Horse armour

North America, before AD 1825

This painted rawhide horse armour and ornament was brought to England by Bryan Mullanphy in 1825. It consists of two circular lobes joined with a narrow central section. The geometric design may have served a protective or decorative purpose.

Equestrian equipment arrived on the Plains from the Spanish Southwest 200-300 years ago. Once in Native hands, saddles and their decoration developed and changed function through the nineteenth century. The circular areas were designed to cover the horse's leg joints, its most vulnerable area. They were targeted by bowmen trying to bring down the galloping horse, and if hit with an arrow the animal would be quickly crippled. The horizontal slip in the armour was for the girth and stirrup straps, which held the saddle and armour to the horse. The circular panels may also have protected the horse against other articles being carried, such as bags or parfleches.

As warfare declined and celebrations such as Wild West shows or Powwows increased in frequency, the decorative elements of ornamental horse armour may have become more lavish. Ornaments of this kind were used in pairs, one either side of the saddle. The pair to this piece is in the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge.

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More information


J.C.H. King, First peoples, first contacts: (London, The British Museum Press, 1999)


Width: 90.000 cm
Length: 60.000 cm

Museum number

AOA Ethno 2003.Am.19,6


Purchased through the Heritage Lottery Fund, with contributions from JPMorgan Chase, the National Art Collections Fund, the British Museum Friends and The L.J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation.


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