The Vaqueros of the old west were skilled horsemen who valued their horses and their rawhide horse tack. The Vaqueros had an arsenal of "tools" to assist them with their every day task on the range. One of these "tools" was the Rawhide Reata (or riata).
The word reata is from the Spanish word reatar, meaning to retie or a rope which ties one animal to another. The rawhide reata was a long braided rawhide rope used by the early Mexican Vaqueros and was no doubt first introduced into Mexico by the Spanish conquerors. Though the word reata is often used to refer to any rope, the genuine Vaquero reata was and is a special item. The reata was usually 40 to 80 feet long and was made from twisted strands of rawhide. The finest riatas used rawhide strands, cut by experts, from the primest part of several young heifer hides. The hides were well chosen and properly cured.
The Reateros (Spanish for "rope maker") were masters at the craft of braiding reatas and all other vaquero rawhide tools. Many of these tools were truly works of art. The braiding of the riatas was not only an art form but the braids had uniformity and even tension. This was to insure a durable working tool for the Vaquero.
The rawhide riata was the most useful tool of the Californio Vaquero and he was highly proficient in handling it. The dexterity displayed by the Vaquero ropers impressed the early Americans cowhands and the riata was quickly adopted by them as were other items of equipment used by the vaqueros. The riata can be thrown farther, with the use of less energy and retaining a more perfect loop, than any other type of rope on the market.
The Mexican way to treat the riata to keep it supple was to tie it between two trees. Then rub it first with lemon juice (cut a fresh lemon in two and rub the fruit along the length) and then rub it with beef fat (suet). This kept the leather from drying out or becoming stiff. Today, if you use an artificial product it will make the reata too limber.
The Riatas of the old west and today are braided in 4, 6, or 8 strands. The 8 strand, if made by a top reatero, is a beautiful article and superb for light roping. For the average hard work on large stock, the 4 strand is the best. Diameters vary according to individual preference, but the 3/8 inch riata is the one most used today and in the old west. A rawhide riata can also be different stiffness's (called in roping circles: lays) depending on what type of rawhide is used. For instance, bull hide make a very stiff rope perfect for heel roping.
The rawhide reatas of the old west were a useful tool of the Vaquero. But, one may also look at them as a true work of art and craftsmanship.
Be apart of true Western Horsemanship at the Horsemen's Re-Union in Paso Robles, Ca. See our modern day horseman and horsewoman use their knowledge of the Vaquero's of the Old West to start 40 colts in 5 days.
photograph by Adriane Hartzell Photography
The Horesmen's Re-Union is from April 15th-20th and Buckaroo Leather is attending this magnificent display of horsemanship.
Buckaroo Leather Wagon at the Horsemen's Re-Union
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