Having horses in your Tokyo life

by Danielle Tate-Stratton

Given the size of the average dog (tiny) or backyard (even tinier; if it exists at all) in Tokyo, it might be surprising to find out that there are lots of ways to interact with a much larger animal—the horse. From a day at the races to English-style riding lessons in Yoyogi Koen, there are plenty of ways to horse around town!

Watch the Show at JRA Baji Koen

Originally built as the site for the equestrian competition in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, JRA Baji Koen in Setagaya is still a world-class facility. With large sand and grass jumper rings, a grand-prix dressage ring, racetrack (now used for flat-work and jumping), cross-country course, large indoor ring, extensive stabling, and more, there is always something going on! While you can’t ride here as all of the horses are show horses in training, it’s a great place to spend a day on the weekend when there are often shows going on. Take the family, bring a picnic or buy something from the snack-bar, and settle in to the stands to watch the riders and their mounts soar through the air or complete precision dressage tests—often called ballet on horseback. Take bus 24 from Shibuya Station and get off at the Nodaimae bus stop. Signs are all over the neighborhood. Tel. 03-3429-5101.

A Day at the Museum

Visit the Museum of Horses and Horse Racing, presented by the Equine Cultural Affairs Association of Japan. The museum is located next to the Negishi Shinrin Koen and has various exhibits on art, history, and racing. The third Sunday of every month is pony riding day for kids from 1pm, and every Saturday, children can feed and pet ponies for a short time from 1:30pm. For more information (in Japanese) visit www.bajibunka.jrao.ne.jp.

Alternately, head to Plaza Equus in Shibuya to experience the free racing museum. Run by the JRA, the museum includes a saddle room, gallery of memorable horses, racing book library, small shop, and huge screen to watch races on. Although the signage is mostly in Japanese, you can still see real saddles, lots of pictures, videos of important races, and enjoy the décor—it has been done up to look like an English manor house.

Have a Day at the Races

Spending a day at the races can be a fun outing for the whole family. While you may not want to have Junior betting on the field, chatting about whom you think is going to win and cheering for your favorite horse or jockey is very exciting! Race days tend to have several races on the card, so there are plenty of opportunities to watch the horses turn down the backstretch.

Horse racing

In between crazed sprints for the finish, head to the saddling paddock to see the horses up close and chose your favorite, grab some snacks, and if you wish, place a bet—this is one of the only legal ways to bet here in Japan. There are a plethora of ways in which to place a bet, starting from the simplest method of choosing the horse you think will win and putting money on that one. For more complex betting, you can chose a variety of different scenarios such as the quinella (choose two horses to come first and second), or trifecta (choosing three horses in the correct order to place first, second, and third).

To head to the races without leaving town, visit Tokyo Racecourse in Fuchushi. Admission is just ¥200 on race day (typically weekends), and the racetrack features an 11m x 60m big screen, turf and dirt tracks, and newly refurbished grandstands. For more information about racetracks, racing in Japan, how to bet, and when the big races are, visit the Japan Racing Association (JRA)’s extensive English website at japanracing.jp/en/index.html.

Ride Your Steed in Yoyogi Park

The Tokyo Riding Club is located at the Shinjuku end of Yoyogi Koen and is a great place to get on a horse without getting out of the city. Although lessons aren’t offered in English, those with experience are welcome to rent one of the school’s horses and children can be involved with pony rides. Pony rides take place from 10–11:30am and 3–4:30pm and are open to those 4–12 years old. The ride is fifteen minutes long, and is accompanied by a chance to brush the ponies. At 11:30am and 4:30pm kids can feed the ponies carrots (cut into long thin pieces, please!).

Tokyo Riding Club

If you decide to ride, boots and helmets can be rented for a very reasonable ¥300, and lessons range from a set of beginners lessons (three times in a month) for ¥24,000 to private lessons for ¥6,700 each. For more information or to book a lesson, call 03-3370-0984.