Tack & Gear

El Mecate — The Hair Rope

The steps to tie a mecate.

There are many different ways this hair rope is tied and mis-tied, pronounced and mis-pronounced — here are some hints from a man who knows.

An old time pice of riding gear that seems to be in much dispute today is the twisted hair rope made from horse’s mane. It isn’t so many years ago that the hair rope was to be found in nearly every buckaroo’s out­fit.. It might vary in size from a small quarter inch tie rope up to a ¾ inch, six-strand, 30-foot, hackamore rein and lead rope, depending upon condi­tions a rider was called upon to make a living. The professional bronc stomper used the large hackamore with a heavy mecate, and others who took on colts to continue with them after they had been roughed out would come down to about a half inch size mecate. A nice six-strand, ¾ inch mecatito made from colt mane was used by the rider who had his colt ready for the two-rein.

During the early times I am speak­ing about, you could pretty well tell what section of the country a buckaroo was from by the way he pronounced some of his riding gear. Out here on the Pacific slope the name for the hair rope is mecate while in some parts of eastern Oregon and parts of Nevada you sometimes heard them called me cates. The common name gener­ally used by riders throughout the northwestern cattle country was Mc­Carthy, both terms being corruptions of the Spanish name mecate (may-cah’tay).

It was known fact that the hair rope played an important part in the balance of the hackamore because the rope was made to fit the jaquima just as the bosal was made the fit the horse.

It can be safely said here that one of the main reasons the mecate is not popular today is because most of them found on the market are made from coarse mane and tail and are rough and sticky to the rider’s hands as well as to the horse. Old-time hair rope makers were very fussy about the quality of mane that went into the making of a well-balanced rope. All hair was sorted and washed and any with urine or blood stains on was discarded be­cause the acid weakens the hair. The finer mane was sorted out for the bet­ter quality, six- and eight-strand ropes that were to be used on advanced hackamore horses, while the coarser mane was made into a heavier mecate for the early stages of a green colt’s training. The tail from a horse or steer was used for the heart or filler on the six- and eight-strand ropes.

A common practice among many buckaroos who specialized in roughing out colts was to use the heavy mecate made from steer or horse tail. This was before the cotton rope was known about, but now it is usually preferred because it is less expensive and easy to get.

A number of riders find it difficult to tie the reins so they may get the most effective use of the hackamore. A puzzling factor is no doubt due to the many “barber shop cowboys” who have ideas of their own, and one who is trying to do it right often gets all muddled from listening to advice from “would be” hackamore men.

Los vaqueritos of my time were not experimenting with various ideas on tying the hackamore rein. There were only a couple of ways to tie them up properly that were used by the old hands, and they were very particular to get the wraps to set down smoothly and have the tassel hang at the right length. They wanted the reins coming out behind the first wrap close to the horse’s jaw. This style as shown in the first illustration was put on neatly, was very attractive, and had the effective action on the jaws of the horse from the cheeks of the bosal.

The hackamore heel knot has a lot to do with the hair rope because if the latter is a large size and used on a medium weight jaquima there will be too much weight which will irritate the horse. However, if you have a bosal made with a little dinkey heel knot and flimsy body there isn’t much hope of getting any effective use out of the outfit no matter what kind of rope you use on it. Then again you may come across a bosal with a good body to it but far too big a heel knot so that any size rope you might use couldn’t make a balanced hackamore. The reader may wonder why dif­ferent sized mecates are used in the various stages of training. As men­tioned earlier in this article about the professional horse breaker, the ¾ inch rope with the ¾ inch or the 7/8 inch hackamore used for starting is for bal­ance as well as to give a better grip for the rider because there will be times when he may have to double back his bronco to keep him from getting his head down. It is not unusual for a raw bronc to be spooky, and when he gets that way the rider has a good grip to hold him.

When the colt is far enough along in his training he is put into a smaller hackamore with a lighter mecate. To­day we don’t find the need for as heavy equipment on the gentle raised, hot-blooded horses. Usually the 5/8 inch bosal is sufficient for the average colt and a half-inch mecate to balance with it.

Oftentimes a hair rope will come with a very small tassel as in No. 2 that will slip through the cheeks of the bosal when given a hard pull by the rider. When an extra round is taken on the left cheek of the bosal as shown, there is no danger of this tassel end ever pulling through after the rein is once tied as in the first illustration. This is the start in making the hacka­more rein.

Then make your rein the length you want by running the other end of the rope between the cheeks, No. 3. Make a wrap over both cheeks as shown in No. 4 and go in back of the rein like No. 5 pictures. With one or two wraps as shown here, the lead rope is then brought around and down be­tween the cheeks beside the wrap of the tassel as in No. 1. It is not a bad idea when buying a hackamore to get it short enough so two wraps of the mecate are plenty. If, however, an extra wrap is needed to make the bosal fit, it is added below the other one, leaving your rein coming out in the right position.

Some riders like hackamores with six or eight wraps taken, saying that it is for weight. This makes an awkward­ looking piece of equipment which is not necessary because plenty of weight can be built into the hackamore and still give a well-fitting, neat piece of equipment.

Occasionally, you find an individual who prefers the rein to come out close to the heel knot below the wraps and claims he can bring a colt to time much easier. Reins coming out close to the jaw, as has been illustrated, give you quicker contact with the horse’s jaw than you have when it’s necessary to life the whole length of wraps.

This article was originally published in the April 1955 issue of Western Horseman.

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