The bullet train takes us to the outskirts of Osaka, where we move into our hotel for the Miki CDI and Japanese National Dressage Championships. The weather has turned chilly, and it suddenly feels like December. We meet up with Alison King and Maria Schwennesen, our two other foreign judges, as well as some of the show staff that we’ll be working with.
The distance to the show grounds is not all that great, but traffic is a bear on Friday morning. The roads through the outskirts are packed. So it’s quite amazing to leave the city behind and arrive at the Miki HorseLand Park.
The Park is a beautiful facility that hosts dressage, jumping and eventing, and it recently held its first CCI***. The indoor is lovely and horse-friendly. Half the roof is a skylight, the artificial lighting itself is even, the sound system is great, the footing excellent, and there is seating (benches with pads) for a few hundred people on one long side. It’s cold inside, but the judges’ boxes all have small heaters under the tables. I choose the heated viewing lounge above “C” as my aerie.
Not only is the park horse friendly, it is family friendly too. There is an area beside the indoor that is designed for children: a place for them to pet a pony, or take a pony ride, or ride in a small pony cart. In honor of the holidays, said pony pulling the cart is wearing red antlers.
Back on the business side of things, there is a round pen for lunging, and a state of the art hotwalker. The competition stabling is permanent, beautiful and efficient. There is a double training track: about a third of a mile coiled inside a mile, and the crosscountry course makes use of the infield as well. The terrain is hilly and wooded, and the courses run on carefully maintained cleared paths. Only a few of the jumps are permanent: the banks, the ditches, the water complexes. Most of the others are on skids, and can be moved to create entirely new courses. Along the routes are what look like bird houses: they are actually the loudspeaker system and security video cameras.
While many of the dressage horses are warmbloods, there is a larger Thoroughbred contingent here than in the states. The riders here tend to be smaller and leaner than their American counterparts, so the smaller, leaner Japanese-bred Thoroughbred makes sense size-wise. Having grown used to huge warmbloods, I find myself recalibrating my eye for these finer horses.
There are no overweight riders here. There is very little obesity throughout the country. I am 20 pounds over my “happy” weight, and I think I had the highest BMI of anyone at the show…. or most of Japan, for that matter. Part of that is genetic, I am sure, but much of it is diet: many vegetables, much fish and chicken, a bit of pork or beef. No heavy sauces. For our lunches at the show we had Bento boxes, which are traditional collections of Japanese delectables: pieces of tempura, sticky rice, vegetables, something pickled, and a piece of cooked fish. This may be the only horse show at which I’ve eaten lunch with chopsticks!
The awards ceremonies were formal and precise: no horses, except for the CDI awards, just the riders, dressed in show attire, entering the arena in perfectly aligned ranks. All the officials were present, the winners mounted the podium and bowed to receive their medals.
On Sunday evening we drove to the hotel at the Osaka airport. The drive took us through beautiful Kobe, famous for its beef, over the mountains, then through the massive tunnel under the mountains, and down the coastal highway that passed vast stretches of commercial docks and shipworks. Monday morning we’ll leave for our next adventure in Hong Kong.