The Indian war horse was highly regarded by its American Indian owner, who often honored and protected his war horse by painting tribal symbols upon the animal’s body.

While the symbols used and their meanings varied from tribe to tribe, there were some common symbols that were widely used on the Indian war horse.

Each power symbol has its own specific meaning and the purpose for which it was used was determined by the nature of the dangerous job which the war horse would be asked to do.

The Indian would decorate his horse with carefully chosen war symbols or power symbols which might be intended to give him protection, to indicate the troubles which lay ahead, or which spoke of the courageous heart of the war horse. Some symbols told of the horse’s affection for the warrior. In this article, you will find explanations of some symbols which Indians used to decorate their war horses.

Indian war horse symbolsA circle around the horse’s eye and nostrils for alert vision and a keen sense of smell.

Indian war horse symbolsArrow points in a line which brought victory.

Indian war horse symbolsThunder stripes in the horse’s front legs to please the Indian’s god of war.

Indian war horse symbolsArrowheads on all four hooves made the horse swift and nimble-footed.

Indian war horse symbolsFire Arrows would cause trouble for the enemy, which in turn would add strength to the warrior.

Indian war horse symbolsRight/left hand prints were outlined upon the horse’s chest, which showed that he’d knocked down an enemy.

Indian war horse symbolsHail Stones were a prayer for hail to fall on the warrior’s enemy.

Indian war horse symbolsTwo crossing bars meant that the horse and his rider had escaped ambush.

Indian war horse symbolsHoofprints were drawn on the horses and stood for the number of horses captured in raids.

Indian war horse symbolsThe horse’s Battle Scars (always painted red) and the Pat Hand Print (left hand drawn on the horse’s right hip) were the highest honors. The Pat Hand Print was always reserved exclusively for the horse who had brought his master back home from a dangerous mission unharmed.

While preparing himself for battle, the Indian warrior would apply his personal honors on his war horse. The symbols he painted depicted enemies killed and ponies stolen.

The Indian would weave a Medicine Bag into the bridle and Coup Feathers were braided into the war horse’s forelock and tail.

Indian war horse symbolsFor the men who would be going on a do-or-die mission, the Upside-down Handprint would be used. It was the most prized symbol a warrior could place on his horse.

Indian war horse symbolsFrom the Apache and Commanche tribes, legends about this handprint tell of a furious battle in which a warrior was fatally wounded. Before the brave warrior’s death, he patted his horse on the right shoulder, thus leaving a bloody handprint on his horse for all his people to see his “message of death” when the horse returned to camp.

When the Indian groomed his horse for battle, he 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.

He would gather the mane into clusters, tying it to prevent entanglement in his bow and arrow during the combat.







Native Americans and the Mighty Horse



Posted on September 18, 2019, in ESSAYS. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Thank God for animals. They still teach us love, loyalty and strength.

  2. Respect and reverence, the 2 missing ingredients from the Insane roundups of our wild horses. Thank you for the reminder of times past when our ancestors knew how to honor our allies–the beautiful one called horse.

  3. When posting to fb pictures of bears; I wanted to post ponys and horses also after that. I thought more about horses and ponys yesterday than
    I have in a great while. Your information shared answered many of the questioning thoughts as I pondered them. Thank you for this timely post. Almost like dreams being answered.

  4. Reblogged this on The Ponyman's Daughter and commented:
    Blue Feather Spirit has included beautiful artworks and a video to her informative essay on the Indian war ponies, the symbols warriors painted on them and their importance to the native tribes.

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