Horse Medicine

Limited Edition Print on Canvas

30″ x 40″ | $630

One of the single most important additions, that changed the lifestyle and culture of the Native American Indian, was the horse.  Brought to the New World by the Spanish in the 16th century, the horse soon became well sought after by the Southwestern peoples who resorted to stealing these incredible creatures when they could get them no other way. 

Thought to possess powerful medicine, horses soon migrated, through trade and raids, to the native peoples of the north.  Thus began the great nomadic Plains Indian culture that lasted from around 1750 to the late 1800’s.  One of the most prominent nations that participated in that Plains culture were the Lakota or Western Sioux.  These Indians roamed the area of the Great Plains now known as North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, and Wyoming. 

As horses became plentiful, both they and mules began to be the measure of a Lakota warrior’s wealth and were the favorite medium of exchange.  Most warriors would own as many as ten horses at a time while some even kept herds numbering a few hundred head.  It was no wonder that a warrior loved his horse as his most dependable friend.  Indeed, much of a warrior’s success, in hunting and battle, depended upon how well the two worked together. This close relationship was often seen in the similar way the rider would decorate both he and his horse, showing the horse to be an extension of himself, and worthy of the same primping and concern. 

Hanging behind this Sioux warrior is a fine Lakota saddle blanket, beaded on all four sides, the corners extending out to long fringes.  To the right are the beaded horse hoof prints that signify the number of successful horse raids the owner has made.  The red tail feathers worn in his hair, bunched together with an achievement feather from the tail of an eagle, are from the swift flying Red-tailed Hawk.  This decoration is part of the warrior’s personal medicine to promote speed and agility in battle, horse raids or even in horse racing, a cherished pastime of every tribe. 

In addition to the Benjamin Harrison peace medal, the unusual necklace hanging around this warrior’s neck is made of glass and brass beads and horse teeth.  Such a necklace could be made from an old friend who is now gone and would have great sentimental value to the owner, or it could be used as medicine.  Horse tooth necklaces were sometimes worn to protect their horse from becoming lame and thus essentially could control the horse and its health.   

Such insurance on these prized animals is understandable as it was clear that the Plains Indians entered into a golden age of happiness and prosperity due to the horse.  As the Indians prospered and flourished, so did the opulence of their ceremonials grow, calling for finer garments and vessels to celebrate their joy and thanksgiving.  Now these beautiful objects and their producers are able to take  their place in history alongside that of the most spectacularly dressed and equipped nomads of the world.