Learn to tie this knot that celebrates the vaquero bridle horse culture.
By William Reynolds
One of the most interesting knots to become synonymous with the California vaquero and the bridle horse culture is the alamar knot. A purely decorative knot, it evolved into a symbol of a horse being “in the bridle,” meaning the horse had reached a level of training where he was comfortably working in the spade bit. This achievement between vaquero and horse could take up to 10 years of patient work—progressing through numerous training steps that did not rush the horse. The alamar knot represents that legacy of “taking the time it takes.” The “slow means fast” approach continues to be practiced today by many bridle horse aficionados.
On special occasions to celebrate his horse’s level of competency, the vaquero of old would take his finest horsehair mecate and wrap it twice around the horse’s neck and carefully tie the alamar knot with the two ends—making sure when finished, the ends were even.
Much discussion has revolved around the origin of the knot, but a logical one places many of its first sightings on freight arriving in California aboard ships that came to trade for cattle hides and tallow—items that were in high demand and plentiful in the early 1800s along the region’s coast. Many boxes or barrels that arrived were tied with set lengths of rope. Smaller packages were tied with a variety of decorative knots so as to maintain the standard line lengths so the ropes could have multiple uses. The alamar’s origin as a nautical knot makes even more sense when considering that it is similar to a “Carrick Bend” and a “Japanese Parcel Knot.”
As freight moved around the region, these knots would be seen and copied, mostly for practical purposes. During that era, vaqueros often tied the alamar knot at the end of an existing mecate when riding in special events in which exhibiting extra flash or decoration was in order. As stated earlier, the horsehair rope would be wrapped twice around the horse’s neck with the ends tied into the decorative knot.
A successfully tied alamar knot, which many say resembles a pretzel, is one with both ends equal in length once the knot is tied. Considering that test, it’s easy to imagine how the knot was a symbol of honor and represented the vaquero’s sense of pride and competitive nature.
Once you get the hang of it, it’s actually a relatively easy knot to tie. To help you learn we enlisted the talent of artist Teal Blake to show us the steps in successfully tying the alamar. It takes a little practice to get the ends the same length, so before you try it with 22 feet of hair rope, try it first with 22 inches of string.
Book of Knots
The Alamar knot, along with numerous other decorative knots, can be found in the ultimate knot-tying book, The Ashley Book of Knots, written by Clifford Ashley. First printed in 1944, Ashley died just three years later and did not live to see his book become the bible for dedicated knot tiers. As the author said of the craft’s exactness, “A knot is either exactly right or hopelessly wrong.” Amen.