KOFU -- Horse Bridge, a ranch the central Japan Prefecture of Yamanashi, has been putting effort into rehabilitating and finding homes for retired racehorses -- saving many of them from being put down.
The ranch cares for around 100 retired racehorses a year before sending them off to horse riding clubs and other facilities for the next phase in their lives.
"Many retired horses have nowhere to go. We want to increase the places where they can continue to perform," the company's head, Maki Kosuda, 38, said.
According to the Japan Association for International Racing and Stud Book, a public interest incorporated foundation that supports retired horses, around 7,000 thoroughbred competition horses are born each year. They debut at the age of 2 or 3, and many of them are off the racing books by age 5. After that time, the mounting costs of caring for them and other factors means many of the animals are put down.
The city of Hokuto, where the Horse Bridge is located, has a large concentration of riding clubs. Kosuda has been in the business of transporting race horses since he was 20, and his help in getting retired racehorses back under the saddle has been sought after by many horse trainers. His desire to make good on trainers' expectations was the motivation for him to start his company in 2016. Using his family home's ranch as a location for breaking in horses, he hired two people from an equestrian facility in the prefecture as trainers. One of them, Hironori Yasunaga, 42, said, "Even if we can't save all of the horses, I want us to give many of them longer lives."
But running the company is not easy. It costs around 100,000 yen a month to feed each horse, and some of the animals need up to six months of care before they can be ridden by a non-professional.
As Kosuda has dispatched horses from Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost prefecture, to Kagoshima Prefecture, in the far southwest, his company has gained recognition. With horse riding clubs continuing to open up primarily in urban areas, demand for horses has risen too, and gradually the firm has gotten on track.
Last year, it managed to dispatch around 100 retrained horses. Kosuda said of his ambitions for the company, "I've even had words of thanks from trainers who reared the animals as racehorses in the past. The issue of retired racehorses being euthanized is a global one, so I want to increase the number of retrained horses."
Moves to save retired racehorses have been spreading across Japan. The Japan Racing Association (JRA) set up the retired racing horse exploratory committee in December 2017 to convert racing horses into horses for regular riding and other uses. Since the end of last year, it has been offering financial incentives to retraining organizations on a trial basis.
Elsewhere, the National Riding Club Association of Japan, based in Tokyo, has begun hosting the retired racehorse cup as part of its attempts to widen interest in horse riding. Last year 160 horses took part at five locations including Ibaraki Prefecture, east Japan, and Hokkaido.
(Japanese original by Ryotaro Ikawa, Kofu Bureau)