- Kiso -

The Kiso horse has inhabited Japan for over a thousand years. In the past it has been an indispensable aid as a farm horse and for transportation and power. The exact origin of the Kiso and other ancient horse breeds from Japan is not certain. They are believed to have descended from the plateau horses of Central Asia, or from the Mongolian horses of the grasslands.

Japan used horses for military purposes as well as for agricultural and transportation uses. In the 12th century, the famous warrior Yashinaka Kiso reportedly had 10,000 horse soldiers. In the Edo era (1600-1867), there was again emphasis on military use. Kiso canyon belonged to the Owari feudal clan. Records from this time regarding the ancient types have been an invaluable aid to modern horse breeders. The government in the Kiso area considered the Kiso horse a strategic material and thus produced many of them. Now their numbers are over 10,000.

During the Meiji period (1868-1903), Japan fought against several foreign countries, and because the Kiso horse is generally small in size, the authorities discouraged the used of breeding purebred Kiso horses and instead implemented a crossbreeding program between the Kiso and other larger western horses. During the period surrounding World War 2, the government instituted a program for castrating purebred Kiso stallions. Consequently, almost all of the male Kiso horses were castrated. The Kiso was then affected more dramatically by this administrated plan, because the breed had traditionally been considered a good military horse. Other Japanese horses were merely used for agricultural purposes.

The existence of the Kiso breed today is due to a single horse that is regarded as holy. It is kept at the Shinto shrine, and therefore has not been castrated. The horse, whose name is Shinmei, and another Kiso mare named Kayama produced the offspring Dai-san Haruyama in 1951. This horse became the last of the pure Kiso horses. The present Kiso breed is back-bred amongst the descendants of Dai-san Haruyama and other Kiso descendents. There are some ranches in Japan that specialize in just the Kiso, or other Japanese horses.

The Kiso horse has a temperament like the Tarpan....somewhat difficult to handle. They have an appearance similar to the Przewalski, or even the Mongolian horse. Some of them have a dorsal stripe, which is one criteria for measuring the pureness of the horse as a Kiso.


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