Breeding of the Taishu, an ancient breed of horse that originated on Tsushima, a remote island in southwestern Japan, is gradually progressing under a program to preserve the endangered equine.

The Taishu is one of eight horse breeds designated as indigenous in Japan by the Japan Equine Affairs Association, and many of them are on the brink of extinction.

In addition to the Taishu, the other indigenous Japanese breeds are the Kiso from Nagano, the Noma from Ehime, the Misaki from Miyazaki and the Miyako from Okinawa.

The Taishu, like most other Japanese horse breeds, is relatively small at an average height of around 130 cm. Noted for their gentle nature, the horses were widely used for agriculture and to transport people and goods.

During the Meiji Era (1868-1912), there were more than 4,000 animals on Tsushima but motorization and mechanized agriculture pushed the Taishu to the edge of extinction, leaving only 25 remaining by early 2006.

To prevent the Taishu from going extinct, residents on Tsushima and the local municipal government are breeding it in a local horse-riding park with the help of an expert. This has raised its population to 38 animals.

But a shortage of stables poses challenges to expanding the Taishu breeding program, said 39-year-old breeder Yumie Shinohara.

In addition, the Tsushima city office, which manages the riding park, is in a financial bind. The horseback riding lessons offered by the office do not generate enough revenue to finance the breeding effort.

Starting in fiscal 2016, therefore, the municipal government plans to collect ¥6.4 million through a furusato nozei (hometown tax) donation system. To encourage people to donate to the breeding program, it will create a system where donors can virtually adopt an animal.

Now that Taishu horses are no longer working animals, coming up with ways of using the horse, in addition to breeding, is important for their survival.

For example, a traditional Taishu horse-racing event was held on Tsushima in 2002 after a hiatus of many years.

Shu Kawashima, an associate professor of animal-assisted therapy at the Tokyo University of Agriculture, said the gentle nature of Taishu horses makes them perfect for interacting with children. Also, riding Taishu horses is said to assist in the treatment of stiff shoulders and back pain.

In fact, Kaori Tsuda, 38, said her 8-year-old daughter Rin’s posture has improved since she began taking riding lessons provided by the city office two years ago.

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