Name of breed: Tokara, also known as the Kagoshima horse
Country of origin: Japan
Breed origin: The Tokara is a Japanese horse native to the Tokara Islands, an archipelago in the Kagoshima prefecture at the southwestern tip of the larger island of Kyushu. The horses were discovered on the island of Takarajima by a university professor in 1952. In 1897, people from the nearby island of Kikaijima brought around 10 native horses to Takarajima to use for farming, transporting goods and processing sugarcane. By 1943, there were around 100 horses on the island and they had become part of the local culture, but World War II dramatically decreased their numbers. When Professor Hayashida discovered the Tokara, there were around 43 horses on the island. The following year, the Tokara was chosen as a natural treasure of Kagoshima. However, in the 1960s the breed’s population dwindled further as machinery took their place on farms. Being a pony-sized breed, they were not very suitable as riding horses, either.
In an effort to improve their health and numbers, most of the Tokara horses were transferred to Mount Kaimon Natural Park and Kagoshima University’s Iriki Farm. By 1974, there was only one Tokara horse remaining on the Tokara Islands. This horse was transferred to another island in the Tokaras, Nakanoshima, and bred with Tokara horses that were reintroduced from the mainland. Today, about ten ponies are kept on this island in a free-roaming, breeding herd. The biggest populations are on the mainland at Mount Kaimon and Iriki Farm, though, and in total there are around 123 Tokara horses.
Distinguishing features: Tokara horses stand between 10 and 14 hands high. Originally, they were only around 10 to 11 hands high, but with more care now being paid to their health and breeding, they are gradually getting taller. They have a large head, a strong neck, pronounced withers and a wide topline. They are incredibly hardy and adaptable, surviving in tough conditions with meagre food. They have thick manes and tails, hard hooves, excellent stamina and surprising strength for their size. Tokaras grow a thick winter coat and are predominantly seal brown, although other colours such as chestnut, black, bay and roan are sometimes seen. When domesticated, they are patient and willing to please.
Modern day Tokara: Today, Tokara horses are generally seen as a tourist attraction, whether on the mainland or on Nakanoshima Island. Their population is gradually increasing, although there is a need for exchange of horses between the three isolated breeding groups to prevent their genetic diversity being compromised. The best place to see them is Hirakawa Zoological Park.
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