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Art of the Apsaalooka

A horse with traditional Apsaalooka tack and trappings (Photograph courtesy of the Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, Montana)

This forehead ornament honored the courage of the horse that wore it.

Wedding blanket decorated with beaded stripes and bells

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Honoring the Horse

The Apsaalooka valued horses not only for the work they could do, but also as members of the tribe, companions, and friends. To honor their horses, the Apsaalooka crafted beautiful horse tack and ornamental horse trappings.

Horse tack is the gear used for horseback riding. It includes the saddle and bridle and various straps. A strap called a crupper, attached to the saddle, loops under the horse’s tail to keep the saddle from slipping forward. Another strap, the martingale, prevents the horse from throwing its head back. The Apsaalooka often adorned these items with beadwork.

Horse trappings are decorative coverings of various kinds. Carefully designed and skillfully made trappings were created for special horses. The forehead ornament was a tribute to the horse’s courage. Shaped to resemble a human figure, it represents the success and bravery of the horse in time of war. Apsaalooka horse trappings are heavily ornamented with beadwork, bells, and other decoration.

Horses often carried objects used in hunting or traveling. Lance cases held a hunter’s spears. A cradleboard could be attached to the saddle to hold a baby during the tribe’s travels. A wedding blanket, given at the time of marriage, kept the rider warm and provided portection in bad weather. Traditionally, the Apsaalooka decorated many of these items with exquisite beadwork and natural materials like wood and animal hair.

Carried in a cradleboard fastened to the saddle, a baby was safe and secure when the tribe was traveling.
September 2007