The symposium

Doug Joiner addressing the symposium

The study Centre in Kurohime

A Belgian stallion working with the 'chain bit'

The skidding plate attached to swingle tree with rudimentary shafts


I have developed real friendships as well as professional relationships in Japan. The following comments are meant as constructive and, in all honesty, I felt I could not give a true and fair representation of all that I saw without including them.

To see a context for my comments <<click here>>

I apologise for any offence I may inadvertently cause through these observations.

I had difficulties with three main aspects. Harness, bitting and work systems. Not much left, you would think. The horses are largely (and surprisingly) Percherons and Belgians. The Japanese government imported them in the early 20th century to improve the native cob type work horse. They are currently largely used for a peculiar form of horse racing called "Banei" and seem to be very hard mouthed as a result. Retired or failed race horses go to work as horse loggers or general heavy draughts.

One major hurdle is the dearth of harness. There is no new harness in Japan and, apart from Ken Hachimaru’s smart Aaron Martin harness, all the harness used is at least 50 years old. Having a collar is more important than having a collar that fits. There are interesting repairs and I saw collars relined with woven, split bamboo. I did see a couple of detachable pads which was good but there was an awful lot of bits of rope and make do. It took a great deal of ingenuity to get anything like a decent angle of draught with the Scandinavian adaptor kit but we cobbled it enough to get an improvement.

Kit was hung all over the harness, something we all do to an extent, and a large log pick on a short bit of rope was leaving its mark on one horse.

Horses ground skidded timber with traces and swingle tree. A skidding plate was often used and, coupled with rudimentary shafts, a simple over ride braking system was possible similar to that used on Scandinavian sledges. Logs were rolled onto the skidding plate and attached with hooks on short chains, the hooks being driven in by the large log picks which were standard issue. Any additional logs were then rolled on top and chokered down by a wire and winch tightener.

Bitting was a real issue. These horses are hard mouthed. Masa worked his Percheron cross mare, “Kirala” or “Shining Brightly” with a snaffle bit and a pair of lines. She did take some holding as I witnessed and experienced but at least she knew what was wanted and worked well. I saw her right at the end of the stay so was greatly relieved to see a horse being driven well from behind. Masa has the great advantage of being novice and not having a master to teach him the old habits. Much of what he did was influenced by the time he had spent in the UK working with several of us.

Earlier I saw the more ‘conventional’ single line. Now, I am quite enthusiastic about the European single or ‘jerk’ rein having seen it used to very good effect both abroad and in Britain. This is where a short rein is attached to both ends of the bit and a longer, single line, is attached to the short rein by a running ring to control the horse. I have also seen the English single line used to great effect in the Lake District. This is where the line is run through one bit ring, under the chin and clipped onto the opposing bit ring. Both of these systems rely on horses being well versed in working to voice command, the line being there to reinforce and correct. The Japanese single line is a chain, attached quite high up onto the head collar on one side of the horse’s head. The chain is then run down through the mouth and then up to through another ring on the head collar on the opposing side, again quite high up, with a stop to prevent it running back. There is no bit. The stop, a larger ring than the ring on the head collar, is then clipped to a long line allowing the chain to run through and put pressure on the horse’s mouth when pressure is applied.

All 3 of these systems, to work really well, need a horse that is well trained to voice commands and, ideally, does not require the line to be used.

One advantage of the European jerk line is that pressure is brought to bear on both sides of the bit evenly. A disadvantage of the other two single line systems is that any pressure applied is felt on one side only and is likely to pull the horse over to that side, especially if worked from beside or behind the horse. To be fair, the English system tends to rely on the handler being in front of the horse, leading rather than driving, so that effect is reduced.

Using the Japanese system, pressure on the line resulted in the chain being pulled through the horse’s mouth, applying pressure to the tongue and up against the corners of the mouth as well as pulling the horse sharply to one side, at times it seemed almost pulling the horse over. Goodness knows what it did to any wolf teeth or even molars. The horses were clearly distressed by this, even “Samurai Warrior”, Takashi’s horse who was handled quite sensitively, as I would have expected from him. This is a clear example of where the apprentice must follow the master even when they may know better.

The skidding plates were not well designed. The upright at the front might have kept the logs cleaner but was too short and too upright. They did not, for example, allow a load of logs to be skidded up onto the first row in the stack. This gave no advantage over ground skidding with a choker and resulted in the load being spread widely across the landing with the subsequent loads being left behind the first, gradually working uphill and making it a nightmare for the forwarder driver. A taller, more tapered and boat like nose would allow 2 or 3 layers to be stacked on the first. When chokering more in the European way, there was no shortening clutch to adjust the length of the chain.


Horse Logging in Japan

Doug Joiner, representing the British Festival of the Working Horse, went to visit Japan in autumn 2013. The trip's aims were to further collaboration between the British Festival of the Working Horse and Japan to encourage and promote the use of working horses in forestry.

Invited by the Committee for the Restoration of Healthy Forests, the Tono Horse Logging Association, CW (Nic) Nicoll and Mr Miyamoto, the trip was largely self financed with generous support and hospitality by the hosts. It involved a shipment of my horse logging equipment to Hokkaido.

My deepest thanks to all our hosts, notably;

C W (Nic) Nicol MBE

Ken Hachimaru

Takashi Iwama

Mr Miyamoto

Masatoshi Nishino

The Committee for the Restoration of Healthy Forests

The Tono Horse Logging Association

The Afan Woodland Trust

To everyone who helped, supported and befriended us I would like to say;

"Domo arigato"

The first official engagement was to deliver the key note speech to the first Japanese and British Horse Logging Colloquium in Tokyo.

The theme of my presentation was 'Economics, Innovation, Welfare and Training.

This was a dauntingly formal affair with television crews, simultaneous translation and an audience of forestry professionals, government ministers and officials, journalists, environmentalists and timber processors. One of the presentations was by a furniture company who are producing a range of furniture made exclusively from horse logged timber with a branded horse shoe emblem.

We visited model forest restoration projects. Japan is 70% wooded and the native mix of trees is glorious, supporting a diverse flora and fauna including bear. The Japanese government had embarked on a programme of post war forest clearance and replacement with mono culture conifer plantations. Typically cedar these have been undermanaged and, although Japan is 70% afforested, it relies on imports from Canada and America for 95% of the timber it uses. The thrust of the work of the CRHF is to restore the native woodland typically through selective thinnings using horses for extraction whilst developing markets for the home grown timber.

All the horses we saw were well cared for, worked effectively and, especially the 2 strange stallions working closely together at Tono, behaved themselves impeccably.


The model woodland restoration project run by Nic Nicoll MBE and his 'Afan Woodand trust' at Kurohime is an outstanding example of how sensitive woodland management can restore a cedar plantation back to a vibrant, mixed native woodland.

There were also two ‘seeing is believing’ style events in Tono and Hokkaido.


In Tono we saw how the Committee for the Restoration of Healthy Forests was sponsoring horse logging in woodland restoration and saw a Percheron and a Belgian stallion working a steep bank, thinning the conifer plantation and releasing the suppressed native species.

Lunch was a very well organised barbecue - food is taken very seriously everywhere - and everyone was interviewed, filmed and recorded.

Report on the event in Hokkaido on the right.

Horse Logging in Japan has virtually died out. The creation of new associations and the plan for a apprenticeship programme gives hope for the future. One key Japanese cultural restriction is that apprentices are meant to show full respect and deference to their ‘masters’ which includes complete obedience. How unlike the UK. The problem with this is that archaic work systems are preserved unquestioned and ‘modern’ developments discouraged.


On our drive north from Kurohime to Tono we were taken along the coastal area devestated by the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. Despite incredible progress and serious hard work, the evidence of the devestation was everywhere. Bodies are still being recovered and rebuilding is largely being carried out further inland ad higher inn the hills. This is being resisted by some of the traditional communities, including those who make their living on the sea like the fishing communities.

Matsushima is recognised as one of the most beautiful areas in Japan and it is certainly stunning, coastal bays dotted with tiny, heavily treed islands and stunning architecture. It escaped the worst of the effects of the tsunami because of its topography and because of the native woodland which broke up the tsunami and dispersed it to hit the coast with a much less destructive force than elsewhere along the coast.

There is a lesson in that!

"Pray for Japan"

Horse Logging Furniture

Okamura, a Japanese furniture maker, working closely with the Afan Woodland Trust, is developing a range of "Kura" horse logging furniture using cedar thinned from Kurohime as part of the restoration of its woodland.


We enjoyed the most fantastic and generous hospitality.

Japanese food is wonderful, the meals exciting, multi course celebrations of all that is seasonal and fresh.

Accommodation was a mix of Western and 'modern' with traditional Japanese style including tatami mats and low furniture.

Don't start me on the toilets! The most sophisticated, futuristic toilets that we in the West have not even begun to imagine. And then there are bullet trains!!













'Seeing is Believing' in Japan, Tono Horse Logging Association

Masa driving Kirala in the timber arch

Masa driving Kirala in the Combi Forwarder

Mr Miyamoto and his staff with Doug and the Combi Forwarder

Kirala in the combi forwarder loaded by Masa



My final appointment was with Masa Nishino and his boss, Mr. Miyamoto. Mr Miyamoto farms 500 hectares organically. The land is mixed pasture and crops with a large amount of excellent forestry. Farm diversification and its place in a National Park with hot geysers has led to camping and sports areas, forest trails, conservation activities and wildlife management. Mr Miyamoto, a trained forest school leader and very keen horse man, has a collection of native ‘Dosanko’ horses as well as a number of Friesians for his wedding carriage business, sport horses for riding and heavies for work.

They had both spent some time with me in the UK and ordered two Combi Forwarders. This required two Scandinavian adaptor kits to prepare their harness. A large ‘seeing is believing’ event had been planned for Sunday 6th October to demonstrate the new equipment and harness attachments.

Kirala went really well in both the Arch and the Combi Forwarder despite being slightly unsettled at first by the metallic rattle.

Meeting on 6th after an early breakfast, we practiced again and then Kirala did her stuff in front of hundreds of school children, environmentalists, forestry students from Sapporo University and forestry professionals. She was impeccable.

This was a truly historic moment, the first newly designed piece of horse logging equipment in Japan for 150 years!

I have another order for a Combi Forwarder for Japan. The customer for this, Ken Hachimaru, has a new Aaron Martin harness. All I have to do now is to work on getting the others to order new harness.

I was able to enjoy the extraordinary Japanese friendship and hospitality as well as the superb cuisine. Visits to barrel makers, basket makers, woodworkers, temple builders and other traditional craftsmen and women showed a thriving, highly skilled and specialised rural crafts industry.

A good few hours of the final free day in Japan was spent in a whaling ship. Third and fourth generation professional whalers, the family has moved into guided wildlife tours and no longer kill whales.

We set out north from the northern peninsula of Hokkaido until we could see Russia. The boat settled over a deep trench in the sea bed and threw over the sonar. We listened, over the loudspeakers, to a sperm whale feeding in the deeps and then had the amazing good fortune to see the whale twice, really close up.

They dive for 40 minutes and surface for 12 to breathe. We chased the spume on the horizon and watched the whale on the surface before it did a classic and elegant dive, tail fluke up.

The finale! 'Our' sperm whale diving.

A truly breathtaking end to a wonderful couple of weeks.



"Living horse power is cheap and readily available. We can breed horses, without limit, without endangering the planet.We know a lot about them and how to use them. They can pull things for us, carry us, help support our society, feed it and enable it to function. They can do so far better than they did in the past if we take advantage of some of the technical advances made in agriculture and machinery design. They can be fed from our fields. They don't destroy the environment but enhance it. They create employment, not replace it. They are a source of companionship in the workplace, a source of pride and pleasure when seen to be working to perfection in harmony with man and his surrounding. Why on earth don't we use them?"

Charlie Pinney. 2003.



To read C.W. (Nic) Nicol's regular articles in the Japan Times <<click here>>