A few days ago on a long ride in very open country I asked my horse to follow my focus. The task was simple. Just stay in the left path of a jeep trail that cut across the prairie. I would focus ahead on the track, relax and let the horse walk undisturbed as long as he stayed in the left track.
After he veered more than one foot off the track I would slowly lift up the reins and guide him back into the track using my hands and legs. Then I would get quiet and relaxed again. It all seemed so simple to me.
To the horse it was a task of monumental proportions. I must have corrected him a thousand times every mile. I kept thinking "why can't you stay focused and go where I ask you to go?" It was a fairly frustrating exercise for both of us.
There is nothing natural about a horse having focus. The natural instinct of the ultimate prey animal is to see everything at once and to leave all options open. In the wild a horse uses it's almost 360 degree vision to stay alert to predators that may be lurking behind any rock or tree. Wild horses' movements stay relatively unpredictable to avoid a planned ambush by predators.
Enter the human, the ultimate predator. We climb on the horses back and start telling him where to go and when. It is totally un-natural for the horse. Yet it is a necessity for the horse to become a usable partner. Whether we are cantering around a jumping course focusing on the next jump or following a fast moving cow through thick brush, being able to focus is an essential skill.
For a horse it is something that must be taught and learned in successive steps. From learning to follow the rail in the arena to following the gaze of the rider it is learning experience for the horse. The finished, well trained horse simply follows the gaze of the rider, instinctively reading the riders body language.
The communication becomes so subtle that a turn of the riders head changes the direction and focus of the horse. This morning I woke up thinking about just that very topic. How well do I stay focused? How does that affect the focus of those around me? I have a pretty good idea where I need to go. If I could stay right on the path, I know I could be so much more effective. I would waste less energy and less time and save a lot of frustration in the process.
An inner voice as subtle as a rider's gaze has given me a specific direction for my life. When considering that every diversion will bring its own uncomfortable consequences, how can I stay focused on that direction today? Have a plan. Seek direction. If I can listen to the subtle cues. Those instincts and intuitions that tell me I am on the right path. I can know there is a plan and a destiny that may seem unintelligible to me. Yet if I simply listen to that inner voice I will end up exactly where I intended.