Photo/Illutration Yasuyuki Kawagoe, right, and his partner, Sachie Sasaki, stay in Ibaraki Prefecture in 2019 with a horse named Kirishimano Hoshi in a scene from the film “Kyo mo Dokokade Uma wa Umareru” (A horse is also born somewhere today). (Provided by Creem Pan)

Kyoko Numata came under criticism for trying to save a retired racehorse from the slaughterhouse. The naysayers said her endeavor was meaningless because it did not protect all of the horses.

However, Numata, 69, who chairs the Retired Horse Association (RHA), continued her low-key efforts that made her a pioneer in protecting the horses. Now, with unexpected help from a popular video game, her potential successors are also trying to rescue the retired racers, one at a time.


The Northern Lake ranch in Niikappu, Hokkaido, keeps retired racehorses. (Tsuin Cho)

The Northern Lake ranch in Niikappu, Hokkaido, lies in the Hidaka region, which is dubbed the “hometown of racehorses.”

The ranch features a sprawling pasture where many retired thoroughbreds and foals roam.

The 7-hectare former farm was leased and reopened in 2020 by Yasuyuki Kawagoe, 57, a former stable hand at the Japan Racing Association, and Sachie Sasaki, 56, his partner who writes about horse racing.

The Northern Lake ranch is caring for six horses, including two entrusted by the RHA, a nonprofit organization based in Katori, Chiba Prefecture.

One is Taiki Shuttle, a five-time champion of Grade One stakes races in and outside Japan. During his prime, the stallion would intentionally step on people’s feet seemingly as a prank. Now 28 years old, Taiki Shuttle appears to have lost that naughty side.

Taiki Shuttle, a five-time champion of Grade One stakes races, plays tricks despite his advanced age. (Tsuin Cho)

Another gentle horse at the ranch is 26-year-old Meisho Doto, who won the renowned Takarazuka Kinen competition. The horse is so calm that he does not care when a cat named Meto rests on his back.

When they opened the ranch, Kawagoe and Sasaki focused on protecting a lesser-known horse.

Kawagoe was in charge of handling Kirishimano Hoshi, a smallish filly from the Kyushu region, who ran in 188 events.

The horse never won a JRA competition but persistently performed at the Sonoda Racecourse in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, until she reached a relatively old service age of 10.

Sasaki said she gained “mental encouragement” from Kirishimano Hoshi and her drive to keep running year after year.

Meisho Doto, who won the renowned Takarazuka Kinen competition, enjoys his post-retirement days with pet cat Meto at the Northern Lake ranch in Hokkaido. (Provided by Northern Lake)

After caring for G1 champions Zenno Rob Roy and Zenno El Cid, Kawagoe quit his job at the stable.

When he visited a horse riding club, he learned that a company employee and others were buying a retired race horse to keep at a ranch. That proved to be a wake-up call.

“Although horses brought many benefits to me, I had done virtually nothing for them,” Kawagoe recalled. “The (sale of the horse) made me aware that I had mistakenly believed I was something greater.”

Hoping to “return a favor to horses,” Kawagoe looked around for Kirishimano Hoshi. He found that she was kept at a stock farmer’s facility.

He bought the horse, despite needing 500,000 yen ($3,700) to 1 million yen a year for a place and other costs to keep her.


Each year, 7,000 racehorses are born, and all face the inevitable future of being forced to retire when they can no longer beat their rivals.

Only a few of them can peacefully live out their natural lives.

Retired racehorses are difficult to retrain for pleasure rides. Older horses are often plagued with nagging injuries, so many are slaughtered for food and other purposes.

Numata started a riding club in Katori, where she was forced to broker a deal concerning a violent-tempered horse.

“I felt uncomfortable with the possibility that the horse would be put down,” she said.

Numata and her supporters decided to take care of a single horse. That was 25 years ago.

Despite hearing repeated criticism that she was not saving all the retired racehorses, she never gave up on the approach.

Her endeavor gained the backing even from people who are not horse-racing fans. The work prompted the JRA to take such measures as providing subsidies to support retired racers.

The movement was pushed in part by the popularity of “Uma Musume Pretty Derby,” a video game featuring “horse girls” often named after legendary Japanese racehorses.

The RHA collects donations on the birthday of Nice Nature, who gained attention after finishing third in the Arima Kinen competition for three straight years.

Only 200,000 yen was collected from 48 individuals in the first drive five years ago.

But 54 million yen was donated from 17,000 people this year to celebrate the 34th birthday of Nice Nature.

The RHA also receives messages of encouragement from people who found out about the issue through the video game.

“I learned about (Nice Nature’s) achievements through ‘Uma Musume’ and believe more lives can be saved,” one message read.

The donations will be used for retraining retired horses under a “re-employment” project.

The RHA is now keeping as many as 103 retired horses.

Around 3,300 people in Japan and overseas support the association as members. There are also 40 affiliated farms and schools in Hokkaido, Yamanashi, Hyogo, Okayama and other prefectures.

Numata plans to create an environment where horses are essential for people. She wants to establish a mechanism in which horses can generate profits at their new workplaces without volunteers’ help.

Although she said her final goal is to protect all retired racers, she remains fully focused on a single one in front of her.

“I will be building relationships that make both humans and horses happy,” she said.