Hunkpapa Lakota dance stick, 1899

The horse has always been an object of veneration, and when they were brought into tribal practices and traditions, they became an integral part of their artwork.   The ownership of horses was a sign of prestige among plains tribes, especially.   Horses often figured in their names, and was part of the honor shown figures with high standing in their trappings.

The horse was introduced into this region by the Spanish in the 1600s. Many tribes traded goods for this fleet creature, which freed them from the immediate area surrounding their villages when they searched for game — especially the bison. Now they were mounted hunters in long-distance pursuit of the thunderous, roving herds. In a word, the natives’ way of life changed from agrarian to nomadic hunting and gathering. Later, access to the firearms, which added power, would further change their culture.

The representation of horses was usually as they were seen in motion, and often in battle.   The tipi, blankets, petroglyphs, even articles of wear and general use, took horses as their theme.

Riding at a full gallop with nothing more than a pelt cinched to the horses back they put to shame the generations of European horseman to follow in the West. The Indian and his Spanish Mustang were inseparable companions, sharing a deep sense of friendship and understanding that has not been equaled since.

Supernatural powers were attributed to horses by some tribes.  All of them raided each other and settlements for the horses they prized.

Lakota tipi, 1890 -1910

Horse decorations' meaning to Lakota Sioux

Decorated skin