A Song for the Horse Nation

November 14, 2009–July 07, 2011
New York, NY

A Song for the Horse Nation presents the epic story of the horse's influence on American Indian tribes from the 1600s to the present. Drawing upon a treasure-trove of stunning historical objects—including ledger drawings, hoof ornaments, beaded bags, hide robes, paintings, and other objects—and new pieces by contemporary Native artists, the exhibition reveals how horses shaped the social, economic, cultural, and spiritual foundations of American Indian life, particularly on the Great Plains.

The story of American Indians and horses is one of the great sagas of human contact with the animal kingdom. The foundation of this extraordinary relationship was laid in 1493, when Christopher Columbus brought the first horses to the Western Hemisphere. As Spaniards surged westward from the Caribbean and northwards from Mexico, American Indians caught their first glimpse of the horse, and soon adopted it into their world. Horses revolutionized Native life and became an integral part of tribal cultures, honored in objects, stories, songs, and ceremonies. By the 1800s, Native American horsemanship was legendary in American culture at large, celebrated in paintings, photographs, Wild West shows, and later in movies and television programs. Today, the image of the mounted Native warrior remains fixed in the American imagination. With traditional and contemporary stories, songs, and poetry and using archival photographs, lithographs, maps, books, magazines, and audio-visual presentations, the exhibition brings the story up to the present, demonstrating that the horse, though no longer ubiquitous, is still venerated in Indian Country today.

This exhibition is an outgrowth of the NMAI publication A Song for the Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Cultures, edited by George P. Horse Capture and Emil Her Many Horses (2006).

This exhibition was also on view at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., October 29, 2011–January 7, 2013.

Crow War Pony–1, Fine Art Photography by Brady Willette; pony painting by Kennard Real Bird (Crow). Collection of the National Museum of the American Indian.
Drawing upon the museum's collection of stunning objects and vivid personal accounts, the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC opened a major exhibition, "A Song for the Horse Nation," on Saturday, October 29, 2011.
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