For The Rider


The Plains Indians Bridle

The modern, more comfortable, 2-rein version of the Plains Indians Bridle

By Diana L. Schmidt

Since the coming of the horse to the American continents, the native people of both continents have been able to use the horse to the best of its ability. One of the reasons for this is the fact that they were born and raised within nature and had a better understanding of how the natural system works. Therefore, they had a better understanding of the horse, as far as him being part of the natural system. They understood how the mind of an animal that was preyed upon would think under certain situations. They also observed the horse in its natural habitat, which is in the herd. By watching the horses in their herds the native people learned how to use these behaviors to communicate with them. Once on the horse's back, they used these behaviors that they had learned to teach the horse to do what they wanted them to do. Once the horses realized that they would not be harmed by the people, everything fell into place.

The horse was first introduced into South American by the Spanish explorers. The native people learned about horses and their care by working for the Spanish. Combining what they learned from the Spanish and what they observed in the herds they became excellent horseman. They obtained their horses by capturing horses that had escaped the settlements and by stealing them. Eventually the horse made its way to the Southwestern part of the North American continent; the horses were brought there by the Spanish in their conquest for gold. During the conquest the horses often escaped or were just left behind. They also were brought to the Southwestern American Indians by the Mexican native people to be traded or sold to them. The American Indians learned what they could from the traders and eventually learned from observing them in their herds. The growth of the wild herds was rapid, and they spread northward to the rich grass of the plains and eventually into the camps of the American Plains Indians. From that point and over the next 150 years these Indians became world-renowned horseman.

One of the most interesting subjects about the American Plains Indians is how little equipment they used to ride their horses. They made the control of their ponies seem effortless. They performed outstanding horsemanship skills with barely any equipment. The bridle is one of the pieces of equipment about which little is known by modern horseman. It consisted of a single line of rope that encircled the bottom jaw of the horse making a loop and then coming back to the rider. The purpose of the bridle was to stop the horse. Guidance of the horse was communicated through the legs, knees and feet of the rider. The materials used for making the Indian bridle were sinew material or horsehair which was braided to give them length and strength and buckskin or hides that were cut in a coil like pattern to achieve the length. The length of the rope made would not be less than 14' and would sometimes be longer than 20'. The reason for the longer lengths was simple and that was they were used for a tail that would either drag the ground or be tucked into the waistband, in the event that the rider should fall from the horse he would have a chance to keep his horse from getting away from him.

The Indian bridle was not used to start young horses but they used what is called a breaking halter which looped over the poll, around the throatlatch and down and around the nose and arranged so that when the rein was pulled it applied pressure to the nose. They were tamed and trained in the breaking halter until they were going well and then they were put into the Indian bridle. They were now on their way to becoming a well trained, prized war, hunting or riding pony.

The American Plains Indians understood that a natural relationship is what a horse understands best and responds to best. They recognized and knew that the best way to communicate with an animal was on the animal's terms and in a manner the animal could easily comprehend. They learned to understand what made sense to the horse and that when they asked a horse to do a task (pressure) and the horse did what he was asked to do, the release from the situation (release of pressure) got him to respond willingly. The life of the rider depended greatly on how the ponies performed their tasks. If there were any mistakes it could mean death; therefore their mounts had to be extremely well trained and sensitive to any command.

The bridle used by the American Plains Indians is now available in a modern version that has been researched and studied to discover the mechanics of how it works and which are the best modern materials to use to make the bridle comfortable and easy for the horse to accept. The materials used by the Plains Indians to make their bridles could be somewhat uncomfortable and harsh for the horse. The buckskin or sinew would often harden after use and cause the bridle to be uncomfortable when put in the horse's mouth. As you could imagine, horsehair would be very uncomfortable also. Unfortunately, these were the only materials available to them. The modern bridle is designed with two reins to reassure the modern rider, who is used to this system. The difference in concept between the original Indian bridle and the modern version is that you can direct rein or neck rein your horse, unlike the original bridle where leg or pressure commands were a must. The modern version works best using the leg commands like the original Indian bridle but you still have the ability to direct the horse with the bridle alone.

Through use and study of the modern version it was found that the loop that goes in the horse's mouth applies most of the pressure, when pulled, on the outside of the mouth instead of the inside of the mouth like a standard metal bit. It was discovered some horses experienced a calming effect when the loop was snugged up under the chin, maybe touching a pressure point, causing the calming effect. The horses that are used to a headstall and bit, as well as young horse, need time to accustom themselves to the modern version of the Indian bridle because it sits lower in the mouth than a regular bit, and they will learn to pull it up and hold it themselves.

With time and patience we are confident that you can experience the ride that only the Plains Indians have had until now, and enjoy a more natural, closer relationship with your horse while using a modern version of the Indian bridle.

For more information:
Oliga Indian Bridles
3663 Hyser Rd.
Taneytown, MD 21787 USA