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Lee Pitts is an independent columnist for The Atascadero News and Paso Robles Press; you can email them at

Isn’t it odd that two creatures are unable to hear the same sound? For example, a dog can hear a high-pitched whistle, whereas the human that blew it cannot. And husbands and wives who have been united in wedlock for more than six months are unable to hear a single word the other says. And generally speaking, if there is more than a ten-year difference in age between an adult and a youngster, the child is unable to understand a single word the adult is saying. Maybe it’s due to ear wax buildup.

That is why the universal language of hand signals is necessary. This universal code was first developed by heavy equipment operators and sheepherders to tell their dogs to GO GET IN THE TRUCK! But ranch couples may find just as much use for this universal body language.

A good example of where hand signals come in handy is when the man and wife team is attempting to hook up a bumper pull horse trailer. As the woman backs up the truck, the man stands near the trailer hitch with his hands spread wide apart to indicate the distance remaining between the bumper of the truck and the trailer. As the wife guns the engine, the man then signals for her to SLOW IT DOWN. This is indicated by raising both arms horizontally and waving frantically. As the rear bumper of the pick-up crashes into the trailer, causing it to fall off the termite-ridden stack of wood it’s sitting on, the man then takes off his hat and beats it repeatedly against his knee, indicating to the wife to “come hither” to remove the trailer which is now resting on his foot.

The most important hand gesture ranch couples should commit to memory is the STOP command. This comes in handy when the male is holding a cold chisel, fence post, rail-splitter, or any other item for his mate to hit with a seven-pound sledge. When she misses and hits the male thumb instead, he should grab his swollen digit, jump up and down excitedly and spin around in a circle like a dog looking for a place to lay down. He should then draw his hand across his throat, indicating to the wife that she should STOP before causing further nerve damage. Usually, this warning comes much too late, and the wife always gets in another lick or two. Or seven or eight, depending on the current condition of the couple’s marital bliss.


Some commands are totally male or totally female. When the husband comes in after a hard days work, smelling like an old pair of sheepherder’s socks, and wants to have intimate relations, the wife should first grab her nose between her thumb and forefinger at the same time making a very disagreeable facial expression, which should not require too much acting skill. This is the signal for NOT NOW DOG BREATH!

A typical ‘male only’ signal is the one to SHUT UP. The man covers both ears with his hands and pretends not to hear a single word his nagging wife says. This gesture should be learned in tandem with the defensive maneuver to PROTECT YOUR FACE. This is done by raising the male forearm and placing it in front of his ugly mug to ward off his wife’s wicked right hook, which, if not checked, will leave him laid out colder than a meat hook.

Hand signals come in particularly handy when working cattle that are wilder than a turpentined cat. If after a day of hard riding, your elusive Mexican steers have been gathered only to be scattered to the four corners of the compass by a banker or a supplement salesman who comes barging in at exactly the wrong time, you should raise your hand in a clenched fist and wave it in a threatening manner. Next, the man should raise his right arm and motion the wife in the direction she needs to go to block the steer’s escape. This is the same signal used when the wife is in the way of the television set. The wife will probably give some sort of signal in return, but it should be ignored.