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.
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."
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.
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.