Noma horse

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Noma-Uma in Tennōji Zoo 3.jpg
Conservation statusFAO (2007): critically endangered[1]:71
Other names
Country of originJapan
  • Male:
    112 cm[2]
  • Female:
    110 cm[2]

The Noma (野間馬,, Noma-uma) is a critically-endangered Japanese breed of small horse. It originates from the island of Shikoku, the smallest of the four principal islands of Japan,[3]:490 and is named for the former district of Noma, the northernmost part of the former province of Iyo, now Ehime Prefecture.[4] It is the smallest of the eight native horse breeds of Japan.


Japanese horses are thought to derive from stock brought at several different times from various parts of the Asian mainland; the first such importations took place by the sixth century at the latest.[4] Horses were used for farming – as pack-animals although not for draught power; until the advent of firearms in the later sixteenth century, they were much used for warfare.[5]:67 The horses were not large: remains of some 130 horses have been excavated from battlefields dating to the Kamakura period (1185–1333 AD); they ranged from 110 to 140 cm in withers height.[5]:67

The Noma may originate from the small islands of the Seto Inland Sea between Shikoku and Honshū, where it may have been used for transport.[6]:12 According to one account, in the early sixteenth century the daimyō of the Iyo-Matsuyama Han of Shikoku wanted to breed horses for military use. Larger horses were kept for that purpose, while smaller ones were given to farmers, who found them useful as pack-animals on steep terrain. The Noma is thought to derive from these.[7][4] There were not many of them; the total number in the mid-1800s is estimated at about three hundred.[7]

After the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, there was pressure to breed much larger horses for warfare. Large foreign horses were imported, and the rearing of the small traditional indigenous breeds was forbidden.[7] Numbers of the Noma fell sharply. Some isolated farmers kept a few for farm work, but with the mechanisation of agriculture after the Second World War, their usefulness decreased further.[7][8]

By 1978 there were six Noma horses remaining; two were in the Tobe Zoological Park [ja] in Tobe, and four were kept by a private breeder.[7][8] A government-funded reserve, the Noma Uma Highland, was established in 1989 by the city of Imabari, in Ehime Prefecture of Shikoku; it started with thirty of the horses. By 2008 the number had risen to eighty-four.[7][8]

A study of microsatellite variation among Japanese horse breeds in 2003 found the Noma to be closely related to three other Japanese small-island breeds, the Misaki, the Tokara, and Yonaguni.[9]:379


The Noma is a small, compact and sturdy horse. It is hardy and strong, and agile on difficult mountain terrain.[7][8]


The Noma was traditionally used as an agricultural pack-animal, and in warfare; it is now principally a tourist attraction. The Noma Uma Highland is visited by some 20 000 people per year.[5]:10 The Noma is used for riding – often by children – and for horse therapy.[3]:490[5]:10


  1. ^ Barbara Rischkowsky, D. Pilling (eds.) (2007). List of breeds documented in the Global Databank for Animal Genetic Resources, annex to The State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. ISBN 9789251057629. Accessed July 2017.
  2. ^ a b Breed data sheet: Noma/Japan. Domestic Animal Diversity Information System of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Accessed July 2017.
  3. ^ a b Valerie Porter, Lawrence Alderson, Stephen J.G. Hall, D. Phillip Sponenberg (2016). Mason's World Encyclopedia of Livestock Breeds and Breeding (sixth edition). Wallingford: CABI. ISBN 9781780647944.
  4. ^ a b c Japanese Native Horses. International Museum of the Horse. Archived 22 August 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d [Editorial Committee Office of the Japanese Country Report, Animal Genetic Resources Laboratory, National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, Japan] ([n.d.]). Country Report (For FAO State of the World’s Animal Genetic Resources Process); annex to: Barbara Rischkowsky, D. Pilling (editors) (2007). The State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. ISBN 9789251057629. Accessed July 2017.
  6. ^ Taro Obata, Hisato Takeda, Takao Oishi (1994). Japanese native livestock breeds[permanent dead link]. Animal Genetic Resources Information 13: 11-22.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Edan Corkill (18 May 2008). A rare, short breed returns: Back from near extinction, a Japanese Noma horse comes to Tokyo. Japan Times. Archived 1 June 2008.
  8. ^ a b c d [s.n.] (5 June 2008). Japan’s smallest horse saved from extinction. Horse & Hound. Accessed July 2017.
  9. ^ T. Tozaki, N. Takezaki, T. Hasegawa, N. Ishida, M. Kurosawa, M. Tomita, N. Saitou, H. Mukoyama (2003). Microsatellite Variation in Japanese and Asian Horses and Their Phylogenetic Relationship Using a European Horse Outgroup. Journal of Heredity 94 (5): 374–380. doi:10.1093/jhered/esg079. (subscription required).