On the island of Yonaguni, one of the Yaeyama Islands near Japan, you will find a unique culture and breathtaking sights to behold. And if you're a lover of horses, then you'll also be in for a treat. The Yonaguni ponies of their namesake island roam freely and grant travelers a chance to get up close and personal with these wild Japanese equines. They are one of the eight native horse breeds of Japan and are beloved by many who live and visit the island.
On the westernmost island in the Ryukyu Archipelago, at the very edge of Japan, live the indigenous Yonaguni ponies. The island of Yonaguni attracts travelers who want to experience incredibly preserved culture and beautiful scenery. There is the famous Yonaguni monument, the westernmost point in Japan at the west edge of the island features a landmark lighthouse, as well as the Yonaguni Monument (AKA the Yonaguni Submarine Ruins) which features submerged rock formations that can be explored scuba diving. And if you enjoy catching a lovely sunset, this westernmost region of Japan is the ideal place to take in the beauty as the sun sets in the sky.
The island of Yonaguni is only 11.18 square miles, with just over 2,000 residents calling the island home. Yonaguni is surrounded by stunning white sand beaches mixed with rock formations and crystal clear blue water, and their native horses are a favorite thing for many to see. Little is known about these horses, but we do know that these smaller equines (around 11 hands high) are usually a pretty chestnut shade.
As of 2020, there are only 130 Yonaguni ponies in existence. They are also referred to as the Ryukyu horse or the “shima-uma” (which literally translates to "island horse"). It is believed by many that these ponies were first introduced during the Jyomon Period nearly 2,000 years ago. And for the islanders who keep them, they use a specially crafted distinctive single-reined bridle to control them.
According to the Visit Okinawa Japan website, these super rare equines are protected by the people of Yonaguni as part of their Yonaguni Pony Society.
These small horses have been relied on by the people since ancient times for their ability to carry rice and sugarcane around the island. So to show their respect, they are protected and honored to this day because of their efforts. Okinawan tourism encourages people to visit the island and take in its incredibly unique culture while rubbing elbows with the locals and hopefully having a friendly Yonaguni pony encounter as a bonus.
Most of the horses that inhabit the island live semi-wild, but given their calm and tranquil personality, they don't mind onlookers coming in for a closer look at them. Many people will witness them lying on the beach, which just makes them even cuter in addition to their large and expressive eyes and smaller size.
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Want to learn about some more small but mighty horses? Check out our article on five horses breeds that may be small but they're full of might.