A farm raising only indigenous Japanese horses has been opened near a shrine known as a "horses' sacred site" in western Japan, with the owner aiming to boost breeding to preserve such species.
Japanese horses were once raised across the country to work in fields and transport goods and people. However, the indigenous horse population decreased as modern transportation developed and currently there are only some 1,700 left, according to the Japan Equine Affairs Association.
Ikumi Isobe, the 33-year-old owner of the Mikarinonomori farm, was engaged in projects to preserve indigenous horses and promote traditional horseback military arts at a different farm she used to work for in Yamanashi Prefecture.
Mikarinonomori farm in Omihachiman, Shiga Prefecture, raises four horses from two different regions in the country, Hokkaido (Dosanko) and Nagano Prefecture (Kiso). Isobe plans to cooperate with other farms in breeding indigenous horses.
For her horse farm she picked a lot about 500 meters away from the Kamo Shrine, which is dedicated to gods protecting horses. She opened the farm, which is about 1,350 square meters, on May 1. According to the shrine, Emperor Tenchi is said to have established a farm in vast swathes of the region in 668.
Visitors can feed and ride the horses, and also try "Yabusame" horseback archery at her farm.
"I used to ride horses and I wanted to try it again," a female visitor from the city, who brought carrots for the horses, said.
According to Isobe and the horse association, there are eight breeds of Japanese horses from the northernmost main island of Hokkaido to the westernmost island of Okinawa.
The other breeds are Noma (Ehime Prefecture), Taishu (Nagasaki Prefecture), Misaki (Miyazaki Prefecture), Tokara (Kagoshima Prefecture), Miyako and Yonaguni (both Okinawa Prefecture).
They are gentle-natured and have strong bodies although the sizes are smaller than thoroughbred racehorses. The height of their withers -- the part between the shoulder blades -- is around 1.3 meters while that of thoroughbreds is above 1.6 meters.
Other characteristics include relatively large heads and thick flowing manes.
According to the horse association, it is believed that all Japanese indigenous horses are descended from animals brought from the mainland of Asia at various periods and routes dating back to the 6th century or earlier.
Horses played an important symbolic role in Japanese religion and certain shrines even today stable sacred white horses.
The Dosanko breed is descended from several local breeds imported from the Tohoku region when Japanese immigration to Hokkaido began in the 15th century, according to the association.
Records indicate that the Kiso breed was raised systematically in the Kiso region of Nagano Prefecture as early as in the 6th century.
"I fear that Japanese horses are close to extinction. I want many people to visit the farm as we protect them," Isobe said.