When it comes to the best of Hokkaido, delicious local food may immediately come to mind, but we cannot talk about Hokkaido without mentioning the beloved horses on this island. Approximately 8,000 horses are bred in Japan every year, and 70% of this takes place in the Hidaka area, the largest breeding area of the nation. As we have seen a long history of equine sports all over the world, humans and horses live closely together still now.
Located on the hill overlooking the Sea of Japan in Iwanai town near Niseko, the Horse Trust is a non-profit organization that provides a home for retired horses to enjoy the rest of their lives peacefully.
Mr. Sakai’s first encounter with horse racing occurred back in the day when he was a chef in Sapporo and he purchased horse racing tickets for his friend who was really into horse race bidding. Partly because one of his friends was riding in horse racing, he began to develop his passion for jockeys rather than the gambling aspect of horse racing. In spite of attempts to become a jockey himself, his eyesight was not fully qualified so he chose a career as a horse trainer and caretaker. Although he went back to his old job after three years of working with horses, his enthusiasm for equine services remained strong; he was offered a new job in an equestrian center in Niseko which was managed by a large hotel group. After all, he started his dream business in Niseko called Niseko Joba (horse riding) Village fourteen years ago. He reunited with one of the horses retired from the training facility and needless to say accepted his former trainee horse in his equine center, which later led him to increase determination to save as many horses as possible.
Ever since he watched the Horse Trust in Kagoshima on television, he worked very hard towards the goal of launching a similar service to rescue more horses in Hokkaido. Preparing for the organization while running his core business was time consuming and very exhausting. First started out from his family home in Kyowa town, he established the Horse Trust to Iwanai town in 2013 with relocation assistance from the town. There are 30 retired horses, including 2 from the disaster affected area in Fukushima, living happily and independently in the 10 hectares of pasture. Mr. Sakai repeatedly uses the word “horses as economic animals”. Humans unconsciously overlook the fact that many race horses get culled for human consumption as well as pet food once their legendary period is regarded as ended. Therefore, he might continue to search for ways to secure a loving, quality home for more and more horses who need to be acknowledged after retirement, shifting the focus from the mere monetary value of horses. He treats horses as if they were children, sounding like a dormitory leader supervising his beloved students.
He certainly recognizes the importance of promoting regional development through his equine services. “My goal is not to have a petting zoo but to create a natural scenery with horses in it.” The legendary champion Oguri Cap provided a total local economic impact of one million dollars after retirement, by being seen by tourists from all over Japan.
He has dreams about creating a beautiful sight where people could enjoy watching grazing horses with the ocean in the background. He will try to increase the capacity for rescuing more horses in the home, starting with 50 horses first. One of his aims is a contribution to revitalize abandoned land and farms by turning them into productive pastureland. ”I would like everyone to remember the long history and close relationship between humans and horses, almost like a close family member. I am trying my best to rescue and assist as many horses as possible. ”By saying that, I would like more and more people to understand the force behind this service and support.”
Horse Trust Hokkaido in Iwanai is only a one-hour drive away from Niseko.