Admit it: Snagging a target with a lasso — whether it’s a bank robber making off with the loot or a runaway stallion about to trample a toddler — is pretty high on your bucket list of manly acts. Unlikely? Maybe. Super cool? Absolutely. While you may never have the opportunity to leap aboard the deck of a boat as it leaves the dock or utter the phrase “There’s no time for backup!” it only takes a bit of practice to be fluent enough with a lariat to impress your kids. And that’s pretty manly, too.
The first thing to learn about throwing a lasso is that almost all the technique is based on doing it from horseback. The art of the lasso, which has become a recognized sport, might look fancy and graceful, but it is born from saddle-tough practicality. Even today, when cattle get lost on a large spread, the method of bringing them back involves a cowboy and 60 feet of rope.
“Swinging a rope is everything. Where you swing the top of your rope dictates where the rope will fly,” says Gary Williams, a contract cowboy who hires himself out to ranchers to catch wild cattle on their property. “The most common technique for catching cattle, roping them around the head or horns, is an overhead loop, where the tip of the rope is falling in front of your face. If you swing it sidearm, that is typically for heeling cattle, catching their hind legs.”
Follow these rules to throw an overhead loop that would make John Wayne proud:
The Stance: Stand 15 to 20 feet away from your target with your feet apart and your weight on the balls of your feet as if you are in a saddle. Hold the coils of the rope in your left hand and the end with the loop and the honda (the name for the eye that slides the loop open and closed) in your right hand. Hold the loop and the slack together in order to keep the loop open. This section of rope, from your hand to the honda, is called the spoke. “You want to back off the eye a good 18 inches,” says Robert Herring, a former competitive roper and cowboy.
The Swing: “Twirling the rope is where most beginners make their mistake,” Herring says. “They have a hard time comprehending the wrist roll. Swinging your arm will not give you a full loop. You have to rotate the rope over your head with some wrist action to get the loop.” Hold your right arm straight overhead and begin swinging the rope almost exclusively with the wrist. While doing so, maintain your grasp on two strands of rope: the loop and the spoke.
The Throw: While the swing is in the wrist, the arm is responsible for the throw. “You lay it more than you throw it,” Williams says. “You have to follow through with your whole arm. After you release the rope, your hand should be pointing at the target.” Herring likes to aim for the right ear or horn of the animal, and he points out that there is no need to lead the target. “If I am standing, then neither one of us is moving, and if I am riding, then we are both going the same speed,” he says.
The Jerk: Once you have dropped the loop over your target, you want to pull the rope taut. This isn’t as simple as it sounds. You must pull the rope with the same hand that threw it because your other hand is holding the reins and you don’t want to jerk your steed. (You’re on horseback, remember?) Pick up the slack by turning your throwing hand over and grasping the rope with your palm down and your thumb pointed toward you. This will keep any stray fingers from getting caught in the slack. “A lot of cowboys are missing fingers and thumbs from not picking up their slack right,” Williams says. “When that steer hits the end of the rope at 45 miles per hour, it can pop your fingers right off.”