The Yonaguni is a small native pony of the southwest islands of Japan. In 1996 there were about seventy-five living Yonaguni ponies on East and North Ranches on Yonaguni Island, located on the west side of the Yaeyama Islands.
Little is known about the origin of the Yonaguni. Horses in Japan can generally be divided into two groups, larger specimens from Hokkaido and smaller individuals from Yonaguni. Many people believe that the small horses were introduced from the southern islands during the Jyomon Period, about two thousand years ago. Professor Ken Nozawa of Kyoto University claimed in 1983 that the gene characteristics of the breed indicated relationship to the Cheju breed in Korea.
The Yonaguni are usually chestnut. The head is large with well-placed eyes and relatively small ears; the neck is short and thick; the shoulders tend to be straight; the back is long; the croup is often quite level with a high tail-set; the quarters are slight; the legs often tend to be splayed; the hooves are vertically long and very hard. This pony is gentle in nature and very strong and enduring.In the old days every household had one horse or more for transportation and plowing. In 1939, when local breeds began to be improved to produce larger war horses, the Yonaguni on their remote island were excluded from that plan, and the original breed has been preserved.
As technology has improve, horses have become less important and the population of all horse breeds in Japan has been drastically reduced. Once of great importance in the daily lives of the islanders, today the Yonaguni may be seen on only a few ranches and has become a precious cultural asset.
Population Status: Rare
Hendricks, Bonnie L., International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds, Univ of Oklahoma Press, 1995.