Photo/IllutrationA child with a disability relaxes through horse therapy in Ritto, Shiga Prefecture. (Ryo Sanada)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

RITTO, Shiga Prefecture--A facility will open here in winter to save retired and injured racehorses from the glue factory while forging bonds with elderly people and disabled children.

The TCC Park Ritto facility will be commissioned and operated by Ritto-based TCC Japan Inc., which manages a racehorse fan club and organizes horse therapy programs.

It will cost 150 million yen ($1.33 million) to build, and organizers plan to seek donations for its operations and welfare projects so that elderly people and children with disabilities can spend time with the animals.

The Japan Racing Association’s Ritto Training Center is located near the planned site. So TCC Park Ritto is expected to be Japan’s first emergency “shelter” for racehorses that suffer injuries or other problems and must withdraw from competition.

Stables have a limited number of stalls for racehorses, and many of the retired ones must leave within a few days to make room for active racers.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, 7,000 thoroughbreds were produced in 2017, while 5,800 thoroughbreds that competed in races organized by the JRA and local operators went into retirement.

Of them, 1,000 are currently kept for breeding purposes and 2,400 for riding. The fates of the other retired horses are unknown, ministry officials said.

“Racehorses can live for 30 years or so, but most of them retire at young ages,” said Takayuki Yamamoto, 38, president of TCC Japan. “Retired horses are still energetic enough to be used as a valuable local resource.”

Yamamoto said he plans to retrain retired racers for second careers in welfare and other programs.

Four of the 10 stalls planned at the TCC Park Ritto will be used as shelters, while ponies and retired racers can undergo training for horse therapy programs there.

Money to manage the horses will be raised through a crowd-funding website and other means. According to Yamamoto, an increasing number of people are already offering assistance.

After establishing an information technology service company in Tokyo, Yamamoto realized the importance of local communities when he joined volunteer activities in areas affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Thinking about how to contribute to Ritto, where he was born and raised, Yamamoto came up with the idea of revitalizing the municipality through “welfare programs involving horses and humans.”

His company has since transferred to Ritto to strengthen its project using horses.

Yamamoto’s wife, Hiromi, 41, became a licensed physical therapist to care for her father, Yoichi Fukunaga, a renowned JRA jockey who quit after falling from a horse and suffering a serious injury.

She also engages in therapeutic activities based on horses.

Yamamoto’s company in September 2015 opened a day-care center where disabled children can spend time with ponies after school and on other occasions.

The children smiled and grew more considerate toward others after going to the day-care center, indicating the horses have “relaxation effects.”

The TCC Park Ritto will provide mental care services for elderly people and working individuals via horse therapy at its 800-square-meter riding ground and by other means.

“I hope environments favorable for both retired horses and humans, modeled after one in Ritto, will spread across Japan,” Yamamoto said. “I want to create a prosperous society, working with horses.”