December 2013
Through the Fence

Keeping an eye on the prize

 I’m feeling a little melancholy tonight. My "only begotten son" Landon is leaving for college in the morning and he’s going to be seven hours away from his Mammy. But I’m trying to cut the proverbial apron strings and let him find his way in the world. During the last few months, he’s received lots of well wishes and some practical advice. But nothing illustrates a point like a story. And a good family friend named Roy told him a story the other night to explain the importance of staying focused at school.

He told about going to watch his brother’s Brittany spaniel, Classy, at a field trial. At that time, she was ranked fifth in the nation. There were about 15 other dogs there, all of which had had tens of thousands of dollars invested in their training. Like Classy, the dogs stayed with their trainers most of the year. They were constantly put through rigorous lessons and practices trying to ready them for the trial.

The owners and trainers were on horseback as were the judges so they could keep up with the dogs as they made their way through the course. It was about a mile and a half long by a quarter of a mile wide. At a dozen places throughout the area, there were quails staked out, tied by the foot. They were under bushes or trees or in clumps of tall grass or in dense brush. The dogs were set loose one at a time. They were supposed to find each bird and lock on point without moving a muscle, wagging their tail or running away. They were to hold that position until the men on horses arrived. That might be as long as five minutes. Then the owner or trainer would blow a whistle and give a verbal command for the dog to go find the next bird.

Besides running around and around searching for their prey, finding it and pointing it, the dogs had to resist the urge to notice other distractions. Occasionally, a rabbit would run by. If the dog took off after it, he’d be disqualified. Classy did great and finished the course. She found every bird and advanced in the rankings. However, a few other dogs did not perform as well. Just for an instant, they forgot their mission. They took their eye off the ball, so to speak. Not only would they fail the trial, it might take a day or two to find the missing dog.

When that happened, everyone could just see the owner and the trainer slump down in the saddle, a look of grave disappointment on their faces. And it wasn’t just that all the time and effort had been wasted, it was the vast amount of money invested in that animal that was gone - lost in a momentary loss of focus.

When Roy finished telling that story, he put his hand on Landon’s shoulder and said, "That’s what college is like." Seeing the boy’s confusion, he continued. "The dogs are the students. They have had years of work and thousands of dollars invested in them. The owners are the parents who’ve put up the money. The birds are the classes and the good grades. They are the prey." Landon smiled and nodded. "But the rabbits…," Roy said with a sad smile, "those are the pretty girls, the bars, the frat parties and all the other distractions that might take your attention off the goal. And those dogs who chase after them are the students who effectively flush those thousands of dollars of their parents’ money down the toilet."

The metaphor made perfect sense to an 18-year-old who was about to leave home a boy and come back a man. I have every reason to believe, and I certainly hope, he will be able to ignore all those rabbits that are surely going to run by in the next 4 years. If so, his reward will be much bigger than a field trial trophy. It will be the good grades that will land him a coveted job. It will also be the satisfaction of finishing the course and keeping his eye on the prize. And he will have one proud mama cheering him on all the way.

Lisa Hamblen Hood lives near Priddy, Texas, where she teaches English, Art and Spanish. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..