Saddle up! Horseback riding in pristine natural settings in Japan
The relationship between humans and horses go back a long way—equestrian sports are a great way to revisit that history and get in touch with nature. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of horse riding clubs in Japan, and you’ll find many farms that offer horse riding excursions.
A horseback ride lets you soak in the natural surroundings from a unique vantage point. You can choose from a variety of settings, from mountainous UNESCO Geoparks, vast grasslands, and lush forests to tranquil lakes or sandy beaches overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It’s the perfect activity if you’re looking for a relaxing getaway.
It’s best to make reservations in advance—you can usually contact the facility through their website, by email, or phone.
In most cases, there are height and weight restrictions for participants, so be sure to check beforehand. When riding a horse, you should wear long sleeves, long pants, and athletic shoes, and avoid exposing your skin to prevent injury. Some farms offer rental equipment such as riding boots, winter wear, helmets, and gloves. When trekking through forests on horseback, you might bitten by insects or get a rash from a plant—it’s a good idea to bring some bug spray.
There are many different types of horses, including lightweight breeds, such as thoroughbreds used for horse racing, and intermediate breeds for riding and equestrian sports. In Japan, there are eight species of indigenous horses. Compared to foreign breeds, Japanese horses are generally smaller and stockier, with a height of about 100 to 130 cm. During your horse trekking, you might encounter one, such as a mild-mannered Hokkaido breed.
The Nasu area is located about 70 minutes from Tokyo by Shinkansen or two hours by car. You’ll find rich natural landscapes such as the Nasu Highlands, Numappara Marshland, and virgin forests that spread southeast of Mount Nasu. Home to several hot springs and ranches, the area is a popular highland resort.
At Nasu Farm Village in the southern part of the Nasu area, visitors can enjoy horseback riding in the vast grasslands of Nasu Nogahara. There are 1 km- and 2.5 km-long horseback riding courses that will let you ride at a leisurely pace, spend time with the horses, and enjoy the surroundings.
There’s a restaurant on the premises that serves lunch and takeout meals using fresh local ingredients and an open-space cafe (weekends only). Dressings made from locally-harvested vegetables and exclusive farm products are also available for purchase.
The spot is a 30-minute drive from Nasu-Shiobara Station on the Tohoku Shinkansen.
Kujukuri Beach is a 66 km-long sandy beach with a gentle arc that overlooks the Pacific Ocean. It’s one of Japan’s leading surf spots and also offers an array of marine activities. Sunshine Stables, located adjacent to Kujukuri Beach (Sakuta), lets you go on a horseback trek—you’ll head out of the main outdoor arena and onto the wide sandy beaches of Kujukuri with views of the Pacific Ocean.
Choose among the 60, 90, and 120 minute courses for experienced riders. If you have no prior experience, try the Beginner’s Trail, which includes a basic riding lesson. Anime fans can don their favorite costumes as they ride out to the seaside and have their photos taken on the Cosplay Horse Ride course. There’s a waiting room and changing room where you can change into your costume and put on makeup. You’ll also find a restaurant and a BBQ facility in the premises, so it’s a great place to spend the entire day.
The nearest station is JR Naruto Station, about 80 minutes by train from Tokyo Station.
Lake Toya, located in the southwestern part of Hokkaido, is an enormous caldera lake created by a volcanic eruption. Expect to see lush forests, Mount Usu towering over the southern shores of the crystal clear lake, and a number of hot springs—this dynamic terrain makes up the Toya-Usu UNESCO Global Geopark.
Lake Toya Ranch is located within the geopark and is a great choice for anyone who wants to enjoy the beautiful natural settings on horseback. You can opt for the 90-minute nature tour that takes you along a hilly route with spectacular views of Lake Toya and Mount Usu or the shorter 40-minute course where you’ll trot through a forest to reach a hilltop with panoramic views of the lake. Both these courses are suitable for beginners as long as they have the stamina. If you’re visiting with young children, choose the kid-friendly family trekking course. Lake Toya Ranch also offers horseback trekking even in winter—expect to traverse beautiful snowscapes.
To access the ranch, take the JR train from New Chitose Airport to Toya Station (90 minutes). The ranch is a 15-minute drive away. From Sapporo, it’s about a two-hour drive.
At White Stone R.C., a ranch located in the stunning natural settings of the Zao area, you can enjoy pleasant horseback treks throughout the year. The ranch offers a variety of courses for every level—you can choose to canter up a 600-meter slope, or ride along the forested Aoso Mountain Trail. Adventure seekers can even choose to have the horses transported to a remote location, like a 2-km course through the forests of Zao or along the banks of Sumikawa River. Inexperienced riders can opt to trot past tranquil pear orchards, forests, or ridgelines.
It takes 110 minutes from Tokyo to Shiroishi-Zao Station on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line. From the station, it’s a 20-minute drive.
Located in the heart of Kyushu Island, Aso is a nature-rich area that makes up part of the Aso-Kuju National Park and is also a registered UNESCO Geopark. It’s home to one of the world’s largest calderas, created by a massive ancient eruption.
The expansive Kusasenri grasslands spread over the crater ruins and the Aso mountain range. They’re a paradise for horseback riding and you’ll find many spots that offer equestrian activities. For example, the El Patio Ranch* is located in the north part of the caldera’s outer rim and offers a variety of routes ranging from about 1 km (about 20 minutes) to about 6 km (about 75 minutes). There are several riding courses for both beginners and experienced riders. Enjoy views of the Aso mountains at a leisurely pace as you stroll across the grasslands or choose a course that lets you gallop past valleys and grassy hills.
El Patio Ranch also operates the Aso Highland Riding Club, close to JR Uchinomaki Station. It offers short courses of about 15 minutes to long courses that last around 80 minutes. There’s also a loop course which lets you soak in views of the Aso caldera. Note that there are weight and height restrictions, and it’s best to make advance reservations.
If riding a horse on your own seems like a challenge or if you want to try it with your children, you can choose to hop on a rope-led horse—the horse is led around the farm or arena by a staff member.
Mother Farm in Chiba Prefecture is just a 60-minute drive from Haneda Airport. Children as young as three years old can try horseback riding with a rope-led horse at the facility. There are also spots where you can feed horses, sheep, and goats, and encounter exotic creatures like capybaras and rabbit-like mara.
You can also try a similar experience at the Northern Horse Park, a 15-minute drive from New Chitose Airport in Hokkaido. The spot lets children under 90 cm try horseback riding with a guardian. The place also lets you feed carrot cookies to ponies and holds pony shows—a big hit with children. Horse-drawn carriages that tour the spacious park are also a great option for families.
Modern horse racing, which started in England, was introduced to Japan in the latter half of the 19th century. Since then, horse racing has flourished in Japan, and there are many fans of the sport.
The Japan Racing Association (JRA) has 10 central racecourses across the country, and races are held on weekends and holidays. The races are classified according to the prize money, and major races (G1) such as the Japan Cup, Tenno Sho and Kikuka Sho are held several times a year at various locations, drawing thousands of spectators to the racetracks.
Each racetrack has various facilities, such as athletic equipment and attractions for children, parks, equestrian centers, event halls and stages, salons, and picnic spaces, making them ideal spots for a day trip.
Although most of the local race tracks owned by JRA hold races on weekdays, some of them, such as Tokyo City Racing (Oi Racecourse), hold night races. These night races are well-illuminated and have their own unique atmosphere, making them popular among fans.