are legends like this… He’s with another rejoneador and I’m in touch with that guy’s PR man re. an email interview about Merlin. They have not mentioned Merlin’s dramatic end ;)

  7. If anyone is interested in breeding to merlin, My farm is the usa contact for his semen to breed. Please feel free to email me on more information. We are in the process of ironing out details and fees etc but for sure will be handling his breeding here in the usa.

    1. Hello,

      I am interested in breeding to Merlin. Can you please contact me regarding how I go about starting this process?

    2. I have a mare from the famous Que Ba bullfighting line. While I have no personal interest in bullfighting, I’d most definitely be interested in a foal out of my mare by Merlin! Please contact me with details. Thank you.

  8. Merlin is not dead he is alive and well in Portugal. I have many contacts in Portugal for pedigree Lusitano’s and know for a fact MERLIN is still alive.

  9. I would be extremely interested in information about breeding my mare to this stallion.

  10. Hello! So Joao Moura Jr’s people say Merlin has had a few owners before arriving with them, and these owners may have done deals with studs/companies in the US for Merlin’s sperm. In order to work all this out I would have to put in some serious time researching who had what when and so on. In the meantime, they suggest contacting Joao now: As he currently has the breeding rights.

  11. Finally I found out the Merlin is still alive.. I love watching him. Being in the USA it is very hard to learn any thing about him. All the horse I own, Tend to look like Merlin in one way or another. I hope he lives a long and well life.

  12. The inserted text above the Merlin video comes from a caption I wrote to the video when I posted it on my smugmug photo site several years ago. It was the best information I had at the time. Fortunately it was picked up by and graciously commented on by actual breeders of Merlin. I subsequently corrected my errors as post notes to the caption. This is it in its entirety:If we ever forgot that mankind’s first use for horses was on the battlefield this video is an “in your face” reminder. “Merlin” (formerly Orpheo) is a bullfighting Lusitano stallion (7/8’s Lusitano, 1/8th Quarterhorse) from the breeder and former “rejoneador” Jacques Bonnier (the tall gray haired gentleman who greets de Mendoza before he returns to the bull). Merlin was initially trained by Rafi Dumond (seen in the opening). He is currently owned and ridden in the bullring with panache and style by Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza. Although a Spaniard, de Mendoza, fights in the Portuguese style in which the horse and rider (rejoneador) dispatch the bull rather than merely weakening the bull as the horse mounted “picador” does for the “matador” in classical Spanish Bullfighting. De Mendoza is called the finest rejoneador in the world by Bonnier. That’s good enough for us. The rejoneador uses three horses in three stages. Wikipedia has a nice description of these under the definition of “rejoneador”, eng-“lancer”. This video was retrieved from the excellent website of Jacques Bonnier, a rare Frenchman among the ranks of the Portuguese and Spanish rejoneadors. The video is also a controversial topic on youtube where many take exception to the fate of the bull. We suggest you keep your attention on the horse and rider. As a team they transcend anything we’ve seen in any form of equitation including olympic calibre dressage. In fact, Merlin and Pablo are performing high level dressage movements in the face of a charging bull.
    The music is by “Evanesence” , a song called “Bring me to Life”. Kind of ironic from the bull’s standpoint but maybe it is focused on the audience.
    A post note: bloodless bullfighting on horseback is beginning to take hold in the American southwest. It may be harder on the horse and rider though as “veteran” bulls are capable of learning from their mistakes. The simple feint used here might not work on an experienced fighting bull.
    Post Post Note:
    The comment by R.Peralta Revuelta definitively answers the question of Merlin’s origin. The writer is Rafeal Peralta Jr son of Rafeal of the famous bullfighting and horse breeding Peralta Brothers. He uses the formal custom of placing his maternal surname last in his correspondence. He informs us that Merlin is a 100% Peralta bred stallion in a line specifically bred for bullfighting prowess. In a subsequent email he informed me that Merlin is now owned by the Portugeuse bulfighter Joao Moura jr and living in Portugal. He also tells me that several of Merlin’s brothers are living and training on the Peralta Farm and are excellent at training with the bulls as well. Rafeal Peralta Jr. is a well known writer and poet as well as a lawyer in his native Spain and has also faced bulls on horseback in training but does not do so professionally.
    here’s a link to the Peralta Farm blog :
    Hope this helps,

    1. One note, Tony: in Portugal the bull is not killed in the ring. It leaves after the forçados have done their part. It’s killed later, backstage (so to speak). In Spain, it is killed.

      1. Susanna,
        You’re right, of course, the Portugeuse were apparently the first to develop this type of bullfighting. Originally the Spanish Picador went in with a heavily padded horse (also blindfolded) to stab at the bull with a long spear. The bull was both enraged and weakened in the neck muscles to prepare it for the Matador who faced it on foot. Nothing to watch compared to the flashy Portugeuse Rejoneadors and their superbly trained horses. The Spanish Rejoneadors generally use the Portugeuse Lusitano horses but don’t wear the Victorean costumes and they definitely kill the bull in the ring. Glad you started this thread. It was really hard to find out any factual information when I first got my hands on the video but I couldn’t stop watching it either. My own horse is a Friesian and he’s relatively nimble but there is no way on earth I would ever let him get near the kind of bulls that Merlin played with his whole working life.

      2. Ah, :). Actually mounted bullfighting came first in both Spain and Portugal. The matador/dismounted bullfighting evolved from it – the matador was originally the valet of the aristocratic rejoneo, helping out on the ground – and became more popular in Spain. The picadors came along in turn to help the matador – they’re like a kind of remnant of the early, lance-wielding mounted bullfighter.
        Mounted bullfighting went out of fashion in Spain for some time, and was revived from 1913 onward by a man called Antonio Cañero Baena, who was disgusted by the picadors’ horses and wanted to restore the horse’s dignity and skill to the corrida. He brought the plain, countryman’s costume and a doma vaquera style to mounted bullfighting. Later 20th century rejoneadors brought haute école back to the corrida.
        I just found out this history material today, by odd coincidence. Kirrilly Thompson wrote an essay about it in a book called À Cheval. Sylvia Loch writes about the Portuguese history, but I hadn’t uncovered such detail on the Spanish style until now.
        Sympathise about the videos! You’ve done all the many Merlin fans out there a huge service. I’ve had to make a lot of use of Google Translate and a Portuguese-speaking friend to make any headway, and there seems to be a lot of misinformation out there about Merlin in particular, including the internet legend that he “died in the ring”.

  13. Hello, do you know how to contact someone about breeding to Merlin if he is still actively breeding? The link to the last reference does not work for me.
    Thank you

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