When is looking horsey a compliment?

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PENDLETON, Ore. - Just as the car has morphed into a fashion statement, a representation of the owner's status and pride in appearance, horses have served as a status symbol for tribal members ever since the arrival in the 17th century of the then latest mode of transport.

"They Would Parade, Pasunkniknxana," the new exhibit at the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla's Tam?stslikt Cultural Institute running through March 19, demonstrates just how good a horse can look.

Martingales, saddles, saddle blankets, bridle keyhole decorations, horse masks and saddle bags - some of them generations old - display what the well-dressed horse of this century and the last should wear. The exhibit items are on loan from tribal members and other museums, in particular the High Desert Museum of Bend. Many of the tribal member's items are treasured family heirlooms and usually are only brought out for special occasions.

Tribal women have always taken pride in the appearance of their families - and their horses. The exhibit proves that beadwork and cornhusk weaving aren't just for adorning people.

According to Linda Jones, who contributed several items, the horse regalia she loaned for the exhibit only comes out for special occasions such as selection of her niece, Sydelle Harrison, as a Happy Canyon Princess in 2000. While the regalia may still look new (thanks to careful storage and infrequent use) she believes the horse mask once belonged to her grandfather, Willie Wocatsie, a traditional chief of the Walla Walla. Wocatsie died in 1950. She received this and other horse regalia through her mother, Elizabeth Wocatsie Jones, who suggested the mask could have been a gift bestowed on her grandfather in his role as chief.

Sharon Weathers' beaded saddle blanket gives visitors a look at an item Weathers received from a family member over 30 years ago. She in turn has used it in her role in the annual Happy Canyon Pageant.

Horse regalia from the High Desert Museum come from the museum's large collection donated in 1990 by the late Doris Swayze Bounds, a prominent regional banker. Much of her collection consisted of items from the Umatilla, Walla Walla and Cayuse cultures.

According to Bobbie Conner, Tam?stslikt Cultural Institute director, "We're very pleased to have this opportunity to show our visitors items that are usually kept stored away by their owners. This is a rare opportunity to see some beautiful items representative of our tribal horse culture." She noted that the full story of the Tribes' horse culture is told in Tam?stslikt's permanent exhibits.

Tam?stslikt Cultural Institute is located on the grounds of Wildhorse Resort & Casino, 10 minutes east of Pendleton, Ore. Tam?stslikt is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call (541) 966-9748 or visit www.tamastslikt.com .