Relationships Vs Sheep Work: Same, same, but different?

Farmer working sheep in dusty yards with a sheep dog


Oh My Days! They are tough, aren’t they? Relationships with our self, with our kids, with our partner. And they are even harder when we not only work with that person BUT also run a business with them that is stressful, unpredictable and, to a certain extent reliant on circumstances beyond our control such as weather, economics, government legislations – the list goes on.

Constantly trying to be mindful of others, of their needs, and their wellbeing can be tiring. But the best things in life, the things that we truly love and hold important often aren’t given to us easily. And the hard work, that sometimes seems unforgiving and relentless is absolutely worth it when you know there is no one else you would rather be with or be around.

I may have a degree in psychology and counselling but I’m not a relationships counsellor and I honestly don’t think I could be. But I do know that just like anything, we need to keep working on our relationships; Celebrate the wins, notice the lows, accommodate for each other, and be aware of external factors or other relationships that can entwine and cause friction.

But most of all they require communication.

Just like sheep work.

Sheep work is like a relationship and requires a lot of control and communication. It requires us to be aware of when to apply pressure and when to step back to allow space to let the sheep move without stress. It has so many moving parts, and so many things that don’t help it run smoothly; weather, terrain, being in a rush, different dynamics and relationships particularly if a dog is involved, and miscommunication; nearly the same as the moving parts in relationships.

Understanding the needs of the sheep is also vital if we want everything to go smoothly. Remembering that the sheep as a prey animal, is looking for an escape and can feel stressed is vital for a smooth run. When there is too much stress and pressure things go wrong. Sheep scatter, voices are raised, and you take a step forward and two back. Much like in the human world.

Except instead of sheep scattering and feeling stressed it’s the relationship that can disconnect or hold stress.

Sheep work is often about creating that escape route for them and perhaps using a dog to apply enough pressure to get them there, without causing them too much stress.

But pressure-release, low-stress stock work can take time and commitment, and it’s a balancing act. Too much pressure to get them through that escape route and we lose them; not enough pressure and we lose them because they won’t move forward.

But, when the work is done, and the sheep have moved there is a sense of satisfaction and a sense that everything worked out (maybe not for the sheep depending on where they are going!). We may have learnt a bit about patience, about what makes others (human or animal) tick and how to get the best out of them, and we may find ourselves realising that it would be a damn sight harder to do that job alone.

It feels like the same can be said for our most important relationships. Too many external factors or too much pressure that we don’t notice, and it feels like we could lose them. Likewise, when we don’t give the relationship enough attention, don’t communicate or help each other move forward with a little guidance and perhaps a bit of pressure and work, it feels like we can lose it. Maybe not forever because we can – and do – regroup, reconnect, and start again. And then, when that tough work is done, when we have accommodated others without sacrificing our own needs we can be filled with gratitude and a knowing that it was most definitely worth it.

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