Hollywood has greatly distorted our view of the historic native American. The common view is of an Indian riding on a brightly colored saddle pad with a bridle adorned with feathers and beads. That is great for movies but what did they really ride with?
For a look at that, we have to look at old photos of Indians before the 1900’s. Below is a series of photos taken from the late 1800’s to 1902.
Notice that in the photos above they are all using what was known as a war bridle on their horses. This was simply a cord made from hide that was looped around the lower jaw of the horse for control. They made them with one or two reins. Older paintings from the early 1800’s (before photos) show them using the single rein.
After exposure to Europeans and their style of riding, the Indians adopted saddles and full bridles with bits. It was no secret that the saddles made it more comfortable to ride and the bridles offered better control over their mounts. You can read more about how the Indians adapted their way of riding and tack at this link.
Then came Buffalo Bill and his Wild West Show. The general public wanted a “show” and along came pageantry with all the bells and whistles. Below is a picture of Bill and two of his cast members.
This became the new norm for Native Americans to be depicted on horseback. Below is a photo taken in 1903 to show how the Indian has adapted to the new look.
If this subject is interesting to you and you want to read more, here is a link to a book written in 1911 about the Indian war of 1864. It depicts the lifestyle of the plains Indians during that time. The book is a free download.