“A Song for the Horse Nation” exhibit at Smithsonian

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., opens a major exhibition this fall that explores one of the greatest sagas of human contact with the animal world — American Indians and horses. The exhibition opens Oct. 29.

Through an array of 122 historic objects, artwork, photographs, songs and personal accounts, “A Song for the Horse Nation” tells the epic story of how the return of horses to the Americas by Christopher Columbus changed everything for Indians — from the way they travelled, hunted and waged war to how they celebrated generosity, exhibited bravery and conducted ceremonies. It shows how horse trading among tribes was the conduit for the magnificent spread of mustangs in the Plains and Plateau regions of the United States, as well as how horses became the inspiration for new artistic expressions and rich traditions that continue to this day.

“When American Indians encountered horses — which some tribes call the Horse Nation — they found an ally, inspiring and useful in times of peace, and intrepid in times of war,” said Kevin Gover (Pawnee), director of the museum. “The exhibition shows how these splendid creatures came to represent courage and freedom to many tribes across North America.”

Life-size model horses, one pulling a 19th-century Cheyenne travois (a frame used to drag heavy loads over land), and another tacked in a dazzling display of fully beaded traditional Apsaalooke (Crow) regalia used in parades today, will also be on display. Other highlights include rifles belonging to celebrated mounted warriors Geronimo (Chiricahua Apache), Chief Joseph (Nez Perce) and Chief Rain-in-the-Face (Hunkpapa Lakota) and the famous ceremonial dance stick (ca. 1890) of No Two Horns (Hunkpapa Lakota), which he created to honor his well-loved horse that died at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

The exhibition shows how Native horse traditions continue today like the Nimiipuu (Nez Perce) Young Horsemen’s Program, which seeks to preserve the Appaloosa horse breed made famous by their ancestors. Horse traditions thrive on the Crow Indian Reservation — their annual fair in southeastern Montana typically includes more than 2,000 horses and features elaborate parades and “giveaways” in which members of the tribe give horses to relatives and friends as a gesture of generosity and honor. A similar gesture among the Lakota is the tribe’s annual trek on horseback called the Oomaka Tokatakiya (Future Generations Ride) in South Dakota which evolved from an annual healing journey to honor those who died at Wounded Knee. During the two-week, 300-mile journey, riders experience some of the hardships their ancestors endured as a physical, spiritual and intellectual remembrance.

“A Song for the Horse Nation,” runs through Jan. 7, 2013. The exhibition’s website is at The exhibition’s ongoing blog is at

Categories: Announcements /Museum

1 Comment

  1. debbie Said,

    September 1, 2011 @ 5:59 am

    what a great exhibit this is with regards to the interaction between horses and people – the true artistry that is shown in the trapping & regaila that were made & continue to be made as they honor the horse is great – good book that goes along with the exhibit as well as an excellent on line exhibit presentation that is very informative. anyone interested

    past 3 issues of the NMAI museum magazine have dealt with varies aspects of the exhibit & pieces in it and those that have made pieces for it………… 2012 NMAI Museum calander is almost totally decicated to this exhibit as well

    well worth the visit & information if you are interested in horse regaila

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