▲(Shot Selected from the Hokkaido Heritage Photo Contest)
Have any of you ever seen a "Banba" horse before? They're bred for pulling extremely heavy loads, so their physical build is even greater than thoroughbreds. The history of horses in Hokkaido is long, stretching back to the difficult "Hokkaido Reclamation" which took place during the Meiji era. Banba horses, in particular, were used for farming up through the Showa era and were the stars of the show during "Ban'ei" horse racing festivals. Today you can only find this kind of horse race in Obihiro, but it truly is a spectacle to behold the amazing power of these horses.
▲ (Shots Selected from the Hokkaido Heritage Photo Contest)
In the "Ban'ei" race, the Banba horses pull iron sleds down a 200 meter course dotted with several obstacles. This race isn't just about speed, it also depends on the power and stamina of the horses and the riding technique of the jockeys. Points decide the winners and losers. The top speed reached by the horses is roughly the same as a human's regular walking speed. The crowd is allowed to watch the race up close, so they support their horses while moving down the track together.
▲ The supporter's cheers hold nearly as much power as the racing horses.
Those interested are able to view the power and size of these horses pitted against each-other at the "Ban'ei Keiba" (Keiba is Japanese for horse racing). Races are held year-round, so you can enjoy a day at the tracks whenever you get the urge. In recent years the number of families and younger fans has increased, meaning this is a sport that will be around for many years to come. Visitors are also able to enjoy a variety of delicious sweets and foods at "Tokachi Mura" (Tokachi Village) an establishment that makes their food from local ingredients provided by Tokachi and Sanchoku Maket.
The thoroughbred is another representative of Hokkaido horse culture. It is said that about 80% of all stallions raised in Japan are bred in the Hidaka district of Hokkaido. Driving along the highways in Hidaka it's a common site to see horses grazing in the fields. Many horse racing fans visit this area to see retired race horses at Japan Racing Association operated farms.
On Thursday, November 15th, the "Douei Kinen" race was held at Monbetsu racetrack in Hidaka. This race was huge, as it was the last of the Hokkaido horse racing season. Several other events, including the "Hidaka Specialty Products" event where local products are featured, are held in the area as well.
▲ A night race held at the Monbetsu racetrack.
The image of horse racing, the green of the landscapes, the white fences around grazing pastures, horses young and old, all these striking images are representative of the beautiful Hokkaido landscapes where they take place.
Lastly, we have to mention the one horse that all Hokkaido Likers should all know, the Hokkaido Washuba. One of the eight native horses of Japan, these horses are small but robust. They are especially effective as beasts of burden, able to carry heavy loads easily, but more than that, they are quite adept at managing the harsh Hokkaido terrain. During the Hokkaido Reclamation they were put to great use.
In Hokkaido, horses have been an irreplaceable partner to humans for years. Lately horse trekking has become a popular hobby across Hokkaido, bringing a new use to these beautiful creatures. While no longer needed for labor, horse riding provides a relaxing way to take in the beautiful scenery of Hokkaido and clear your mind. It seems we've begun to create a new horse culture here in Hokkaido, so why not join in and go for a ride?
＜北海道和種馬保存協会＞ (Hokkaido Native Horse Preservation Association)
http://hwasyuba.web.fc2.com/ (English Available)
＜ばんえい十勝＞ (Tokachi Ban'ei)
http://www.banei-keiba.or.jp/language/english.html (English Available)
＜ホッカイドウ競馬＞ (Hokkaido Horse Racing)
＜北海道遺産＞ (Hokkaido Heritage)
Homepage : http://www.hokkaidoisan.org/ (Japanese)
Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/hokkaidoisan (Japanese)
(Hokkaido Likers Writer T・H)
(Photographs provided by Hidaka Town and NPO法人北海道遺産協議会)