Lakota (Teton Sioux)
- Late 19th century
- Leather, porcupine quills, glass beads, tin, feathers, and dye
- 6 3/16 × 6 5/16 in.
Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College: Bequest of Frank C. and Clara G. Churchill; 46.17.9837visibilityLook & Discuss
Plains warriors made their own saddles, bridles, cinches, whips, and ropes. Historically, they made simple bridles using twisted or woven horsehair or buffalo hair, rawhide, and tanned leather. They guided their mounts with a thin rawhide thong or rope of braided buffalo hair looped over the lower jaw.
Later, bridles became more elaborate and incorporated many influences, including Spanish saddles, Native American beadwork, and traditions of family and tribal identity. In the equipment created to dress and guide horses, Native American artists created a rich new visual art form.
explore the object
This bridle combines extraordinary quillwork with feather and beads. To make the straps, the artisan wrapped dyed, flattened porcupine quills around a strip of rawhide and stitched them in place. Straps of white and blue beads extended across the forehead and muzzle of the horse. The feathers that hang from the straps would have danced with the movements of the horse.
This bridle has an iron bit, leather cheek straps, a brow band, and reins. The soft leather of the cheek straps and brow band is covered with beadwork in a diagonal design of blue, red, and green beads on a white background, and trimmed with tin-wrapped red feathers. Additional beaded straps create an upside down Y that would have extended over the horse’s face and separated just above the animal’s muzzle.
A quirt, or short riding whip, was used to urge a horse to greater speed. Plains warriors also used them to “count coup.” A warrior would gallop up to an enemy in battle and, instead of killing him, would touch him with his quirt or with a special coup (koo) stick. Counting coup was a highly honored form of bravery.
Plains warriors often painted their horses in preparation for battle. A warrior would apply his personal honors to his war horse. Specific symbols indicated previous victories in battle or horses acquired. Other symbols provided protection for the warrior.
This finely drawn portrait of a warrior provides a great deal of information about the ways in which warriors and their horses were dressed for battle. This warrior has come to be known as “Horseback” based on the pictograph, or “glyph,” the artist drew to identify him (top left). Horseback’s clothing and the objects he holds identify him as an accomplished warrior with high standing in his community. He wears beaded leggings, a breechcloth of trade wool, an American military jacket, a long hair drop of German silver discs, and striped face paint. His magnificent lance has many eagle feathers, each one earned for an act of bravery. He also carries a painted shield with eagle feathers and a “donut” rattle. Warriors groomed their own horses for battle. Horseback has knotted up his horse’s tail to prevent the enemy from taking hold of it. He has also gathered its mane to prevent entanglement with a bow and arrow or gun during combat.