By Jose Manuel Ribeiro

“Hey, sports fans, think you’re tough? Then try out a growing Portuguese pastime that is like playing rugby with a runaway refrigerator. It’s bull tackling, and nearly 1,000 enthusiasts, or “forcados,” from all walks of life love to jump into the ring for a head-on collision with a maddened bull. A mixture of sport, spectacle, high testosterone machismo, male bonding and, some say, art, the rough-and-tumble event is as unique to Portugal as port wine or codfish ice cream,” Reuters Lisbon chief correspondent Ian Simpson wrote in August 2005.

At the time, if anyone mentioned the notion of women trying out to be a “forcado” you would have said they were dreaming or had no idea of the inner workings of the Portuguese bullfighting world.

But six years later it is no longer a dream as a group of young and graceful women tackle the bulls in central Portugal.

In the past we’ve seen women on horseback — the woman matador — challenging the bulls, but now the last male bastion in the sport has become open for women too.

Wearing traditional stocking caps and red sashes, a forcado shouts “Touro! Touro! (Bull! Bull!) and jumps on a bleeding bull’s head as he charges, while the seven other team members pile onto the animal until it is immobilized.