A lasso is a length of rope with a running noose installed on one end for the purpose of catching large livestock such as cattle and horses. Lassos have been used in North America for hundreds of years, and they were also used in parts of Ancient Egypt, among other places, with evidence suggesting that the basic design was invented in several different places independently. The lasso continues to be a part of the gear of most North and South American ranch hands.
Traditionally, lassos were made from hemp or rawhide. These materials are ideal for making lassos because they are strong, lightweight, and slightly stiff. The stiffness of a lasso keeps the loop open, making it easier to catch an animal, and also makes it easier to handle the lasso. Nylon is commonly used on many ranches today, since it is cheap and readily available, although some traditionalists still prefer to use old-fashioned materials.
The running noose on a lasso can be made either by tying it into a length of rope, or by looping the rope through a metal ring. Either way, the design allows the user to pull the lasso tight to secure an animal, and to loosen it relatively easily to release the animal when needed. When a ranch hand is on horseback, the lasso is often looped around the saddle horn so that the horse throws its weight behind the lassoing or “roping” of the target animal.
You may also hear a lasso referred to as a lariat or riata, words which reference the Spanish word reata, which means “rope.” Whatever one calls it, this basic tool is extremely useful. A lasso can be used to quickly catch a riding horse, and to separate and control cattle and horses from their herds. Skilled ranch hands can operate a lasso quickly, efficiently, and painlessly, with the goal being capture and control as quickly as possible so that the animal does not panic and injure itself or others.
Some lasso users also learn trick roping, a variety of showy tricks which can be performed with a lasso. Trick roping is often on display at rodeos and parades in the American West, with trick ropers demonstrating a range of skills with their lassos, from making large loops and stepping through them to creating patterns in the air with a skillfully manipulated lasso. Trick roping may also be combined with trick riding, in which horses are put through their paces by their riders.