Yuko Kitai has represented Japan both domestically and abroad as a dressage rider. She participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2016 Rio Olympics. Yuko also owns a select shop of horseback riding gear. She is working on various products as part of a collaboration with Why.
Horseback Riding is Stylish
-- Growing up in a family that ran a riding school, how did you come to spend time with horses?
I would ride ponies since early childhood, but I didn't seriously start pursuing competitive riding until I was in my 2nd to 3rd year of middle school. As I began to participate in small competitions, I decided I would aim for the national level when I reached high school. I then ended up competing nationally for three years. I joined the horseback riding club at my university and competed in the national student championships, then after 3-4 years I began participating in the national adult championships.
-- While competing you also founded your shop, La valentina saddlery. What led you to start your own business?
I started La valentina saddlery in 2012. I wanted to create riding gear that I personally wanted to use.
When I started going to competitions abroad, I would notice so many beautifully dressed horses there. At these international championships, many horses would be equipped in matching blankets and tack. The moment you saw them led out of their trailers, you couldn't help but be amazed at their magnificence.
It left a strong impression on me, I began to think about how nice it would be if Japan sold similar merchandise. At the time Japan didn't have such pretty riding gear, so I decided I would make it myself.
-- What kind of riding gear do you sell?
I sell accessories like British fur hats, mufflers, and culotte pants. The shirts are from an Argentina brand called "La Martina". Japanese customers may not know of the brand, but they do know these products can't be found anywhere else in Japan. Whenever I get a shipment in they always sell out immediately.
-- Can you tell us about any future developments you have planned?
I would like to start selling jackets next. The jacket I wore in the Olympics is worn by many famous figures abroad. These jackets are tailored by craftsmen in Germany and can't be found in ordinary stores, they are products of great workmanship. At the Olympics this year, us 4 members of the Japan team requested to wear them, we all matched with each other.
-- Is ordering clothes different from buying them normally?
In Japan, all that's available are ready-made clothes. You may feel that the clothes don't fit your body. Tailored clothes are made to fit you perfectly.
-- Your clothes always seem to fit you nicely.
My tailcoat was also tailored for me. I have a slender frame, so I request my apparel to be tailored to make my body look bigger to hide those faults. People frequently tell me I look much taller when I'm riding a horse, but in truth it's all thanks to my clothing.
-- That is some amazing craftsmanship.
It's a craftsmanship that can't be found in Japan. That's why just the other day I was in Germany to talk about placing some orders. They even make some of their cloth with horsehair. I want to introduce these great products that aren't available in Japan to my customers.
Meeting with Why, and a Sudden Proposition
-- How did you meet Why?
I first saw Why at the booth next to mine during the Tokyo Dressage Tournament. I had brought a German boots manufacturer to my La valentina saddlery booth, and that was when we first spoke with each other.
-- You started using a Why rider's bag.
For the Olympics, I used a Why x HORSE LOVER x kc. 3 Way rider's bag. I also used it during the Rio Olympics. My horse and I use light brown as our theme color, so I chose the brown version. I like how I can put my boots and helmet in it, and use it as a backpack.
The Rider's Bag with her name embroidered on the front, on her way to Rio.
-- Is that when you decided to collaborate together?
Why's harness designs have a cute and diverse color variation. When I first saw their products, I was completely fascinated. I immediately thought we could make a lot of great gear with this material. I then asked them if they would be interested in working with me.
-- What have you worked on together since then?
We have created horse tack and boots bags so far. Why is a 50-year old brand, their material is of great quality and very reliable. If something gets dirty, simply wiping it will make it good as new again. Isn't this horse tack pretty? I would love to hear feedback from all of you.
-- Besides manufacturing, what other details are you particular about in your products?
I put compartments in the boots bag so the boots can be put in separately from things like helmets, as I personally tend to put my helmet in my own boots bag. I think it's designed conveniently so that even those with long legs are able to take their boots out of their bag to wear first.
Combined helmet bags have already been released by Why x HORSE LOVER x kc., so I will leave them in charge of making those types of products.
-- You are quite specific in your designs for creating new products.
I wanted to be able to fit two riding spurs into one pocket, so I designed a gusset on the side. I also designed the bag able to be worn over the shoulder or carried in your hand. I make products based on how I would envision using them, so I make very specific requests of manufacturers. This product comes in 10 colors, I think it turned out far cuter than I originally envisioned.
-- Do you come up with your products one after the other?
I have a curious personality, I'm always thinking up different ideas. If I don't create something, I can get bored. I make sure to properly plan it out, of course. Though I tend to get these instant sparks of inspiration. For instance, I'm always thinking about what country I want to go to, or where I want to travel to next. Even with this collaboration, the second I saw the material I was already imagining what kinds of cute products I could make with it.
-- Your intuition is important.
Exactly. You also choose your horse with intuition. Say you're dead set on a specific horse, but you see someone else riding them and realize they may not be a good fit for you after all. If you get an intuitive feeling that they are the right horse for you, you choose them. I believe it's the same kind of intuition I get when designing products. I live by my sixth sense.
-- Is there anything new you would like to try in the future?
There is a lot of riding gear being made abroad, I would like to import and introduce more of those products to Japan. Likewise, if we are able to make more quality products here then I would like to introduce them overseas. I was able to create some fantastic products through my collaboration with Why, I hope to wear them on display when I go compete abroad again.
Yuko in a meeting discussing new collaboration merchandise. Using her own personal experiences, she refines her products down to every single detail.
Yuko's father runs La Hacienda Riding School. The riding club has a refined atmosphere and green fields, there are horse-themed ornaments everywhere you look.
Yuko Kitai was born in 1973, in Kanagawa prefecture. She was a member of the horseback riding club at Aoyama Gakuin University. She has since participated in the Olympics two times as Japan's representative dressage rider. She has released products in collaboration with Why at her select shop, La valentina saddlery. She plans to open her shop in the Ginza shopping district at the end of 2016.
Photography: La Hacienda Riding School
La Hacienda Riding School is located in a beautifully verdant area of Yokohama, Kanagawa. The school was first founded as Kitai Stables in 1967. Esteemed rider Yuko Kitai was enrolled in the school and developed from a beginner into an advanced horseback rider. The school also has indoor riding grounds, so one can enjoy horseback riding in either rain or shine.
1-6-5 Akuwanishi, Seya Ward, Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture
TEL: 045 (363) 2501