rescue horse

A concerned reader recently contacted RocketNews24 with regard to what appears to be a case of animal cruelty on Mount Fuji. As animal lovers, we got right on the case and, while doing our research, found ourselves learning all about abuse issues related to horses and signs of neglect. Our research took us overseas to the U.S., where we sat down to interview a horse trainer who speaks candidly about the reasons animal cruelty is so hard to eliminate.

In this article, we address our reader’s concerns about horses being used to carry tourists from station to station on Mount Fuji. We’ll also learn about equine nutrition, exercise, and mental health.

But before we start accusing others of mistreating their animals, it is important that we educate ourselves so that we can fairly assess an animal’s situation. Only once we know what makes a healthy horse can we begin to evaluate the horses in question.

Horses are beasts of burden that humans have been using for thousands of years as draught animals, pack animals, and to pull carts. These days they’re also used for pleasure riding, showing and racing. Horses have always enjoyed a close relationship with humans and they can be surprisingly affectionate, as well as highly intelligent, animals.

So, what makes a healthy horse?


▼ A healthy hoof

healthy hoof

▼ An unhealthy hoof: dried, splayed and cracked.

hoovesFlickr (andrew prickett)

In the same way human health is often revealed in the condition of one’s fingernails, horses show signs of neglect and malnutrition in their hooves. A healthy horse will have trimmed hooves that are not dry, cracked or splayed. Horse owners should give great care and attention to their horses’ feet and should clean the bottom of the hooves daily with a hoof pick. If a horse is suffering from malnutrition, you may notice thick ridges in his hooves. If the hooves have not been trimmed, and they are so long they curl up at the ends impeding the horses ability to walk, then that horse has been extremely neglected.

The Coat

▼ A healthy, shiny coat

2015-08-17 22.31.55

 ▼ A cropped mane and brushed tail show that a horse is well-groomed.

2015-08-18 05.26.34

A healthy horse has a rich, shiny coat. This includes the mane and tail, which should be brushed regularly and not all knotted up and full of burrs. Brushing helps remove dead skin cells and keeps the coat free of debris and fungus. Conscientious owners may also trim their horses ears, fetlocks (near the hooves) and the coronet band of the hoof (where the leg meets the hoof). Malnourished or poorly maintained horses will have a dull coat that lacks luster.


▼ Clear eyes.


A horse’s eyes should be clean and clear of mucus and infections. Some owners will put masks made of fly netting over their horses’ faces to keep the flies out of their eyes, especially while the horse is turned out to pasture.


▼ Horses that have been rescued from abusive owners, like this one, may shy away when you try to pet them.

rescue horse

Does the horse shy away from you when you try to pet it? Horses that have been previously hit on the head, face or chest may flinch if you raise your hand. Abuse issues from previous owners can live on for years after finding a better home.



Is the horse sound? If a horse is limping or has an odd gait, then he should be taken out of service and rested. If visible lameness is apparent, the horse should be allowed to play in the pasture until he has fully recovered.


sheathFlickr (Hunter Desportes)

One sign of a healthy male horse is a clean organ. When geldings (castrated males) relax, they often let their penis drop and hang. If the penis is clear of debris such as mud and dirt, and there is no dry, peeling bits, their owner gets five stars! Conscientious owners will clean the horse’s sheath to avoid infection.

These signs of a healthy horse may seem obvious. But there are other things that may not seem so obvious. So, let’s address the points our concerned reader raised about horses seen on Mount Fuji:

“Horses tied up in a restricted fashion, some facing the wall, unable to see anything around them or interact with humans and other horses.”

▼ Horses at rest usually wear nylon or leather halters, like these, which make the horse easy to lead and tie up.


When horses are tied up for short periods of time, they are often tethered on a short lead. A short lead ensures that they won’t pick on their neighbor should they get bored. In addition, if the horses are still wearing their bridles, they should be discouraged from eating grass or anything growing on the ground, so a short lead prevents this. As long as the horses aren’t left there all day, they are perfectly fine tied up like this, even if they are facing a wall.

“Horses with white foam around their mouths, possibly from dehydration as I did not see any horse being given water/tied up near an accessible water source.”

▼ A horse foams at the mouth due to a clover bacteria in the fields.


Horses should always have fresh water available. In this case, we’re not sure exactly where the horses were tied up, so we can’t know if someone comes around and brings them a drink now and then or not. It might be alarming at first, but the white foam at a horse’s mouth is quite normal for horses who have bridles on, and thus bits in their mouths. Some horses “chomp at the bit” and produce the foam while others may have a clover bacteria in their mouths that produces spittle (and which can’t be helped) even when they’re wearing a halter. Another factor that can bring on foaming at the mouth is eating grass or grains while the bit is in their mouth. Of course, if they’re not bridled or clearly have not been given water for many hours then that’s another story altogether.

▼ A snaffle bit


Bits do not harm horses. The traditional snaffle bit, with a break in the middle, is a soft, kind bit that most horses respond well to. More ornery equines may require a slightly harsher bit without a break in the middle.

“Horses tied up in direct sunlight.”


While horses prefer shade on a hot, sunny day, they’re okay in sunlight too. Their coats will shield them from the rays of the sun. Again, as long as they’re not forced to stay in a scorching sun all day long, and as long as they have water, they should be fine.

“What appeared to be severe undernourishment.”

▼ This horse seems a little skinny, but thankfully nothing to be too concerned about.


While it would be nice to see a little more meat on the horse pictured above, allegedly one of the horses used for tourism on Mt. Fuji, having spoken with experts and shown them the images, we’re relieved to say that this horse probably isn’t malnourished. Horses often rest one back leg while standing, like this one is, so this is not a sign of fatigue or lameness and is probably more of a sign of boredom! While this horse’s decidedly slender body may be somewhat troubling at first, the good news is that his coat is shiny, his hooves appear to be in good condition, his mane and tail are decent and it looks like his ears are trimmed – all good signs and indicators that he’s probably okay.

▼ This horse, however, does appear to be very underweight.


This photo, also purportedly taken on Mount Fuji, does make one wonder if this particular horse is getting enough food and nutrition. We can’t tell if they actually ride the horse, and the odd combination of halter and snaffle bit makes us wonder what exactly they are using the horse for. This horse looks to be a couple of hundred pounds underweight and definitely shouldn’t be used for riding.

Another concern our reader had for the horses they saw on Mount Fuji recently was that they were “being hit with a stick by rider while ascending the mountain (rider appeared to work with the horses and was not a tourist).”

▼ Saddle pads are used to protect the horse from sores or rubbing caused from wearing a saddle.


I can’t be sure what type of stick this was, so it’s difficult to evaluate this statement, but short horse whips, called “crops” are used by horsemen to encourage horses to do things, such as to wade through a stream, jump over a fence, or possibly to scale a hill. They shouldn’t hurt the horse and just serve to give the horse a little more confidence by nudging him on. If the “stick” is producing welts on the horse, however, then it’s right to be concerned.

“Horse with coat in very poor condition and covered with visible open wounds.”

▼ Horse with scarring


Although it’s hard to tell from the photo, taken by our reader, these wounds look more like scars from a past experience. Due to the concentration of small knicks concentrated in the chest area, the horse could have been caught in a barbed wire fence at some point or it could be a skin disease. Further down on the chest, it looks like the horse may have a rash. This could be anything from fungus, which can be eliminated by washing the horse’s chest every day for a week, to a rash from rubbing itself on the fence.

▼ Our horse expert tells us that horses will often rub their chests raw on fences, which can leave marks or scars.

2015-08-17 22.29.32

▼ This horse (not living on Mount Fuji) has gotten into some mischief in the field, either with his buddies or from a tree, fence or other object.


The best thing to do if you suspect animal cruelty is to be proactive and inquire about the horses and their health. See how knowledgeable the owners are about their own animals. Ask them how often the horses get watered, what breed they are and how often they get their feet attended to. Often, just a friendly conversation will clear up any misunderstandings. If you still think the horses are being abused, then contact an animal welfare group immediately.

Knowing where to draw the line on animal abuse is extremely difficult. We spoke with Rob Edwards, a man who has been training horses since he was 16 years old, about horses and animal abuse. In this video, he discusses the treatment of horses and why it is vital that we care for them properly.

One thing is for sure, though: the popularity of Japan’s World Heritage Sites such as Mount Fuji should help raise the profile of animals used for tourism. All animals should be well-fed, properly taken care of, and should have their mental health taken into consideration – if you ever doubt that this is the case, then be sure to do what our reader did and start asking questions. Only then can animals and humans live together in a happy, mutually beneficial environment.

All photos © Amy Chavez/RocketNews24 unless otherwise noted.