One of the most important parts of an equestrian's job is to ensure that his or her horse maintains its composure and does not become frightened or panic in a given situation. Some riders say this has become a challenge at the Tokyo Olympics, as one of Japan's cultural staples has left several horses seemingly spooked.
According to a report by Jake Seiner of the Associated Press, several riders in equestrian competition at the Olympics believe that a life-size sumo wrestler statue placed next to the tenth obstacle of the Olympic course in Kamiyoga may have distracted several horses in Tuesday night's qualifying session for the individual jumping finals. Several pairings pulled up short of the barrier in that section of the course, in some cases affecting which qualified for the finals and which did not.
The Olympic equestrian course features several decorations to hurdles that feature distinctly Japanese features, such as a kimono, items from the Tanabata festival, and a miniature palace resembling those seen in the Heian and Sengoku eras. However, horses seem particularly disturbed by the sumo wrestler, which faces away from approaching riders and greets horse and rider with the wedgie created by their mawashi (loincloth).
"As you come around, you see a big guy's (butt)," Harry Charles of Great Britain said. "... I did notice four or five horses really taking a spook to that."
While there were some competing theories as to why horses were having trouble in that section of the course -- others suggested that the stadium lights or the nearby sakura (cherry blossoms) may be the culprit -- there were some efforts made to ensure that the horses were not alarmed by the rikishi replica. After seeing other riders have issues, both Terry Vlock of Israel and Darragh Kenny of Ireland made a point to take their horses to the 10th jump prior to their runs so the animal could become familiar with it instead of frightened.
"It does look like a person, and that's a little spooky," Vlock said. "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."
Sumo is one of the most distinctly Japanese sports in all the world, as it is practiced exclusively in Japan and has roots dating back to prehistoric times. Sumo traces its origins to Shinotism, as it was a means of praying for a good harvest and honoring the kami (Gods and/or spirits) of the nation.