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Japan: Arrivals
Images by John and Steph
...Story part 5
We enjoyed a wonderful dinner with our hosts – plenty of good food and spirits, and between the Hasumis, Yaguchi, Dinah, John and I there was also plenty of good conversation – about horses and rides and Japan and Idaho and Tevis and Dubai and FEI. And after a good night’s sleep we were up early for breakfast and then off to the Arabian Horse Ranch to start previewing the trails for the CEI*** ride. Hasumi’s Arabian Horse Ranch is located near the little village of Kitakaruizawa, walking distance from the resort. His forty acres of pasture and trees and the beautiful lake ‘Lake Shining Moon’ give one a sense of peace and privacy. This is a sparsely populated area. Much of the surrounding land is owned by the state and the city, and the mountain ranges dominated by steaming Mt. Asama are too steep and forested for development or agriculture.

Hasumi is steadily building his Endurance stable. He has wonderful facilities at the ranch. A house facing the lake, a bright cabin for the office and for Harumi’s pottery, a few small cabins for guests and helpers, and a wonderful barn complex with stalls, tack room, wash room and arena. He currently has 11 horses in training at the ranch– some are seasoned 100 mile horses, some are young and in the first stages of training for Endurance. They are beautiful horses, each with it’s own saddle and it’s own set of biothane tack. One of Hasumi’s dreams is to be able to field a full team of six Japanese horses and six Japanese riders at the next World Endurance Championship. This is one of biggest motives for pursuing the CEI*** ride at his ranch in 2007.

We arrived at the ranch, ready to ride. Hasumi and his stable hands had 4 horses cleaned and tacked up and ready for the trail. Today we were to ride three of the loops intended for the ride. We saddled up, adjusted tack and stirrup length and followed our guide (one of the young trainers that Hasumi employs) out onto the trail. My horse was a young mare – without a lot of training yet, her turns and stops were a little iffy, but she was content to plug herself into position behind the lead horse and I was content to just let her stay there. She was actually a very nice ride – good gaits, very foot sure – and she moved out very nicely. John and Dinah seemed happy with their horses too, John was riding a nice seasoned gelding, last year’s ‘All Japan Championship’ winner.

The trail we rode was Loop 1, the Blue loop. Part of it wound through the village on public roads, and part was on trails forged into the forest of the ranch. It was a blast! We zigzagged through the dirt and gravel roads of the village. It was great footing, cool and forested (the rain had stopped), and it was fun to see the cottages dotted along the roads. A few animals, a few pedestrians, interesting signs and markers. A river runs through the area, bordering Hasumi’s ranch on one side. Much of the trail through his ranch goes beside the river, with some of the loops crossing back and forth from bank to bank, and actually traversing the river for a bit. It has a sold sandy surface, some rock but not too much. Very pretty.

After the first loop (22 km) we returned to the ranch for a drink, a bite to eat, and to swap horses for the next loop (28 km). The Japan Championship ride had been just two weeks earlier in Hokkaido and all of Hasumi’s experienced horses had been entered. So we were only to ride each of the experienced horses on one loop, and were also riding some of the younger horses which were fresh and eager. John’s mount this time was a young gray gelding – Hasumi said that this was his favorite- he always wanted to go. Plus he had a little ‘ceremony’ each time he was mounted for the first time by a new rider. John stayed on. Hasumi commented “he’s a good rider”. My horse was a big strong gray, fine once we took the crupper off (not used to it yet) – he was a good ride, no fuss, just wanted to go down the trail. He’ll be a good one I think. Dinah had a beautiful gray mare – a bit of a princess on the trail, but strong and willing.

The second loop had more trail inside the ranch. Hasumi has been building trails on his property – 4 foot wide swaths following the countours of the hills, the bank of the river, the flat areas, around the lake, the pastures… He estimated that he has about 30 km worth of trail developed in his 40 acre property! The trail is beautiful and fun to ride – good footing, some climbs – but it is going to be a challenge to mark. Most of the loops share sections of the trail, some crossing, some switching back and forth. The trail was diligently marked with colored arrows, but it got confusing in areas with high visibility and many arrowed sections to be seen in one area. Work to do.

After the second loop I suggested that we not go out again that afternoon (the original plan was to ride 3 of the loops) but rather get together in the cabin and look at the maps and talk about the trail. Plus my legs were a little sore from the strange saddle and a beer and snack sounded awfully good….

All agreed that it was a good plan, so the horses were turned out and we spent the rest of the afternoon in the cozy cabin pouring over the maps and talking about the trail. Neither Harumi nor Seiichi had seen the markings on the trails that we had just ridden, they had just very recently been finished, so we explained the problems and they listened very intently. No real problems, just areas that could be confusing to tired or hurried riders. The trail is so beautiful, we assured them that so far the course that they had designed would be perfect. Good footing, some hills, some flat, plenty of variety. It will not be a sizzling fast course, but also not too difficult – and with the public trails, the river, the forest and the mountain trail (which was to be tomorrow’s ride) it would be scenic and interesting.

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