Many protective horse masks originated in visions of the Powers which reside above the earth, or within it. Wrapped in thunder, stitched with lightning, braced by prayerful songs ans plangent with the sound of bells, these masks translated an ordinary horse into a being of extraordinary abilities, which might carry a man into that place between cloud shadow and sunshine where neither arrows nor bullets could ever find him. Like all masks, these are touched with mystery, and not a little of the divine. Their beauty can be startling, and always is austere.
(Mike Cowdrey- American Indian horse masks)
The plains Indians created elaborate horse masks for their horses to wear as they went to war. Whether they were fighting neighboring tribes, or trying to push back the white men, the horse masks gave their mounts a very fierce appearance. All the decorations were symbolic of extra power they wanted the horses to possess. A common and favorite theme was associated with the thunderstorms that are famous for rolling across the plains. Lightning bolts, wind and hail are all decorations found on Plains Indian horse masks. Lightning was seen as a powerful force every horse would need. Mirrors, brass spots or buttons, and even raven feathers, all gave the appearance of lightning by reflecting the sun. Zig Zag patterns were beaded or painted below the horses eyes to depict the bolts of lightning and give the horse a fierce look. White beads or brass buttons were sewn around the eye holes of the mask to give the appearance of lightning shooting from the eyes. This motif is repeated over and over in various forms on horse masks from the Plains Indians.
Brass buttons or painted dots would depict hail. Hail is such a destructive force, that harnessing that power would certainly aid a warrior in battle.
Numerous feathers were frequently attached to horse masks. Imagine a horse running with the feathers waving and rattling in the wind, it would certainly be distracting. One second of distraction, would give the warrior time to shoot at his enemy first.
If a war horse had helped in the killing of an enemy, he was distinguished by having the victims scalp hung from his lower jaw, as if he had consumed the enemy’s virility. This was an extremely common practice and hundreds of Plains Indian drawings show scalps hanging from the bridle or bit of the war horse.
The stories behind each horse mask are as individual as the people who made them. Each mask is beautiful and full of history and lore. The newest sculpture, “Weathering the storm”, is the first piece in what will be a series of Native American horse masks. We hope to convey the beauty and Power behind these great works of art. Our goal is to honor the people who created them, and the warrior horses who wore them.
“Weathering the storm” is a sculpture of a Native American horse ready for battle. This horse mask is modeled after an actual Blackfoot mask that is covered with circular brass buttons. The round metallic buttons represented hail stones. The beading around the eye holes, was done with white beads, to give the horse the appearance of lightning shooting from it’s eyes. The scalp lock hanging from the horses mouth, depicts an enemy the horse trampled and bit or “ate”. Many coveted war horses were given a split ear as another symbol of their bravery.