A sumo wrestler that may have spooked the horses has been knocked out of the Olympic equestrian ring.
The statue and a nearby patch of cherry trees that riders thought might be startling the animals during the individual jumping event were among the obstacles swapped out for the start of the team competition on Friday.
Officials say designer Santiago Varela had planned on removing the sumo wrestler even before riders said the life-sized rikishi might be rankling their animals.
Several pairings in the early stages of Tuesday’s individual qualifying stopped short near the sumo wrestler, who was positioned next to the 10th obstacle on the 14-jump course. The hurdle was located right after a sharp turn, and the wrestler's wedgied backside was the first thing in sight for horse and human.
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“As you come around, you see a big guy’s (butt),” British rider Harry Charles said, adding, “I did notice four or five horses really taking a spook to that.”
Israel's Teddy Vlock said that after seeing others have issues with the set up, he and trainer Ireland's Darragh Kenny — also a competitor in Tuesday's field — made a point of trotting their horses to the 10th jump before beginning their runs so the animals could look it over.
The hope was that familiarity would breed bravery.
“It is very realistic,” Vlock said. "It does look like a person, and that’s a little spooky. You know, horses don’t want to see a guy, like, looking intense next to a jump, looking like he’s ready to fight you.”
The jumping course is always reconfigured between the individual and team rounds, and several of the Japanese-themed barriers were swapped out. The new fences include a life-size samurai and jumbo-size sushi.
Despite the minor drama, jumpers have been overwhelmingly pleased with Varela's design. Vivid — and potentially distracting — fences are a trademark of Olympic jumping venues, and in the end, it's the riders' jobs to keep their animals calm on the course.
“You know it’s going to be colorful coming here,” Scott Brash of Britain said Tuesday. "You know it’s going to be decorative. And it’s beautiful, you know? It’s fantastic. That’s what makes it a championship. If it was just plain old jumps, it’d be just like any other week.”
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