Horse Masks by Jeff Sailors

During the height of the Plains Indian horse culture the indigenous people decorated their horses with feathers, paint and masks. The masks were probably inspired by the head armor the Spanish put on their horses during their explorations of the Great Plains of North America. A few fur traders mention these masks as early as 1806.
Little literature exists about the production and use of horse masks but there is a wonderful book by Mike Cowdrey and Ned and Jody Martin titled American Indian Horse Masks that I highly recommend. We use the photos in this book as inspiration for our reproduction of Indian masks.
There is a lot of symbolism in the decoration of horse masks especially by warriors. Lightning is a very popular motif as it symbolized great power. Brass shoe buttons, nickel and brass “spots”, small mirrors and sequins etc. were frequently attached around the eye holes and the reflected sunlight appeared to “shoot” lightning.
Horns, some whole and others split, were also attached to masks. Buffalo, pronghorn, mountain goat and deer were used. A great amount of decoration was unique to the maker and reflected his own personal “medicine”.
Feathers, beads, quill work, horsehair, furs and pelts, claws, buttons, paint etc. all were used in creating horse masks. We too use all of these decorations on our masks. We are constantly researching designs from pipe bags, shirts, horse tack etc. to inspire our work. We are not reproducing any specific historical masks, we just use existing designs to inspire our interpretations. The flowing lines and movement of horsehair, feathers etc. all exhibit the Indians love of motion and beauty and we are in awe of their sense of design and beauty.

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