Last Updated on February 28, 2023
If you’ve ever seen a rodeo or visited a working dude ranch, you may have seen that they use many types of ropes. But what is the rope used by a cowboy called? Is a lariat the same as a lasso? And what kind of rope is used for a lasso or lariat rope?
What Kind of Rope Do Cowboys Use?
Lassos and lariats have been used by cowboys for hundreds of years to rope cattle. Today, people use them for trick roping, roping competitions, and managing cattle.
The type of rope used by a cowboy is available in different lengths and styles depending on what activity they are doing. It takes lots of skill to use a rope while riding a horse, no matter if you are roping cattle or doing tricks. However, many people can master roping with lots of practice and dedication.
But when it comes to lariat vs lasso rope, what is the difference?
Well, there is no simple answer here! The rope used by a cowboy can be called either a lasso or a lariat, or sometimes just simply a rope! The technically correct term for the rope itself is lariat, and the word lasso is referred to how it is used. For example: “he used his lariat to lasso the calf”. However, you’ll see Western shops selling ropes called lariats and lassos, so nobody will shoot you down if you call your rope a lasso!
And, just to complicate the matter further, there is another type of rope used by a cowboy, called a ranch rope. This is a much longer rope than a lariat and is the best rope for roping cattle out on the ranch.
What Kind of Rope is Used for a Lasso?
The word lasso comes from the Spanish word “Lazo” which means a tie. Descriptions of lassos were first seen in the hieroglyphics of Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs. Historians also believe that Huns in Ancient China used lassos as well.
Lassos or lariat ropes have also been used by Native Americans, who were the first to incorporate using them on horseback. From there, lassos have been an icon of the American cowboy.
For lassos to be effective, they need to be made out of sturdy, yet flexible material. Originally they would use horsehair or cowhide. Hair ropes were often more popular than cowhide ropes since they were lighter, but cowhide ropes were sturdier and would get fewer kinks.
There are several different parts of a lariat rope, the most important of which is the loop which is used to form the larger lariat loop. This loop is called the honda, and a basic lariat rope will be made by tying a honda knot at the end of the rope. Other types of rope have a reinforced loop, made from a metal ring or rawhide.
What are the Different Types of Rope Used by a Cowboy?
There are several different types of ropes that cowboys use, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Every roper will have their favorite rope that uses for lassoing. The factors that influence what type of rope to buy include the length, weight, and flexibility of the rope.
Here are some of the most common types of rope used by a cowboy available today:
For modern-day lassos, nylon is a popular material that many people prefer to use. Nylon is sturdy and sustainable, making it a favorite among many ropers. It is stiff, which allows the loop to stay open while you throw it.
Some nylon ropes are braided, which makes them more durable, with many people finding them more comfortable to use. Nylon lassos are often the best option for beginners. They tend to be easier to work with than other materials.
Polyester lariat rope
Another popular material used for lassos is polyester. Polyester is durable yet flexible, making it supple to use. It will often be twisted or braided to make it extra sturdy.
Polyester rope is often a popular choice for beginners or children. They are often ideal for tie-downs and team lasso events. If you want to practice your lasso skills in your backyard, they are a great choice.
Hemp lariat rope
Though not as common as nylon or polyester, hemp is another material that people use to make lassos. They are a wonderful alternative to traditional horsehair and cowhide. Many people will choose hemp rope for its strength and durability.
Hemp rope is long-lasting and made from natural material. Though they can be great for those with experience, they are not practical for beginners as they are heavy. Though they take practice to use, many experienced ropers do like to use them.
Maguey lariat rope
Maguey, which is agave, is a popular material people use to make lassos in Mexico. Many people prefer to use it for its hard, yet smooth finish. Those who do trick roping often use Maguey ropes.
How Long is a Rope Used By a Cowboy?
The length of lasso ropes varies widely, depending on what they are to be used for. A full-sized lasso rope can be as long as 60 feet, but smaller head ropes are normally around half this length.
Shorter ropes are often referred to as lariat ropes, while long ropes are called ranch ropes. If you are just starting at roping, it is better to select a shorter rope initially and build up to a full-size rope.
You may find that you need ropes of different lengths and thicknesses to suit different tasks on the ranch. A thin, lightweight soft rope can have multiple uses, such as tying horses up and securing gates. A full-size lasso rope is commonly used for catching horses and cattle, but may also come in useful for heavy-duty work such as pulling down broken branches.
What’s The Difference Between a Lasso and a Rope?
A lasso is a piece of rope that has been tied in a particular way to turn it into a lasso. A special knot called a lariat hitch is tied at one end of the rope, which forms a small, fixed loop of rope. The free end of the rope is passed through this loop, creating a larger loop that can be made larger or smaller as the lariat hitch slides up and down the rope.
It can be possible to turn any rope into a lasso, as long as it is long enough for the intended purpose. It should also be light enough to be thrown easily, and soft enough to allow it to be manipulated easily.
In a confusing twist of terminology, the term roping is also used to describe a form of equestrian sport using a lasso. Roping is a western riding pursuit where young cattle are caught using a lasso, and the lasso rope is then used to restrain the calf. The horse and rider must work together in this sport to catch and restrain the calf as quickly as possible with the minimum of distress to the calf.
Where to Buy Lariat Rope?
There are various options when it comes to buying lariat rope. If you know the type of rope you prefer, it is possible to get a good deal by ordering it from one of the many online western tack suppliers.
However, if you are new to roping, it is a good idea to try and visit a store in person. This will enable you to try out different types and lengths of rope, to find what suits you best. Alternatively, you may be able to practice using ropes from a friend or a trainer, then order the type which you like the best.
Lariat rope is either sold cut to size, or in longer lengths or rolls. If you are planning on doing a lot of roping you may find that your ropes need replacing regularly, so buying in bulk may be more cost-effective.
While buying a lariat rope or lasso, it is worth considering whether you should invest in a rope bag to store your rope when not in use. Lariat ropes can represent a considerable investment, and storing them correctly can significantly increase their lifespan.
So, as we have learned, the type of rope used by a cowboy for rodeo events is a lariat rope, but for work out on the ranch is it more likely that they will use a longer ranch rope. The material from which the rope is made will vary according to personal preference and the skill level of the rider. The rope should be stiff yet lightweight enough for the rider to swing and accurately throw the lariat loop.
We would love to hear your thoughts on the different types of rope used by a cowboy! Would you love to have a try at throwing a real lariat rope? Or maybe you’ve got some questions about how to learn how to lasso a calf? Leave a comment below and we will get back to you!
What is a Ranch Rope?
A ranch rope is a type of lariat made for day-to-day roping on a working ranch. Ranch ropes are designed with traditional working cowboys in mind, and you are unlikely to see a ranch rope being used in competitive events.
When a ranch rope is made, the fibers are waxed before making the rope. This gives ranch ropes superior abrasion resistance making the rope last a long time. This waxing method also adds just the right amount of weight to the rope that cowhands/ranch hands look for in a ranch rope.
What is The Difference Between a Calf Rope and a Ranch Rope?
Ranch ropes are intended to be used by cowhands and ranch hands working with livestock as a herd, while calf ropes are used when working with a single calf. Ranch roping requires accuracy and the ability to control the movements of the animal in a slow and precise way, and it is very rare to see any fast action with ranch roping.
In calf roping, also called tie-down roping, the rider’s full attention is on a single calf. The calf is already separated from the herd, and it is necessary to move at a fast pace so the calf can be roped. When a calf is cut from the herd they will try to get back to the herd as quickly as possible, making the speed and quick maneuvers from the cowboy and his horse mandatory.
For calf roping, having a rope that is stiff and can slide quickly through the honda is very important. In ranch roping, the emphasis is on the strength and durability of the rope. A working cowhand will normally have both types of rope, depending on the type of activity taking place on the ranch.
What is The Best Ranch Rope?
When choosing an all-around ranch rope, nylon is the top choice for many ropers. Ropes are now available in a huge variety of different nylon that can be custom-made to meet your exact needs. Nylon ropes let you get the day-to-day things on the ranch done and you can still have the speed for roping competitions.
The best ranch rope will be on the softer side in the heat and become stiffer in the cold. A rope with these qualities is not susceptible to weather conditions, therefore it works great in rain, snow, cold, and hot temperatures. Nylon ranch ropes are the top choice among cowhands due to the versatility and consistency it provides.
How Do You Break in a New Rope?
To break in a new rope properly the first thing to do is take a few practice throws. You can use a fence post, roping dummy, or anything that has a little bit of stability and weight behind it. Doing this will help you decide what changes need to be made to the rope so you can achieve the feel you like.
You are going to need to add a bit of flexibility to your rope as well. Stretch your rope by attaching one end of the top to a post and dally the other end on the saddle horn. Stretch the rope by backing your horse until the rope is tight, hold for a few min, and then check to see if the rope has reached the flexibility you’re wanting. Repeat this until the rope has the flexibility and feels right for you.
If your rope feels sticky and is not sliding smoothly, cover the rope with baby powder, rubbing the powder in between the nylon braids and creases. This will keep your rope slick and will improve how quickly the rope moves.
Now your rope is perfect for you, so let’s keep it that way! Use your rope as often as possible, preferably every day. At the end of each practice session wipe your rope down, remove any mud and dirt, re-powder your rope, and shake off any excess, coil and place it in the bag designed to store your rope.