The Study of Human-Animal Interactions The CAIRC Scholarship Program Summary of the Past Researches
Summary of the Past Scholarship Research
From "Letter from CAIRC" February 2006
Research Theme:" The Influence on Local Communities of Contact with Ponies in Urban Spaces - A Consideration of the Significance and Role of Parks that Feature Ponies - "
Satoshi Fukano
Manager and instructor, Pony Department, Tokyo Riding Club
Shibuya Ward's Yoyogi Pony Park was developed in 2003 as a facility that offers opportunities to have contacts with ponies under urban circumstances. Tokyo Riding Club, for which Fukano works, manages and operates the park for the Shibuya municipal government. With the aim of identifying the benefits of contacts with ponies in an urban environment and designing a community-oriented facility that offers opportunities to have contacts with ponies, Fukano conducted four kinds of surveys: (1) a survey of park visitors, (2) a survey of pictures painted by children visiting the park, (3) a survey of organizations using the park and (4) a survey of the operators of other pony facilities.

The survey of park visitors found that 75% of them are residents of Shibuya or neighboring wards. Many of them visit the park as a regular activity in their daily life rather than as a special occasion for sightseeing or recreation. So a high ratio of the respondents had visited the park repeatedly. Contacts with ponies were familiar experience for many respondents. The ratio of the respondents who kept a pet at their houses was lower than the national average ratio of households that kept a dog. That suggests that ponies in such a park could serve as a sort of public companion animals for urban households that cannot keep a pet due to housing and other reasons.

The survey of pictures painted by children who were visiting the park was conducted twice. There were clear differences between the paintings examined in the first survey and those in the second, which was conducted six months later when more children were visiting the park for the second or more time. In the first survey, many children described themselves riding on a pony, while in the second survey, more children described themselves giving carrots to a pony or brushing one. Many pictures in the second survey also showed the hair colors and patterns of individual ponies. Fukano points out some children give carrots to their favorite ponies every day. "Ponies begin to serve as something like companion animals as children have more contacts with them," Fukano reported.

While ponies show the potential to serve as public companion animals, a survey of the operators of other pony facilities showed ponies behaved improperly at a relatively high ratio. Such behavior, it was found, was often induced by visitors' acts that caused strong stress to the animals, such as making a lot of noise or going behind the ponies. The findings highlighted the need to give visitors opportunities to learn about the habits of ponies before actual contacts.

Since ponies are large animals, it is possible to arrange feeding, stable cleaning and other activities to take care of ponies for group programs. Fukano maintains that ponies allow various types of enrichment programs based on interaction with them. The survey of 17 education institutions using the Yoyogi Pony Park for extracurricular and other activities found that 15 of them thought contacts with ponies were beneficial. Many of them called for measures to make it easier for children with disabilities to enjoy contacts with ponies. Currently, individual facilities make efforts independently to improve accessibility for disabled children. Fukano said these facilities should try to improve their skills through cooperation among them and build networks with experts in the fields of medicine, education and psychology.

After presenting his findings, Fukano said he had been aware that while the main purpose of most first-time visitors was riding, repeaters became more interested in feeding and brushing. "I find it quite satisfactory that my study has demonstrated such tendency clearly in objective data like user surveys and children's paintings. Most existing pony facilities focus on riding, but my study points to the importance of offering a wide range of experiences."