Sunday, January 3, 2016

Kaya's Saddle: History of the Nez Perce Saddle

Hey followers!!

       I hope you guys had a great holiday season! I got a great surprise on Christmas, I asked my husband for Kit as a present but he decided to really surprise me and got me Steps High and her saddle! After having my Kaya for 13 years, She finally has her horse!
     So unfortunately, this has been extremely difficult to research. So bare with me while I write what I know....
Photo of saddle on display
at the Nez Perce Museum
     In the early 1700's, horses were introduced to the Nez Perce tribe when the early Europeans brought them over with them. Ever since then, horses changed the lives of the Nez Perce people in great ways. They were able to build bigger homes, make trades with neighboring tribes, and make annual trips to the Plains to hunt buffalo. Because of the rich grasslands that the tribes territory was located on, they were able to maintain the largest horse herds of any other tribe, horses that are still popular today and more commonly called the Appaloosa.
     The Nez Perce are well known for their horsemanship. From the time they are born, Nez Perce babies are strapped into their cradleboards (which I will talk more about another time.) and the cradleboards are hung from a horses saddle. By the age of three, children are riding on their own and boys and girls were both taught to be skilled riders.
Saddle Pad Circa 1900
     The style of saddle that Kaya has was typically only used by females in the Nez Perce tribe. These Nez Perce saddles consisted of two high saddle horns and also a hook that was useful for carrying cargo on long journeys (and of course the precious cargo in the cradleboards!) The horns and seat were carved wood and the rest of the saddle was made of animal hides and leathers. Kaya's saddle has a detachable saddle pad, I honestly could not find if this was an accurate detail to a real Nez Perce saddle but I do know this, Men used saddle pads similar to what Kaya has when they rode. After seeing the the newly arrived settlers saddles, the tribe made their own version of the Europeans saddles. These pads were made of buckskin and stuffed with grass or buffalo hair. A cinch was attached to wrap around the horses belly and sometimes stirrups were added. These pads could be quite extravagant with detailed bead work sewn on.
     Saddles like Kaya's are still used today in ceremonies and during pow wows. There is an annual ceremony commemorating those Nez Perce who died during the war of 1877 in the Bear Paw Mountains. During this ceremony, horses that are fully dressed in Nez Perce tack are led around without riders. The empty saddle ceremony is done to appease the spirits of the dead.

   Kaya's saddle horns are plastic, the rest of it is made of faux leather and buckskin. The saddle panels are decorated in a beautiful "painted" design. The horn has a hook so Kaya can attach items such as her Doll and Cradleboard. A cinch goes around Steps High and ties onto the other side. of the saddle. Under the saddle is the fringed buckskin blanket that came with Steps High and a faux fur saddle blanket. And I am sorry I forgot to take a picture of the saddle pad that goes on top of the saddles seat but it is a small pillow made of faux buckskin.

Well that is it for today! Thank you so much for reading! I will have more posts soon! I haven't been working as much so I do have more time lately! 
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  1. Hi! I found a great book that has a good pictorial history of horses in North America. The pillow is accurate. If you are curious, I was able to check it out through link + at my local library.
    Horses and Bridles of the American Indians Hardcover – December 2,2011
    by Mike Cowdrey (Author), Ned & Jody Martin (Author), & 1 more

    1. From what I recall men primarily rode what were called war saddles, but they too sometimes used the saddle kaya uses, which was a form also used by the Crow and some other tribes.

      Thanks a lot for your post. I just love Kaya. :)