By Julie Carter

The rancher’s wife stands at the gate waiting for him to make up his mind which direction he is going to go with the small herd of cattle he’s bringing to the pens. She sees him look at the cattle that are trotting a little faster than he’d like and then glance at her, but he says nothing.

With long established telepathy, she knows by watching him she’s got the wrong gate open even though it’s the one he told her to have ready. She slams her gate and runs as fast as boots, spurs and chaps will let her to the other gate that is now the one that needs opened.

cowgirl sass sign languageThe language that is spoken and more often not spoken at the ranch requires visual skills as well as interpretive ones. Some days the meaning comes through loud and clear without words.

Cattle and horses speak to their owners through patterns and natural instincts. A mother cow will eventually give away the location of her hidden new baby if you just quietly watch her trying to not give it away. She will look every which way but the right one until at one point, she’ll glance the direction of her calf.

A baby calf, falling behind the herd while you are driving them, will get a look in his eye that means in the next second you are going to see him with his tail curled up over his back, eyes glazed over, and leaving to go back to where he came from before you bothered him. By instinct, he will return to the last place he suckled his momma and wait for her return.

A horse’s ears will perk up to attention while you ride through the brush, and you can bet the bank he’s heard, seen or smelled something you haven’t. If the rider will pay attention, a horse will find more cattle in the brush than a rider will ever see on his own.

Ranch husband and wife communications, while pretty much the same across the land, take on a bit more animation and sometimes humor. The “funny” often doesn’t arrive until later, and sometimes much later, like years later, when the story is retold.

While she’s chunking rocks at the bulls to get them through the gate and he’s hollering it’s the wrong gate, or wrong cattle or wrong something, the next rock chunking usually is directly at him. Not hard to interpret that.

A time-proven cowboy trick is to loudly give the wife instruction that she doesn’t need, but that someone else within hearing does. Rather than offend the “help” that he won’t scold, he makes her look less than capable with his admonitions to her in hopes the one who needs to hear it will. It usually fails in its intended mission and the chill in the air at the ranch house could last for days. A can of Spam served on a plate, still in the can mind you, is a not-so-subtle hint of the relationship infraction.

A nod, a whistle, a wave or a shake of his head speaks an entire language to his partner who most often is also the cook. Better judgment on his part is not always in use when communicating his thoughts. He knows that there is fine line between making a point and her quitting him all together.

Sometimes though, he just has to ask, “You mean the marriage license didn’t include ‘for better or worse’ and for mind reading?”

Julie, a fair hand at reading cowboy sign language and dishing out a bit of it herself, can be reached for comment at