Posts Tagged ‘honoring horses’

The four winds are blowing

Carry me brave and true

Some horses

Are coming

–– Sung by Brave Buffalo

I spent a fair amount of time in my youth watching Westerns, which boiled down to fights between cattleman and sheep ranchers––­­ and cowboys and Indians.

Indians were depicted as stealthy and expert horsemen. During battles the Indians rode bareback, slipping off to the side of the horse, becoming invisible while they shot arrows from below the horse’s chin. In short, they always out rode the cowboy, but they always lost the battle.

My recollections bring forth a pre-battle dance around the fire with chanting, rattles and drums. The War Cry. But something happened and now I am wondering if they were singing to the horses that would take them into battle.

dance stick honoring a prize horse

This week I got a chance to review to those images when I attended the National Museum of the American Indian with fellow blogger Global Horse Culture.  The name of the exhibit says it all “A song for the Horse Nation.” In addition to some well-preserved artifacts the exhibit depicts the importance of the horse in the life of the Plains Indian. Global Horse Culture has a nice link to the exhibit information.

I am always amazed at the impact of the horse on people. The Indians met the horse quite a while before they actually could use the horse. The Conquistadors were careful not to let their steeds into Indian hands. Sometime in 1680 it is credited that a large herd of horses were freed in a battle and that’s when Indians became involved with the horse.

By the 1870s most of the Indian Wars were over and the U.S. government had pretty much stripped the native population of their horses. The most notable horse story is of the last Nez Perce battle and the loss of thousands of its appaloosas.

buffalo hunt on foot

So in a period of a bit more than 150 years the many divergent parts of this culture learned how to ride, train and breed the horse. In a span of 150 years the horse changed the Indian’s life because before there was the horse, life was pretty much walking in search of food. There was no additional time for beadwork, painting teepees and other art forms. Every day was consumed with finding food and shelter. On horseback food came faster and easier, freeing more time to make beautiful things that all depict stories of their life on the plains. The horse helped them move their belongings and yes, the horse helped them wage war on each other and on the new invaders.

The horse is depicted in numerous scenes and became the base for its own art form of beaded saddle pads, cruppers, hoof covers,  bridles and saddles. The word “horse” showed up in names like; Crazy Horse, Horse Capture and Her Many Horses. They gave horses as gifts and stole prize horses from other tribes and the U.S. Calvary. They immortalized their favorite horses in teepee drawings, beadwork and dance sticks. An Indian’s prize possession was a good horse and the number of horses owned indicated status. They had different horses for buffalo hunts and war parties.




A horse


–– Sung by Brave Buffalo

In 150 years the horse had become a mainstay and focus of their culture. The marriage of the two becoming so entwined that when the Indian lost the horse, they felt a loss of their essential being. It was a crushing blow to their culture. For the Plains Indian no other animal became such a critical part of their culture in so short a period of time. They depended on buffalo and elk for sustenance, and they had dogs throughout the camps. But it was the horse they sang to and of.


My horse

Flies like a bird

As it runs

–– sung by Brave Buffalo

It was the horse that humbled them and it was the horse that brought individual honor. Even now the American Indian struggles with his identity without the horse in it.

That speaks well for the power and magic of a horse. That this animal could offer life changing opportunities, become integral to the culture so quickly and the loss could be felt so profoundly for so long.

I never thought about honoring my horse with a song, but I think the next time he carries me safely back from a harrowing ride I will compose a song and sing it to him. But it will be hard to come up with anything as beautiful as this one:

Out of the earth

I sing for them

A Horse nation

I sing for them

Out of the earth

I sing for them,

The animals

I sing for them

-Sung by Lone Man (Teton Sioux)


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