Ishikawa: Ex-racehorses enjoy new life in retirement

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Katsuhiko Sumii poses with a horse at Tainizu Farm in Suzu, Ishikawa Prefecture.

SUZU, Ishikawa — A number of racehorses that have been retired from the sport are living out the rest of their lives on a farm at the tip of the heavily forested Noto Peninsula.

Last October, Katsuhiko Sumii, a former horse trainer for the Japan Racing Association, established a breeding environment for the animals on the property of Tainizu Farm, a facility located about 150 kilometers northeast of Kanazawa, which accelerates his work of accepting retired racehorses.

Commuting from his home in Wajima, Sumii cares for the horses and participates in community cleanup activities with them.

Hailing from Kanazawa, the 57-year-old trainer earned his certification in 2000 and opened a stable of his own the following year.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Participants on a trial tour interact with Dream Signal, a retired racehorse, in Suzu, Ishikawa Prefecture, on Nov. 13.

Horses under his training have gone on to win 39 Grade 1 races, each of which can have cash prizes of hundreds of millions of yen. His first pupil to claim a G1 victory was Delta Blues at the Kikka Sho in 2004, followed by Vodka, who in 2007 became the first filly to win the Japan Derby in 64 years.

Immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, Victoire Pisa brought a bit of hope to the disaster-affected nation by becoming the first Japanese racehorse to win the premier Dubai World Cup. Sumii was at the heart of all of these races in the vanguard of Japan’s horseracing as a top trainer.

Pasture has few residents

However, there is something that has been on Sumii’s mind for about 10 years now.

Of the roughly 7,500 racehorses born every year, only a handful live long enough past retirement to breed. While there are cases of some being taken in by equestrian clubs, most of them wind up being culled.

“Horses helped me rise to fame from nothing. I have to return the favor,” Sumii said, reflecting on his decision to gradually shift his focus to retired horses.

He was also motivated by an encounter with Horse Friends, an Osaka Prefecture-based nonprofit organization geared toward truant students that offers horse riding and lessons in caring for horses. After learning about horse therapy, Sumii became determined that he could give retired horses a chance to live.

During his time as a trainer, Sumii held charity events to call for donations for caring for retired horses. At the same time, he realized the necessity of creating an environment to care for them permanently to save as many retired racehorses as possible.

After his retirement as a trainer in February last year, Sumii moved back to his hometown in Ishikawa and worked to create an environment to accommodate the horses.

New business up and running

“After my retirement, the way I interacted with horses changed completely,” Sumii said with a laugh.

On the farm, horses are fed as much grass as they want, which allows them to fatten up survive winter. This is a far cry from his days as a trainer, when he would dress horses in special garments to prevent weight gain.

Sumii’s new endeavor, unfortunately, coincided with the coronavirus pandemic. As people converse less to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, some have sought to ease that burden through horses, and horse riding has become popular.

“Everyone seeks connection,” Sumii said. “If interacting with horses has the power to ease someone’s loneliness, that’s wonderful.”

As the population of Suzu continues to decrease, Sumii hopes to revitalize the city through horse-related businesses.

“From an economic standpoint, job will be created, and people will have more chances to interact with horses,” he said.

Sumii has already organized a trial tour package in which people interact with horses.

“People today live fast, just like racehorses,” Sumii said.

After working in such a competitive field, Sumii has a unique outlook on the world. His goals are to realize a society in which horses and people can live together and to revitalize regional communities, starting from deep within the Noto Peninsula.