PetMD Editorial

Published Jan. 3, 2010

The Kiso breed originated from Japan. The main uses for this horse are riding and light draft work. Nevertheless, the Kiso has been used for agricultural or farm work; it has also been used for military purposes. The Kiso today is a rare breed, though it was once a popular horse, especially during times when war was frequent.


Physical Characteristics


The horses of the Kiso breed have a large and heavy head as well as a wide forehead.  The neck is short and thick. The trunk is long, with short, but sturdy legs attached. The hooves are hardy and well-formed. The mane is heavy and so is the tail. The Kiso horse stands at an average height of just over 13 hands (52 inches, 132 centimeters).


Personality and Temperament


The horse has the ability to adapt to different climates.  The horse is said to have a mild personality as well as an easy-going temperament.


History and Background


The Kiso has been around for more than a thousand years. In the early days, it was used as a means of transport and as a valuable helper on farms.


There are reports that the Kiso inhabited the region that was once called the Kiriharanomaki. Certainly, herds of Kiso horses did roam the Kiso River during the 6th Century; the Kiso River is in fact the source of this horse breed’s name.


The Kiso, since it has been around for over a thousand years, can actually be considered a native Japanese horse. Nevertheless, Kiso horses are actually believed to be the descendants of central Asian or Mongolian horses.


The Kiso has historically been used for agricultural as well as military purposes. In fact it is said that, during the 12th Century, over 10,000 soldiers used the Kiso as their war mount. During the Edo era, spanning the period 1600 to 1867, the Kiso was once again used for war and was bred actively for this purpose. The population of the Kiso horse rose to more than 10,000 at that time.


In the mid-19th Century (this was the time of the Meiji era) and up to 1903, however, Japan was often at war with foreign countries. The Kiso horse was rather small and thus proved inferior to the much bigger and stronger foreign horses. Japan then made attempts to improve the Kiso; it was crossed with bigger and stronger breeds.


When World War II came, however, efforts to improve the size of the Kiso ceased. Machines and not horses were used for transporting troops and supplies.  Even so, the cross-breeding efforts have already succeeded in depleting the breed. Today, only around 70 purebred Kiso horses remain.

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