What is a Lasso?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
The lasso is an iconic symbol of the American west.
The lasso is an iconic symbol of the American west.

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.

Cowboys use lassos to bring rogue cattle or sheep under control.
Cowboys use lassos to bring rogue cattle or sheep under control.

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

tigers88

@summing - I've also been to the American Royal and you will probably remember that they also have the competition where a horse rider has to chase down and then lasso a calf or a sheep or a pig, one of those animals.

I had never been to a rodeo before I went to the Royal and I remember thinking that that event was the coolest thing I saw all day. It looked like it took so much skill to stay perched on top of the horse and accurately throw that lasso. Its one of those things that really makes you impressed by cowboys.

summing

As a kid I grew up in Kansas City where we have the American Royal. This is one of the largest gatherings for people interested in horses, cattle and the lifestyle that has sprouted up around them.

It goes on for almost a full week and they have all kinds of horse riding competitions and livestock displays. But I can remember as a kid that they always had this amazing lasso show put on by some old cowboy.

He must have been at least 70 but he could do tricks that I have never seen anyone do before or since. Its like the lasso was an extension of his arm and he could do just about anything he wanted to with it. It was a great show but of course he got older and had to retire from the ring. They probably have someone else doing lasso tricks these days but I'm sue they're not as good.

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    • The lasso is an iconic symbol of the American west.
      The lasso is an iconic symbol of the American west.
    • Cowboys use lassos to bring rogue cattle or sheep under control.
      Cowboys use lassos to bring rogue cattle or sheep under control.