Also called Hokkaido washu and the Dosanko, the Hokkaido pony gets its name from the island of Hokkaido in Japan. “Dosanko” is a Japanese term for anyone (person or pony) from Hokkaido. It’s similar to calling anyone from Birmingham, England a “Brummie.” These all-around ponies are not found outside of Japan and are considered rare even in Japan.
Although there was a registry set up for Hokkaido ponies in 1979, it does not seem to be in existence today (or, at least, it does not have an online presence in English.) Of all the native Japanese pony breeds, this is the most numerous. However, because of World War II and human population growth, the odds are that this breed will always remain rare.
There were no horses or ponies on the island of Hokkaido until Korean fisherman brought ponies there sometime between 1600 and 1800. Hokkaido is the northernmost main island in Japan and closest to Korea. To save them the bother of trucking the ponies back and forth, the fisherman would abandon the ponies to their fates every autumn and would not return until spring.
The ponies lived on tree bark, bamboo grass shoots and sea kelp. The harsh winters wiped out many ponies, leaving only the strongest. Smaller ponies had more of an advantage than larger ones. They also became immensely strong. When Hokkaido was permanently settled, the Japanese began a tradition of ponies pulling weighed sleds up hills. This was the start of Ban-ei racing. After World War II, the ponies were replaced with European draft horse breeds and then the Ban-ei draft horse breed was created.
Hokkaido ponies only average 13.2 hands tall and are solidly built. They have thick manes and tails, short legs, thick necks and backs (or toplines) that are often straight or have very little dip from withers to hindquarters. Their heads vary in conformation from straight profile to a very slightly dished profile. Eye and ear size varies.
Hokkaidos come in all solid colors, including the more unusual colors like strawberry roan, blue roan, buckskin, cremello, and liver chestnut with a white mane and tail. Some foals destined to be light greys are born almost black and turn a charcoal, sometimes with a white mane and tail, until finally changing into a creamy white with a dark grey muzzle.
Another unusual color recorded in the history of the breed is “blood sweat” or Hanxue which is also found in the Akhal-Teke. The horse is any color but had dark red tinged sweat. But this writer could not find any proof of blood-sweating Dosankos in modern times.
“International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds.” Bonnie Hendricks. University of Oklahoma Press; 1995.
“Wild Horse Winter.” Tetsuya Honda. Chronicle Books; 1992.
Wikipedia. “Hokkaido Pony.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokkaido_Pony
Equinest. “Dosanko Horse.” http://www.theequinest.com/breeds/dosanko/