When preparing for a journey into enemy territory, the Indian warriors often painted their favorite war ponies with the same colors and patterns as their own bodies. Horses were painted on both sides and perhaps had symbols such as circles around one or both eyes and long zig-zag lines to symbolize lightning.
Different tribes had different symbols. When common symbols appeared, they were done in different colors. The Crow used white hand prints while those of the Sioux were done in red paint. The red circle around the eye aided the horse's vision. Owl feathers in the forelock are symbolic of attributes needed for war: speed, stealth, and courage.
"Medicine Hat, Comanche War Pony," wears the red hand of death, which signifies his rider has killed an enemy in hand-to-hand combat. He has won the honor of displaying the eagle feather roach worn betwen his ears and the down "breathing feather", showing his battle feats. The number of times wounded is represented by notched feathers. One red spot is shown for each enemy slain and conquered.
A common custom in preparing the horse for battle was to tie up its tail, often in a simple knot; sometimes it was folded and bound with red trade cloth or buckskin thongs. Feathers and fringes were added for a more spectacular effect. The painted ponies always carred a message about their riders and sometimes about their own quality through the marks they bore.