Sunday, October 12

"Towada Horse Riding Club" or "WWOOFing in Aomori"

Kaicho and I on my last day
The president of the establishment is 70 years old, and started riding when he was 50. He is like the Kocho-sensei of the place: friendly, grandfatherly and easily won over.

Until now, the only perspective of my WWOOFing experience you've had was the one yucky stall-mucking post. Today, I will finally (a month and a half later) try to give you a more rounded view of how my stay at THRC went.

Tess in the kitchen.

No, that's not just a sassy pose he's striking, he actually has no use of his right hind leg. Since he's so slow, and isn't going anywhere, he usually is allowed to wander about freely.

I arrived on a balmy 30-degrees Celsius afternoon, sunshine, mountains, blue skies, lovely. I was told that I could just chill out for the rest of the day, and that I would start work the next day, but I spent the next couple hours getting a tour of the place and scrubbing water buckets. The next day, my first full day of work, was rainy, dreary and no mountains in sight. I had to be up at the crack of dawn to help get horses ready for what was basically a private pony ride at an area hotel/resort. It was cool and all, the highlight being at the end when something closely resembling the following conversation took place:

Lady Who Worked at the Hotel: Is it an adult?
Me: (mishearing "otoko" instead of "otona", and trying to get a look at the pony's prives) I'm not sure, I'll try and see.
LWWATH: No, is it an adult.
Me: Oh, yes. It's a pony.
LWWATH: You're a woman, right ?
(Me showing a little confusion)
LWWATH: Lady? (in English)
Me (still a little confused): Me?
Me (inwardly a little indignant, but quickly getting over it, as I am, after all, in Japan): Yes, I am female.

I should postface this by adding that I was wearing a silver jacket (see picture with Kaicho) and a brown cowboy hat, too-big jeans and white "sushi boots" (you know, the white rubber boots all sushi workers wear behind the counter). So I may have looked a little manly. But still... we were talking face-to-face... It's a good thing I'd been in this country long enough to not take offense to things that.

The main pony paddock and riding ring.

Pony barn

Tacking stalls

My days went like this:

8:45: Sweep out the "meeting room" of the office. Then head up to the horse barn for some conical (not comical) stall cleaning. Finally, give the horses their feed of hay and a couple scoops of a tofu product and sweep up the aisle.

Little Cowboy
Yes, that is fringe on his vest. Not pictured: His big silver belt buckle and cowboy hat with giant feather. So cute!!!

Pony barn

11:00-ish: Finish up, then head back down to the pony barn to putz around trying not to get too much work done so that there was something to do after lunch. Some morning time-user-uppers included grooming horses that were used for lessons. One day I lead a blind man about on a pony. It was interesting to consider what it might feel like for him up there, feeling the motion of the pony, smelling it, feeling the saddle and the pony's coat. We chatted a bit, which I was so happy that I could do in Japanese. Another day Tess and I helped Nakamura-san lead a family from Osaka about on some ponies. I had the dad's pony, and it turned out he was from Spain, so we chatted during the ride. Twelve o'clock is lunch time for the horses, so before we headed in for ours, there were ponies to be fed in the barn and in the paddocks.

Mai and Me
Mai is one of the two stable hands. She does the pony barn in the morning... and afternoon.

Who's coming? What are you doing?

12:00-1:00: Lunch time. When we weren't being invaded by the Pepper Ladies, Tess and I ate by ourselves in "our" kitchen. When we were being invaded, we ate with Mai-chan in the main room.

Hatchi and Me
A pretty little boy with bad shoulders. The newpaper kept the ointment from getting rubbed off.

Keeping vigil
The week before I arrived, the oldest pony of the stable, and the first pony they'd had, was put down. All week, people came in and paid their respects to Shiro.
The day this picture was taken, the small shrine had been taken out of the stall in order to finally make it ready for its new inhabitant, a yearling by the name of Abiiru, fresh in from the paddock.

Me in front of the horse barn.

No lovely rice hulls for the ponies. It was straight up straw for them.


Good day, Mr. Dung Pile

Pee Lake

1:00-3:00: Help Mai finish cleaning the stalls in the pony barn. Do "mitsuke-souji", that is, try to find any little chore we could think of to keep ourseves busy for the last hour or so: sweeping the aisle and the tacking area, sweeping cobwebs, scrubbing feed and water buckets, cleaning out brushes, helping with pony rides, petting ponies, standing around in the pony barn, untacking ponies, etc.

Tess, my companion for the week.

Riding ring, Yabusame lane and "Wormhole"

4:00: If we were around, we helped Mai and the other groom (his name escapes me at the moment) give the ponies their dinner.


After 3:00 we were done, and free to do as we pleased. Afternoons were spent sipping coffee or tea to get warm and chill out, taking showers, riding bikes to the grocery store or to the "shops," as Tess called them. (^_<) Within the first few days, I desperately needed to find something long-sleeved for sleeping, and a jacket for working. Kaicho had lent me his silver jacket on Wednesday, but I needed something of my own. The home center provided all those things, plus warm socks for wearing in rubber boots. We also had to go to the Pony Onsen to wash our clothes, and we took advantage of the public bath since we were there.

Before I arrived, I was under the impression that my accomodations would be provided by one of the trainers at the stable, as the host's description said "Trainer's house" under housing. But "trainer's house" meant a room in the main office building, which was fine too. Instead of meals, we were given 3000 yen every three days, and we bought and prepared our own food. That was cool too, if a little mendokusai (a little bit of a pain). Showering (with hot water) was done in a "greenhouse" out behind the main building, next to the public bathroom which was, incidentally, our bathroom.

I must admit that the first day I got there, I thought to myself "I'm glad it's only a week." In the end, I'm still glad it was only a week, but I quickly got used to the routine of things, and things that were mendokusai got easier.

Tess loses a hat.

The next day the same baby nipped me in the armpit, leaving a nice bruisy-scrape.

I would totally WWOOF again, although I think many other experiences are a lot harder and with less comfortable conditions than the ones I had. But it's a great way to meet people from the country you're in -and others - and have new and interesting experiences.


The horse barn where I spent my mornings.
These horses are used by the more experienced adult riders.

Two stalls
The one on the left has recently been cleaned. Instead of wood shavings or straw, the big barn uses rice hulls. They were actually quite nice to work with.


The main paddock.
Most of the ponies do not have the luxury of stable living. Instead, they spend their days - and nights - out in the paddock.


The last two workdays Tess and I finally got to go for a ride, at the insistence of Amy-san, Kaicho's daughter. So ride we did. Both days were in the rain, but while the first day was limited to the small pony ring, the second day it was being used for a lesson. So Tess and I were "forced" to go for a self-guided free ride in the vicinity of the stables. SO good!

Me and Corona

What is up, sushi boots.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I live in Gifu City. My father in law owns a horse farm with anywhere between 80-90 horses (he is constantly moving them in and out from other farms in japan). We use momigara in the stalls.

9:45 PM

Blogger Abbey said...

I've seen horses from the train when going to/from Gifu. Could it be the same? It was quite a shock the first time I saw them!

10:12 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Abbey,
There are a lot of horses in Kasamatsu (there is a big horse racing track there) - and the Meitetsu train line runs through there between Nagoya and Gifu city. That must be where you saw them?
But I live in northwest Gifu City, just a few km from Gifu University.
We use miniature bulldozers to clean out the stalls, make big piles, fill up a small dumptruck and carry out to all of the persimmon orchards in the county.

10:35 AM

Anonymous Alli Frazier said...

Hi I live in Misawa and have been riding here a few times. I am DYING to be there a lot this upcoming summer and you seem like you were there a lot. Did you somehow volunteer to work there or do you know if that's possible? I've grown up with horses and had to leave my two boys back home in Ohio. Any info would help!
Thank you,

9:28 PM


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