Sacred Beings
Honouring the horse


Appaloosa horse
Photograph by Leslie Tepper

In some stories, Native people tell of ancestral encounters with miniature horses that could speak. These horses taught people songs, dances, ceremonies and medicines to heal both horses and humans. In other stories, the horse is said to have descended from the sky world, come from the West, or have ascended from the water world or underworld.

Horses were reintroduced to the Americas by the Spanish. From the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, horses played an increasingly important role in the lives of Plains and Plateau people. They were captured, traded, bred and trained for specific tasks in hunting, scouting, warfare and ceremonies. Horses carried heavy loads when people moved camp or set out on trading expeditions. On special occasions, they were ridden in parades and grand entries to rodeos and Wild West shows. Ownership of large herds indicated a family's wealth and social standing.

Horse and rider
Special Collections Division, University of Washington Librairies NA1285

The horse came to be honoured in rituals, songs and dances. Riding songs were sung as people travelled. In certain ceremonies, the horse spirit is called upon for blessings and healing. Horse medicine dances were held to help horses regain their strength. Warriors carried effigy and memorial sticks of their horses when dancing to tell of their bravery and to honour gifted and sacred horses.

Horse imagery and symbols on equipment, clothing and warrior's lodges expressed respect and admiration for horses, and pride in the relationship between horses and their owners. People took pride and pleasure in adorning their horses with paint, and horse gear with paint, beadwork and quillwork.

Introduction | Dress Proudly | Horse Imagery | Horse Ritual | Adapting to a new way of life

Introduction | Buffalo and Deer | Dog and Coyote | Honouring the Horse