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A lasso, lariat, or riata (from the Spanish reata) is a loop of rope that is designed to be thrown around a target and tighten when pulled. It is a well-known tool of the American cowboy. The word is also a verb; to lasso is to successfully throw the loop of rope around something. When referring to the entire length of rope used, before or after a loop is formed, the rope itself is more properly called a lariat. Many cowboys simply call it a “rope.”
A lariat is made from stiff rope so that the noose stays open when the lasso is thrown. It also allows the cowboy to easily open up the noose from horseback to release the cattle because the rope is stiff enough to be pushed a little. A high quality lasso is weighted for better handling. The lariat has a small reinforced loop at one end, called a honda or hondo, through which the rope passes to form a loop. The honda can be formed by a honda knot (or another loop knot), an eye splice, a seizing, or a metal ring. The other end is usually tied simply in a small, tight, overhand knot to prevent fraying. Most modern lariats are made of stiff nylon rope, usually about 5/16″ or 3/8″ in diameter.
The lariat is used today in rodeos as part of the competitive events such as calf roping and team roping. It is also still used on working ranches to capture cattle or other livestock when necessary. After catching the cattle, the lariat can be tied or wrapped (dallied) around the horn, a typical feature on the front of a western saddle. With the lariat around the horn, the cowboy can use his horse as the equivalent of a towtruck with a winch.
Part of the historical culture of both the vaqueros of Mexico and the cowboys of the Western United States, is a related skill now called “trick roping”, a performance of assorted lasso spinning tricks. Will Rogers was a well-known practitioner of trick roping and the natural horsemanship practitioner Buck Brannaman also got his start as a trick roper when he was a child.
Lassos are not only part of North American culture; relief carvings at the ancient Egyptian temple of Pharaoh Seti I at Abydos, built c.1280 BC, show the pharaoh holding a lasso, then holding onto a bull roped around the horns. They were also used by Tatars and are still used by the Sami people. In Mongolia, a variant of the lasso called an uurga (Mongolian: ?????) is used, consisting of a rope loop at the end of a long pole.