Shibecha city is mainly a dairy farming town in Eastern Hokkaido. It is a vast plain reminiscent of Mongolian grassland and the vast, flat land is its characteristic. In this special feature we introduce horseback riding which can be experienced at Howlin’ Ks Nature School in the Shibecha city. It is an experience to learn about Hokkaido’s ecosystem while wandering through a national forest on horseback.
Get on the horse and head for the national forest
It is about one hour by taxi from Nemuro Nakashibetsu Airport. Soon we can see Howlin’ Ks Nature School in the pastures of Shibecha.
When I arrived, the horses I would go trekking with today were lined up to welcome me. In Hokkaido, the main horses are the native ones called “dosanko” which originated in Mongolia but the horses here are mixed blood species such as trotters and ponies originating in the West. According to Mr. Kuwahara, the instructor, their features are that they are shorter than thoroughbreds and not as easily scared.
Before going to the forest, preparing the horse and riding lesson
Before getting on the horse, there are important things to do. The horse must be equipped. Here we prepare the horse by putting the saddle, halter, etc. on the horse we will ride. As Mr. Kuwahara teaches, you place the saddle, adjust the bridle and put the bit in the horse’s mouth. If you are too slow, the horse will get anxious but if each step is not done carefully, there could be an accident so the point is to do it quickly but carefully.
When the horse is “dressed,” we actually get on the horse, hold the reins, and practice controlling direction while pushing down to the left or knocking to the right. Give signals- when you want to stop you pull the reins in front to apply the brake and when you want to go, lightly tap the horse’s belly with your heel.
When we are all ready, we’re off to the forest
Once the basic operation was mastered, it was finally time to leave for the forest. We will take a leisurely walk on a straight road that stretches out ahead. I enjoyed getting to know the horse while practicing tapping the horse’s belly and running fast.
Walking on the public road for about 30 minutes, we arrived at the entrance of the national forest. I had imagined riding on a path without roads, but the forest road was set enough to allow a car to go through.
The wind stopped in the forest and it was tranquil. The horses are also a bit nervous. That is to be expected as this forest is also the habitat of wild animals such as deer, bear, owl, and so on.
I asked Mr. Kuwahara about Hokkaido’s ecosystem
Mr. Kuwahara, who is from Nagano prefecture, had a dream of living around animals, studied wildlife management at Alaska State University, and started Howlin’ Ks Nature School in 1998 with the concept of “thinking of nature through the eyes of wolves.”
Because of the possibility of attacking livestock and people, with the development of the land in the Meiji Era, the ezo wolves which once lived in Hokkaido were removed by people and then became extinct. According to Mr. Kuwahara, in Hokkaido’s current forest ecosystem, since there are no wolves at the top of the food chain, there are many problems. Then, this also has an effect on human activity. For example, the influence of ezo deer on the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industries. According to a 2016 survey in Hokkaido, it was reported that they cause 4,250 million yen in damage.
Recently, there is the issue of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellow Stone National Park in the America but in Japan, people object because the wolves might attack people so they have not been reintroduced yet. First of all, it may be necessary to acquire accurate knowledge about wolves and ecosystems. In this quiet forest, the pioneers of the Meiji era who would have proceeded with the cultivation of the land with horses, and the appearance of the wolves that once existed in this forest are remembered.
We return to the meadow again and thank the horses we rode
As we pass out of the forest, we came out to the pasture and the cool breeze returned. It was about 1 hour 30 minutes riding since departing from the nature school and returning, but since I was a beginner at horseback riding, it was hard to get off the horse at last. Returning to the facility, removing the saddle from the horse and releasing it to the premises, we could see the horses that had been quiet splashing in mud or drinking water.
When they calm down, we can give them words of appreciation and let them eat grass.
At Howlin’ Ks Nature School, not only we can interact with the horses by preparing them for the ride and feeding them grass, but we can also learn about Hokkaido’s forest ecosystem so it is recommended. If you are interested in horseback riding in the forest and Hokkaido’s ecosystem, please be sure to visit!
About Howlin’ Ks Nature School
Prior reservations are required for horseback riding and accommodation. Please direct questions to the contact listed below.
Address: Hokkaido, Kawakami District, Shibecha-cho, Nijibetsugenya 672-4
Email: nature☆howlin-ks.co.jp (please replace ☆ with @)
Access from Nakashibetsu Airport: 1 hour by taxi from the airport. For taxi, we recommend Nitto Hire (0153-72-3231).