Malacrianza… The Bull, The Myth, The Legend

Action hero movies, fairy tales, and folklore notwithstanding, seldom is the title of “killer” associated with glory, particularly when the guilty party acts out with the remorse and compassion of a rattlesnake. Yet, across the country, tattoos, posters, and T-shirts reflect just how deeply one of Nosara’s best loved bovine murderers struck a chord in the Costa Rican national consciousness. There’s even a beer named after him. It’s called “Malacrianza.”
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Although raised in the pastures of Playa Garza, the name ‘Malacrianza, which translates to ‘badly raised’ would become famed throughout the nation. His name would mean different things to different people. To many, he was a cultural icon whose raw power made him the ultimate rodeo spectacle. To industry professionals, Malacrianza’s widespread appeal catalyzed a significant upswing in the dwindling national popularity of rodeo events. Ask a rodeo visitor about the qualities that made Malacrianza so famous, and the answer may involve the creatures style, energy, and physical prowess. Ask another, and the answer will likely be “it’s because he killed riders.” To these young montadores, Malacrianza’s capacity to inflict serious, even deadly wounds meant one of two things: potential disaster, or instant fame.

Malacrianza was born in 1999. However, his story goes back much further, to when Costa Rican bullfighting began as a pastime for Costa Rican farmers. Unlike the Spanish ranching culture from which they came, the Costa Rican cowboys had neither the resources nor the inkling to kill their cattle, instead preferring to use the rodeo arena as a bloodless celebration of man over beast,
the greatest accolades reserved for the ranch hand who could ride the toughest bull for longest.

One such ranch hand was Esau Rodriguez, who used his savings to purchase different parcels of land around Garza, which he then incorporated and named Hacienda Nueva Esperanza, or, The Farm of New Hope. Upon Esau’s death, his farm was split by the children, one of whom was Ubaldo Rodriguez.

Hacienda Nueva Esperanza was already famed for breeding quality bulls. However, this didn’t stop Ubaldo from buying bulls from other areas of Costa Rica for sport, studding, and show. In December 2003, a group of bulls arrived at Hacienda Nueva Esperanza. Most of them were considered too aggressive to fit in at other farms. To the average cattle farmer, an aggressive bull usually meant the injury of other animals. To Ubaldo, such qualities marked them as the perfect rodeo contenders. Among this motley crew of creatures, was a four year old bull who would go on to be the greatest rodeo bull in Costa Rican history.

In August 2004, the unheard of Malacrianza debuted at a popular Nicoya rodeo festival. Although his opening performances hinted at the kind of belligerence that would make him a champion, it would be another year before rodeo fans truly took note.

In July 2005, Juan Carlos Cubillo, a fresh-faced, 27 year old Guanastecan who had already made a name for himself on the rodeo circuit was set to ride a bull named El Chonchonita at the San Vincente festivals. A last minute decision meant Cubillo would switch bulls, trading El Chonchonita for Malacrianza, who had still yet to make his mark on the rodeo circuit. What happened 5 minutes later changed the futures of both the bull and the rider.

It started like any other rodeo ride. The door opened and a frenzied Malacrianza came bucking into the ring, kicking his back legs and jumping as high as possible. On the third jump, say witnesses, Malacrianza lost balance, began to twist, and came down on his side, atop of rider Cubillo, whose unprotected head got driven into the dirt. Malacrianza got back up as if nothing had happened. Cubillo was rushed to hospital, and pronounced dead two days later. Malacrianza hit the headlines. Cubillo’s death had put the bull on the fast track to stardom, in turn making Malacrianza the most sought after ride for young montadores wishing to test their mettle and cement their legacy in rodeo folklore.

Malacrianza bullOne such montador was 23 year old Jason Gomez, known in rodeo circles as “El Invisible” for his seemingly supernatural ability to avoid injury. Then he met Malacrianza. In December 2006, on the closing night of the Caimital de Nicoya rodeo, the door opened and Gomez came flying into the ring on top of a thrashing, bucking Malacrianza. Famed for his long, sharp horns, riders would lean far as back as possible to avoid being impaled as they were hurled back and forth. For the first few seconds Gomez kept his arms locked and his back straight, preventing himself falling too far forward. On Malacrianza’s third full body buck Gomez was thrown forward and his head met Malacrianzas horns. Moments later, a bleeding, disoriented Gomez managed to pick himself up from the dirt and stumble towards the medical tent. Although he arrived at the hospital alive, he bled out before doctors could save him. This was Malacrianza’s second confirmed kill. “El Toro Asesino” was now more famous than ever.

Ubaldo’s phone began to ring off the hook. The local, national, and even international media wanted to know more. In addition, Ubaldo began receiving offers well above the going rate to deliver the Malacrianza spectacle up and down the country. However, like his father before him, Ubaldo remained a man of the people, often turning up at small scale rodeos in poor communities without charging. Malacrianza, thought Ubaldo, belonged to the people. The mythology surrounding Malacrianza grew and grew. Many claimed that it was Malacrianza’s ‘el intiende’ that made him stand out. They said that unlike other bulls, Malacrianza understood he was part of a spectacle. When the gate opened, and he was under the lights Malacrianza knew it was time to put on a show, as if he’d accepted his role as a gladiatorial rockstar. All the while his reputation continued to grow.

For more than nine years, Malacrianza remained the main event at rodeo festivals up and down Costa Rica. Although he never killed again, his reputation continued to proceed him. Wherever he showed up, it would be to a sold out, standing room only crowd.

Malacrianza gave his last performance in 2013. Unlike other bulls, who once past their prime are usually slaughtered for their meat, Malacrianza’s golden years were spent grazing in the Garza pastures. In 2015, aged 16, Malacrianza’s lifeless body was found in the hills of Hacienda Nueva Esperanza. Although he was buried on the ranch soon thereafter, his owner refused to let Malacrianza’s memory die so quickly. In tribute to Costa Rica’s most beloved bull, Ubaldo erected a life-sized statue to Malacrianza’s memory, which sits in an unmissable spot leading South out of Garza into Playa Guiones.

It was written earlier that Malacrianza was many things to many people: murderer, cultural icon, performer, ticket to rider stardom, and much more. But to first time Playa Guiones visitors, the statue of Malacrianza gazing down from the low lying pastures overlooking the Nosara approach road, chosen because it was one of the bull’s favorite spots, is now the coolest “Welcome to Nosara” sign there is.

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