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In 1953, Carlos Arruza, one of the two top bullfighters in the world, decides to retire following the death of his rival, Manolete. Arruza buys Pasteje, one of the finest bull-breeding ranches in Mexico, and settles down with his wife Mari and three children to raise fighting bulls. At Pasteje, Arruza and several of his matador friends are shown fighting cows in the tienta , or testing ring. Because a bull receives its bravery from its mother, the courage of the cow is believed to determine the nature of her offspring. Another reason for facing off with the cows, rather than the bulls, is that a bull must never see a cape before entering the ring, or he would learn too quickly how to elude the man wielding the cape. On the ranch, Arruza develops a fascination with the art of rejoneo , or bullfighting on horseback. He decides to become a rejoneador and buys a special breed of Portuguese horse trained for the sport. After mastering this form of mounted bullfighting, Arruza performs at the Plaza de Torres in Nogales, Mexico, where the crowd gives him the highest honor by demanding that he forgo the traditional kill from horseback and instead dismount for the final thrust, thus altering the traditional form of rejoneo . Deciding to retire once again, Arruza holds his last official fight at El Toreo, an arena in Mexico City. There Arruza achieves the unique distinction of being cheered by the crowd three times: once as a toreador , once as a rejoneador , and once for the quality of the bulls he has bred. Returning to his private life, Arruza sells Pasteje and builds a new ranch called Rancho Maria after his wife. Soon, however, Arruza becomes obsessed with fighting in the Plaza Mexico, the largest bullring in the world, and determined to fill the arena's over 50,000 seats, schedules another final fight. Arruza thrills the packed stadium, and once again retires to the cheers of the ecstatic crowd. Arruza's life is tragically cut short several months later when, on 20 May 1966, he is killed in an automobile accident after the driver fell asleep and skidded off the road.