Horsing Around

While horse enthusiasts might not think of Tokyo as a riding Mecca, there are plenty of opportunities in and around. Whether you're an accomplished equestrian or just a beginner, the perfect riding experience awaits you. Tina Henderson reports.

Although a big part of the riding scene in Japan takes place in Hokkaido, a one to two and a half hour drive in any direction away from central Tokyo will place you far away from the congestion and into wide open spaces appropriate for riding and some stress-free R&R. It's just a simple matter of deciding what kind of riding experience you're after. Do you like the relaxed pace of Western style or do you prefer the more competitive English style? Maybe you have developed a case of wanderlust and want to try some adventure trekking on horseback. Let's consider the options.

English riding
If you're sold on riding English style, you'll find many clubs in the greater Tokyo area. According to Takahashi Hisa, an English-speaking instructor at Club Crane in Chiba, "Almost every prefecture has clubs in the Tokyo area, although there are not as many with indoor facilities as in Europe or North America. But actually," he adds, "English riding is a year-round sport here since there's not much snow in the winters and the weather stays relatively mild.

"In Japan the club system is totally different," he explains. "To take long-term lessons, one must become a club member. A few lessons don't cost a lot, but club memberships can be costly."

Glynis Newberry has been riding English here since 1997. After comparison shopping, she happily settled into the Orient Equestrian Center, a club in Gotemba. Newberry describes the club as "small with a lovely, intimate atmosphere, excellent quality of horses (no riding school nags here!), providing members with a warm family feeling.

"Costs are very reasonable," she adds. "Membership is about JY300,000 and one hour lessons are around JY4000-JY5000. There's no pressure to buy a horse, unlike many local clubs, although owner Murakami Atsushi will gladly sell you one if you so desire. I assure you, it's well worth the journey to ride right under Mt. Fuji."

Western riding
Is the relaxed feel of Western style riding more to your liking? You'll be pleased to know that while Western riding has grown increasingly popular in the Tokyo area, costs have remained lower than for English. Because the goal of Western riding is pure pleasure, where English riders are often preparing for competition, there are no costs associated with special clothing or accessories. Again, club costs vary, and while it's wise to shop around, higher costs don't necessarily yield a better riding experience.

There are Western ranches in most prefectures. A popular Chiba ranch, Sunshine Stables (which does English style as well), boasts the advantage of being right on the beach. Beginners are encouraged, and they have picnic facilities as well; JY3000 nets you a fully-prepared BBQ meal. A lifetime membership at the stables is JY200,000, with one-hour lessons at around JY10,000.

Adventure riding
If your desire to ride derives from a taste for adventure, you might consider taking part in the MacLaine-Simpson Trans-World Horse Relay. The TWHR is the brainchild of Canadian David Simpson, a corporate travel advisor who has been organizing adventure tours for over 15 years. Simpson and his equestrian partner, Neal MacLaine, invite horse lovers, both novice and experienced, to participate in this global horse trekking event.

Of his most ambitious tour to date, Simpson says, "What we're attempting to do is not only traverse the world by horse, but to bring with us a sense of adventure, care for the horse and human, and introduce riders to the cultures we will pass through." He estimates that the relays, each broken up into legs of various distances, will take around seven full summers to complete.

"I expect most people won't have the time or the resources to complete the entire round-the-world course, and most will select only one or two legs to participate in," he adds. It's not a race, but if all goes as planned, it will be a record-breaking event and the longest horse trek ever known.

Costs to join the relay will run around US$300-$750, per day per person. This includes accommodation, transportation, food, guides, security, and virtually everything you'll need to complete your journey.

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