History of the Indian War Ponies
Often called the greatest light cavalry in history by many military men, the Indians used their horses to carry them into battle or to hunt game.
After an American Indian warrior dressed for war, he often painted his favorite war pony with the same pattern and colors he used for his own face and body and his weapons. A painted pony or horse always carried a message about his rider and sometimes about the quality of the animal bearing the marks. Each symbol had its own specific meaning and the purpose was determined by the nature of the dangerous job which the horse would be asked to do.
Each tribe evolved some exploit symbols which were uniquely their own. For example, the Sioux Indians used red paint for hand prints while the Crow used white on their war ponies. Horses were painted on both sides, each side telling the same story. Some of the other painted symbols included circles around one or both eyes of the horse (to improve the horse's vision) and long zig-zag lines symbolizing lightning (adding power and speed to terrify the enemy.) These combined symbols were understood to build upon each other... the horse's improved vision helping him to draw upon the lightning's tremendous power. Arrowheads on all four hooves made the horse swift and nimble-footed. Hoofprints were often drawn on the horses and stood for the number of horses captured in raids. The horse's Battle Scars were always painted red. Eagle feathers were considered sacred and were often tied to the mane and /or tail of a war pony. The plains indians custom was to tie up a horse's tail when preparing for battle. The Indian would knot up the horse's tail to prevent the enemy from taking hold of it and using it to dismount him from his horse and to prevent it from getting entangled in his bow and arrow during the combat. Fringes and feathers were added for a more spectacular effect.
The total effect of a painted warrior and his pony was often stunning and made a striking impression upon all those who witnessed them. One such impression has been handed down in history from an aged Crow warrior, who vividly recalls a Sioux warrior he had encountered as a small boy. The Sioux warrior and his horse were completely covered in bright blue paint with white dots. It was a memory the boy carried with him all his life.