By Tamotsu Saito / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterRiding atop a horse over hills and along coastlines affords a view somewhat different to traveling on foot. Shikaoi in central Hokkaido is one of the nation’s biggest horse trekking centers. There, visitors can have a unique experience while leisurely taking in rustic surroundings.
Farm roads, riverbanks and other nature courses in Shikaoi have been combined into a 125.5-kilometer network of horse trekking trails — the biggest in the nation. The trails, called Uma no Michi (Horses’ path), allow riders to enjoy a wide variety of scenery.
“This town has a history of people settling the land with horses,” said Akira Katayama, 69, head of Wild West Riders Club in Shikaoi. “So all local residents are friendly to horses.”
This reporter took part in one of the club’s horse trekking programs in early September. The programs start at ¥7,000 per hour.
The organization has 15 horses, including hardy Arabians capable of traveling long distances without tiring. All the animals are well trained, so even beginners can feel safe.
Perched atop a horse a full 2½ meters above the ground, I was able to enjoy an excellent view of the surrounding scenery.
The participants followed the Uma no Michi path along rivers and farm roads, and through vast grasslands and a forest of white birch trees. Only the clacking of hooves on the ground and the rhythm of horses breathing broke the silence, while a pleasant breeze rustled the grass around us. I suddenly realized horses are reliable partners that serve as a bridge between humans and nature.
“The feeling of openness I experience when trekking on a horse is incredible,” said Kanagawa Prefecture resident Mikiko Tamagaki, who has visited the club several times. “It’s also fun to ride to restaurants on horseback.”
Horse Trekking Park Tateyama in Tateyama, Chiba Prefecture, gives customers the chance to ride horses along the shore. The company opened three years ago with the aim to offer customers freedom when riding horses.
A 90-minute ride along the shore usually costs ¥16,000 before tax. On warm days, customers sometimes lead the horses into the water.
While equestrianism focuses on the rider and horse working together as a unit, horse trekking is more about riders feeling relaxed atop the animal.
Spokeswoman Yuko Sekino calls the joy of horse trekking “uma jikan” (horse time). “I want people to enjoy nature with our horses,” she said.
Prof. Yasuo Nanbo of Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine said before automobiles and agricultural machinery were developed, people relied on horses to travel long distances and cultivate fields.
“I believe people find interacting with horses fascinating because the animal has a long history of working with humans,” said Nanbo, an expert on the history of horses.
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