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Hi Bob,

I'm a big fan of your web-site and a long term horse lover.(don't have one)

For the life of me I cannot gather my brain around the purpose of a "Mecate" I see them on TV/Movies, and in magazines... can you explain? The dictionary doesn't do it for me... perhaps my brain is a small as a horses'.

R. E. M.


One way to think of a mecate (or, as it's often Anglicized, a "McCarty") is as the "Swiss Army Knife" of horse reins. In Spanish, the word "mecate" simply means "rope" or "cord" -- which doesn't say much about how it's used! It can be used as a single rein, a split rein, a lead rope, a jerkline, a longe line, a whip, or a quirt. It is useful in teaching a horse to neck rein or stand ground hitched, as well as for halter training.

The mecate is most commonly used with a snaffle bit, a hackamore, or a bosal. One end of the mecate has a little tassle called a "mota"; the other end has a popper like the one on a bull whip. With a snaffle bit, a short leather strap called a "slobber strap" is connected to each of the snaffle rings. The slobber strap has a hole at the bottom. The mota end of the mecate is connected to the slobber strap on the off side. (I won't go into the details of how it is connected.)

Mecate with bosal About 20 feet long, the mecate loops around the neck and through the hole on the near side slobber strap (or back to the hackamore or bosal, as the case may be), where it is secured with a simple loop. The excess mecate is then either looped back around the saddle horn or tucked into the rider's belt.

When the rider is mounted, the portion of the mecate around the back of the horse's neck becomes the rider's reins. When he dismounts (or, heaven forbid, gets thrown), the long end instantly becomes a lead rope or a sort of jerkline to keep the horse under control. Dropping the mecate turns it into a ground hitch -- if the horse steps on it, it will stop itself. The popper on the free end of the mecate allows it to be used as a whip in driving livestock, and shortening up on that end turns it into a handy quirt. On the trail, the free end of the mecate can be tied to a hitching rail or picket line. And it can be used as a short longe line for situations when the trainer wants to stay rather close to the horse. In short, in the hands of a knowledgable horseman it's a highly versatile tool.

Photo by Alfred Harrell, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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