James Horswell

Sheep Farmer

Coming into the farming community as an outsider is no mean feat in itself, but coming to it as an outsider and gay was an even bigger challenge.

As a young boy I always had a dream of being a “farmer”, often to be told by my grandmother that there was no money in it and it was a hard life – she was correct on both counts! Never the less I did my school work-experience on a dairy farm, and well and truly got the bug. I left school at 16 and threw myself into college at Hartpury to pursue my ambition to get into this industry.

Going to college with 25 mainly farmers’ sons, knowing that you liked boys more than girls was challenging to say the least. I experienced an overwhelming amount of pressure to fit in with the “lad” culture, putting any thoughts or feelings I had towards men to the back of my mind in an effort to fit in. I have often found in the farming industry that not having come from a farming background, people almost treat you like you have some kind of disability and that you clearly won’t be as good as someone that is. I felt that was a bigger issue to overcome before addressing the fact that I was gay. Never the less I soldiered on, and keeping the fact I was gay very much under wraps, completed my 3 years.

I finished college and then worked locally to home for a while. Away from the environment where I felt I needed to fit in, I met up with other gay guys. In doing so I felt it was the right time to tell my family and friends, some of whom I had spent the last 3 years with. They all took it very well, even the friends I had made within the farming community. They were all very supportive and like many people I felt a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

I applied for jobs and ended up shepherding for a family in rural Leicestershire with 600 ewes. We now run 1800 and very differently to when I started with them 10 years ago. I treat the farm and sheep like they’re my own which I think is the only way you can when you work with someone else’s stock.

I don’t shout about being gay, but I am happy to share it with anyone and don’t hide away. Initially I used to worry about what people thought but I think as you grow older and wiser(?!) you realise that if they’re worried about your sexuality they obviously lead a very boring life – always try and remember this week’s gossip is next week’s chip paper!

I personally know people within this industry that have come to me as they don’t feel they can come out because they’re ashamed or think their families will be. There are so many supportive people out there and others that often surprise you. The way I always look at it is that does it really matter to me what they think or what they say? Obviously that’s sometimes easier said than done but surround yourself with supportive and loving people and the rest can do what they want. I am very lucky to have an amazing family, partner and network of the best friends. As long as they’re on my side I feel I can take on the world and will continue to strive to achieve my goals and ambitions.

Elizabeth ElcoateJames Horswell