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A visit to the southwest Japan ranch where retired racehorses see out their days in peace

At Horse Trust's ranch in Yusui, Kagoshima Prefecture, horses that will never race again are seen freely out to pasture; they will spend the rest of their lives calmly surrounded by greenery. (Mainichi/Toyokazu Tsumura)
Success Brocken, left, a GI race winner, was a "new face" at the ranch when he came in March 2021. Here he is seen interacting over the partition with a "senior horse" by touching their noses. (Mainichi/Toyokazu Tsumura)
Horse Trust ranch staff are seen preparing horses' food. Apart from the pastures, staff also prepare fodder -- a mixture of dried grass and soy pulp -- for the horses each day.
A Horse Trust employee is seen interacting with a horse in Yusui, Kagoshima Prefecture. Ranch staff, who also take care of old horses, carefully watch the animals every day to ensure they don't miss even a slight change in their health.
Gravestones of deceased horses are seen at the Horse Trust ranch in Yusui, Kagoshima Prefecture. Horse owners gather here at the end of the year to hold a ceremony to bury the bones of the horses that died that year.

YUSUI, Kagoshima -- At a ranch located on a slope of Mount Kurino in southwest Japan, some 140 horses -- mainly retired racehorses -- see out their days in the calmness of nature.

    At the ranch operated by nonprofit organization Horse Trust in the Kagoshima Prefecture town of Yusui, the horses under its care eat grass freely as if in the wild. The facility effectively lets the animals outside together to pasture, and the ranch staff check on the animals' health by taking their temperature and other means. One of the stables at the ranch is set out for taking care of newly entrusted horses and old, frail ones.

    Shono Ikegawa, a 24-year-old member of staff, works hard to ensure he doesn't miss even slight day-to-day changes in the animals, which he does by paying special attention to the horses' coats and the way they stand. He also watches the way they move, like whether their gait is awkward. "Finding slight differences is important," he said. "They need our support as they get old, like getting help when they try to stand while we push them up."

    The organization also has to deal with the horses' deaths. When staff do their rounds in the morning, they sometimes find an old horse still lying down low. Ikegawa said, "We want them to be with their fellow horses until they face the end."

    When the organization was founded in 2006, it only had a few horses in its care, but their numbers have risen rapidly in recent years; it took in about 30 horses in fiscal 2020. The cause behind the rise is increasing animal welfare awareness. Views on the value of letting horses die as naturally as possible have spread among workers involved in horseracing, such as individuals working at race tracks.

    Horse Trust's head director Eiji Konishi, 64, said, "We would like to secure more space for the ranch so that we can accept (horses) anytime, and cooperate with owners' wishes as much as possible."

    (Japanese original by Toyokazu Tsumura, Kyushu Photo Department)

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