University of Vermont AAHS



Nanci Falley
Lockart, Texas

[reproduced from Spring 2003 issue of Caution:Horses]

Many Native American tribes and families held certain horses in high regard as Spirit or Medicine horses. The designation was made for horses with unusual markings. These horses could range from appaloosas with a 'bearpaw' or ‘handprint' marking in its spotting to paints or pintos with an unusually shaped spot or spots (Medicine Hat or War Bonnet markings were highly prized) to the solid colored animal with an unusual facial marking. Many so-called Spirit or Medicine horses also had blue eyes which were often called Sky-eyes or Heaven-eyes and added to the mystique which surrounded them.

The term Spirit or Medicine horse could also be placed on a more 'normally' marked horse who had shown its owner some unusual talent or power, such as alerting its rider to danger that the rider/owner hadn't discerned or being able to find game.

Warriors and Shamans as well as other members of the tribe or family valued these Spirit or Medicine horses very highly and believed that the good fortune of their people depended in some part on keeping these animals in their possession. Since horse stealing was considered an honored profession among early Native Americans, it was these particular horses that an enemy warrior or tribe might go after. If they could get away undetected with the valued horse, they were considered to have good medicine' and the theft earned the respect of both their tribes and the enemy from whom the animal had been stolen. Of course, it was then the former owner's turn to try and regain his stolen property.

Today Spirit or Medicine marked horses still appear in the various color breeds, as well as the solid colored breeds, and they occur with some frequency in the. American Indian Horse Registry as AIHR welcomes these unusually colored horses without discrimination. They may be a combination of appaloosa and paint or pinto or an outcrop from a solid colored breed. Some Indian Horse breeders work very hard to breed these features into their lines, but nature is still the boss and most deliberate breeding programs fail due to the very nature of the elusive coloration.

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