It’s All in the Details

Lesson Plan


Students will examine the artistic characteristics of the Crow Horse Outfit and create a short essay or script for a radio advertisement/TV commercial using vivid details to describe the outfit.

Intended Age Group

Elementary (grades K-5)

Length of Lesson

One 50 minute lesson

Standards Area

Language Arts


Students will be able to:

  • describe the artistic characteristics of the Crow Horse Outfit;
  • locate the Great Plains region on a map; and
  • write a short essay, radio advertisement, or TV commercial using vivid details to describe the Crow Horse Outfit.


  1. Warm-up: Display or pass out copies of the Crow Horse Outfit and invite students to look carefully and share what they observe. What do they notice? What colors appear on the outfit? What materials were used to make the outfit? What patterns and symbols do they see? How do they think the outfit might sound when the horse moves? What adjectives would they use to describe the outfit?
  2. Share with students that the Horse Outfit was created by an unknown Crow woman (or women) in the 1890s. The Crow are an American Indian tribe who originally lived on parts of the Great Plains, an area roughly between the Rocky Mountains and Missouri River, from Texas up to southern Canada. Have the students locate the Great Plains region on a large map. Add that, around the time that this would have been made, the U.S. was in the process of restricting the Crow tribe to less and less land. Today, some Crow people live on reservations, but not all of them do.
  3. Explain to students that horses became an important form of transportation after they were re-introduced to North America by the Spanish. The arrival of horses allowed nomadic tribes to carry heavier loads and travel greater distances, covering more ground when they hunted. As horses became increasingly appreciated, saddles, bridles, and other functional trappings evolved into beautifully decorated costumes for show at parades and celebrations.
  4. Encourage students to closely examine the details on the Horse Outfit. Talk about how certain elements of design, such as the isosceles triangles and the use of bright colors with very little black, indicate that the Horse Outfit was created by a Crow tribe member. Read through the “Details” section of the About the Art section with the students so they can get an up-close look at the artistic details of the Crow Horse Outfit.
  5. Tell the students they are going to have an opportunity to share their descriptive writing skills. Have the students choose one of the following three options:
    1. Describe the entire Crow Horse Outfit in a short descriptive essay, providing great detail about the colors, patterns, and materials used.
    2. Choose one part of the Crow Horse Outfit—perhaps the bridle, saddle, neck fringe, or blanket—to describe in detail in a short descriptive essay. Students may want to focus on something even smaller and more specific, like a stirrup.
    3. Have the students create a script for a radio advertisement or TV commercial in which they describe the Crow Horse Outfit in detail and persuade others to buy one or make one themselves.
  6. Once the students have created their initial written pieces, have them trade papers with a classmate. Students should provide constructive feedback to each other about how well their writing described the details of the Crow Horse Outfit.
  7. Give the students some additional time to improve their written pieces. Then invite them to share their creations and display their work in the classroom.


  • Lined sheets of paper and a pen or pencil for each student
  • Map of the United Sates/world, visible to all students in the classroom
  • Copies of the About the Art section on the Crow Horse Outfit (included with the lesson plan) or student access to this part of Creativity Resource online
  • One color copy of the outfit for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards

  • Social Studies
    • History
      • Ask questions, share information and discuss ideas about the past and present
      • Analyze historical sources using tools of a historian
      • Become familiar with United States historical eras, groups, individuals, ideas and themes
      • Become familiar with United States family and cultural traditions in the past and present
    • Geography
      • Become familiar with Colorado geography
      • Become familiar with United States geography
      • Become familiar with World geography
      • Recognize similarities and differences about regions and people using geographic tools
      • Understand people and their relationship with geography and their environment
      • Use geographic tools and sources to answer spatial questions
  • Visual Arts
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
    • Envision and Critique to Reflect
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening
    • Research and Reasoning
    • Writing and Composition
    • Reading for All Purposes

21st Century Skills

  • Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Horse Outfit

Horse Outfit


Artist not known, Crow Tribe

Who Made It?

These elaborate horse trappings were decorated by an unknown Crow woman. The Crow are an American Indian tribe who originally lived on the Great Plains, an area roughly between the Rocky Mountains and the Missouri River, from Texas up to southern Canada. Beadwork is one of the dominant Crow decorative art forms. Various design elements distinguish the Crow style of the late 1800s from designs used by other tribes. During this time, Crow beadworkers used mostly geometric forms including rectangles, diamonds, and triangles in their art. The isosceles triangle (with two sides equal in length) is a hallmark of their style. This shape appears either alone or as two triangles joined at the tip, forming a shape that looks like an hourglass. Beadworkers used a wide range of colors and often outlined solid shapes with beads of a contrasting color. The woman (or women) who decorated these horse trappings, for example, outlined the shapes with white beads. Black was very rarely used in Crow beadwork.

What Inspired It?

Horses were re-introduced in North America by the Spanish in the 1500s, and the Crow began acquiring horses through trade in the 1700s. The arrival of horses allowed nomadic tribes to carry heavier loads and travel greater distances, covering more ground when they hunted. As horses became increasingly appreciated, functional horse trappings, like saddles and bridles, evolved into beautifully decorated costumes for show at parades and celebrations. Horses were outfitted in costumes like these only on special occasions. Though the Crow developed their own style for decorating horse trappings, ornamental gear continued to bear some resemblance to Spanish trappings from the 1600s.

Beads were also acquired through trade with Europeans beginning in the early 1700s. Crow women used the beads to decorate everything from clothing to horse trappings, and they became well-known for their skillful beadwork. They developed their own unique style, which changed over the years from more geometric patterns (like those seen on this horse costume) to floral-based designs. Beading revolutionized American Indian art, allowing for tremendous variation in design and color.



The first glass beads came all the way from Venice and Czechoslovakia, where they were manufactured. Beadwork was popular among the Crow, and women excelled at creating beautiful, colorful patterns.

Isosceles Triangle
Isosceles Triangle

The isosceles triangle is one of the hallmarks of Crow beadwork from the late 1800s and can be found throughout the entire horse outfit. White beads outline the triangles, separating the various bright colors that were used. Notice how the triangles appear in many different sizes.


When the Crow traded for horses with the Spanish, they sometimes received horse equipment as well. The form of this saddle was inspired by the construction of Spanish saddles.

Rawhide Containers
Rawhide Containers

The Crow painting style of the 1700s greatly influenced their geometric beadwork. The painted designs on the two cylindrical containers that hang off of the saddle are made up of isosceles triangles, similar to patterns in the beadwork on other parts of the outfit. The triangles are outlined by areas of the surface that were left unpainted. These containers were used to store and carry special possessions. The long fringes attached to one of the containers added to its attractiveness when it was suspended from a saddle, as seen here.


The ropes are made of out leather and bison hair and are used for securing loads onto pack horses. Notice the decorative ball-shapes at each end of the rope.


Once the horse was saddled and the rider was in position, only the ornamental bands on this saddle blanket would be visible.


The Crow used woolen trade cloth extensively, both for practical purposes and as a design element. Pieces of cloth were often integrated into beadwork designs to save time in dealing with large areas and to provide variation in color and pattern.


The bridle is covered in more geometric beading. Attached to the bridle is a circular piece that lies on the forehead of the horse. This piece is also decorated with beads and is edged with stiff horsehair. A triangular section made of tassels falls above the horse’s nostrils. The metal fringe that hangs down below the horse’s mouth shows a Spanish influence.


The forked pommel tells us that this is a woman’s saddle.


Women sometimes added ornamental flaps to the outside of their stirrups, while men’s stirrups were typically not decorated—more evidence that this horse gear was made for a woman.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.