Lee Pitts: Painted Horses
January 14, 2016
We could have learned a lot from the Indians if we hadn't been in such a hurry to wipe them out. In many tribes a warrior could have as many wives as he could afford to feed and most tribes believed women should do all the work while the men went on hunting parties and to tribal yard sales. If another male Indian saw one of his brethren carrying wood or water he'd wonder "why he was making a woman of himself." And we thought we could improve upon that?
The Comanches believed it was unclean to eat a bird, like a chicken or a turkey, and I think all cattlemen would agree. The Navajos never bragged or got lost because they always looked back from whence they came and the Paiutes never gave the white man their real names. With the proliferation of spam and identity theft I think we can all see the wisdom in that. Many Indians also believed that when they died they'd go to a happy hunting ground, but if they'd led an evil life they'd go someplace very, very cold. Like North Dakota, I'd imagine.
I especially like the idea that Indians were horse painters. No, that's not a typo, I didn't mean house painters. They were horse painters, but unlike Charley Russell, they didn't use canvas but painted directly on their horses. And it wasn't just Indian graffiti. If an Indian painted butterflies on their horse it was to give it the ability to dart and dive, and right before they'd go buffalo hunting they'd paint circles around the eyes of their mounts to give them more powerful vision.
Indian horses were also painted to show the history of the owner. The number of red hands on a horse indicated the number of horses captured in battle, but if the hands were yellow it meant they were simply stolen. Horseshoes indicated the number of war parties the rider had participated in and crosses stood for the number of scalps taken. A red circle in a dot meant that the rider had a horse once that was shot in that location and the horse died in battle.
For safety and practical reasons I think we should adopt this concept today. If, for example, you saw a horse painted all over with dollar signs you'd know it belonged to Trevor Brazile and you should NOT get in a match roping with the horse's owner. If a horseshoer saw five horseshoes painted on the rump of a horse he'd know to be extra careful because that represented the number of horseshoers killed in the line of duty. If the crowd at a horse sale saw the skull and crossbones painted on a consignment, or a bomb with its fuse lit, buyers should get the hint that its not a kid's horse. Or, if a horse came in the sale ring with a crudely painted horse trailer with a big red X slashed through it, the winning bidder would know he or she was going to have ride the horse home.
See how helpful this could be?
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Imagine how much easier it would be for gamblers if racehorses had black dollar signs painted on their hide for every race they'd won and red zeroes for every race they came in dead last. If you saw all red you'd know the jockey would get to the finish line faster if he got off and walked.
Suppose you're at a neighbor's branding and there's a knothead horse there with a big orange cross painted on its neck. The ground crew should immediately get on their knees and pray they don't get clotheslined or killed. If a horse had a biohazard or radioactive sign painted on it cowboys would know not to strike any matches because the bloated horse produces an abundance of greenhouse gases. To make it easier we could adopt many of the common symbols and signs already in use, such as wide load, STOP and fasten your seat belt. I'm sure bronc riders would find exit arrows especially helpful to tell them where to get off.
The only problem I envision is that once we set a precedent it won't be long before every horse in America is covered in small print warning labels mandated by our federal government.
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