Ever tried horse riding in Japan? Though an experienced rider back in France, Weekender’s Ingrid Dubreuil had never so much as hopped in the saddle since moving to Tokyo. So what happened when she decided to give it a go and started searching for a club?
Finding and taking a riding lesson in Japan has just been another “hajimete” experience for me and I found that even without realizing, I’d really been missing it…
After a little web research and some asking around, I decided to venture to Okamoto riding club – to the west of Tokyo – which seemed to offer English lessons. I called and got straight through to Okamoto-san (the owner and instructor), who kindly invited me to come on the next weekend and even offered to pick me up directly from the nearest station. This was going to be easier than I thought!
After a bit more than an hour on the Odakyu express line on the following Saturday morning, I arrived to Gotemba Station, where Okamoto-san was waiting for me. After a quick five minute drive, we arrived to the club, which seemed a really nice place, surrounded by nature and at the foot of Mount Fuji.
The club has 14 beautiful horses and an impressive large arena with a spectacular view of Fuji. I must say it was pretty exciting to imagine riding in this amazing environment.
I met other friendly riders, both foreigners and Japanese, and I straight away felt comfortable and welcome as a real member of the group. I also made the acquaintance of my mount, called Bailey, and then we all went for a warm-up ‘hacking’ session through the forest paths around the club.
Walk, trot and even gallop (for the most audacious only!), this outside ride was a good way to get to grips with things here and definitely made me forget I was only one hour from Tokyo.
The serious stuff began when we came back to the arena and started the lesson. Thanks to a very convenient walkie-talkie system under my helmet, I enjoyed a tailor-made private lesson, and could easily hear every piece of Okamoto-san’s advice.
I quickly got back into the swing of things after a while out of the saddle and enjoyed the riding, just as I did back in France. Okamoto-san, who has a sharp command of equestrian techniques, would make you feel comfortable and safe, no matter what your level. I immediately felt that horses were well trained and balanced, which is, I believe, one of the most important things for a positive riding experience.
Okamoto-san (pictured above) recommended several specific exercises and even suggested that I should ride another horse in the middle of the lesson, a great idea that is usually never allowed in other clubs. Exchanging horses is actually a very good way to learn to adapt and to make quick progress. He made me practice in a way that would, I think, help me to quickly improve my level.
After the 45-minute exercise, alternating the three dressage gaits (walk, trot and canter), I already had the impression I was recovering some of my technical gestures and confidence. At the end of the session, I already wanted to get back into the saddle for another round!
As I learnt that the club was also offering jumping and even polo lessons, I have for sure many good reasons to go riding again in this friendly club, which did not only provide what I thought were quality lessons, but also a big breath of fresh air and a real change of scenery.
Three horse riding clubs to try in and around Tokyo:
Hachioji Riding Club
Inspired by a British riding style, the club offers lessons for all levels with instructors including former Olympians and Asian Games medalists. The club welcomes riders of all ages at their main stable, where no fewer than 65 horses and ponies will wait for you. A handful of foreign riders also head to the club’s competition stable, Ongata, where Yasuko Sato provides high-level dressage and jumping lessons in English.
Tel: 090-7188-8532 (ask for Yasuko Sato)
Address: 1-501 Tangi-cho, Hachioji
Okamoto Riding Club
An English speaking environment with easy access to the highway and Gotemba station, this club has many regular riders from abroad. Owner and instructor Masami Okamoto is fluent in English, having wide experience in the world of three-day eventing. Weekends sometimes see polo games and events at the club: call for more details.
Tel: 0550 84 1289
Address: 412-0031 Gotemba, Shizuoka, 378 Numata
Tokyo Riding Club
This iconic club next to Yoyogi Park was founded in 1921 and offers academic style dressage lessons in the traditional mould. On your first visit, you won’t have to pay any membership fees and can select between several lesson types: from 20 min to 45 min depending on your level. There are also private or group lessons (advance booking is necessary by phone.)
Address: 151-0052 Tokyo, Shibuya-ku, Yoyogi 4-8