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The Art of Learning on Horseback


The principle that I truly identified with is “Loving the Game.” I’ve been passionate about horseback riding for a long time and I’ve probably worked harder at it than at anything else in my life because of my love for it. I’m so lucky to have found a pursuit I’m passionate about at a young age.

As an equestrian, The Art of Learning aided my progression as both a rider and a competitor. A few months ago, I was having trouble in competition. My horse and I would drop at least one rail every time we entered the show ring and, even more frequently than I was comfortable with, at home, in practice. Frankly, I was confused because I knew my horse had the physical ability, and yet, we could not have a clear round.


Horseback riding is essentially the mastery of very basic  concepts, as explained in the “Numbers to Leave Numbers”  chapter. The most complicated maneuvers come only after the basics have been perfected. After reading that chapter, I took myself back to the absolute basics.

I videotaped my riding and examined my horse’s jumping style along with my body motions as we approached and cleared the fences we took down. I found that the rails were coming down not as a result of my horse’s physical ability but as a result of my own incorrect position over the fences. I had been landing on his back before his rear legs had reached the highest point of the fence, thereby causing him to catch the rail. I began focusing on that one aspect of my riding until it was no longer an issue for us.

The “Power of Presence” is another principle that manifested itself in my riding. My trainer always expressed to me the importance of being, as she says, “in the zone”. But I had trouble concentrating inwardly in the midst of the chaos happening around me.

I had her read the chapter on presence and her reaction was to have me recite my every move out loud in order to shift my focus from what was going on around me to my horse and riding.

In time, I found that I could block out everything except my horse and our performance together. The advantages of being aware and alert in one’s surroundings during competition became even more evident to me. Now, before every competition, I resort to reading this one chapter so as to bring myself back to that calm presence I need to compete successfully.

A Journey Toward Losing to Win


Competition perpetually flows through my veins. All sporting and academic challenges I am presented with inevitably turn into battles, letting my competitive personality seep through. Going head to head with an opponent, regardless of the significance, lures me into the thrill of potential victory. While this seemingly unstoppable drive for winning can be useful, it can also consume me. Herein, as I discovered through The Art of Learning, lies my fatal flaw.

Even as a child, I was immensely competitive. I can still, to this day, recall lost foosball matches against my Dad that resulted in hysterical fits of tears and hours of self pity. I was so intent upon winning that losing, in my mind, meant complete and utter failure. Such an attitude is neither healthy nor beneficial for a competitive spirit.


After 10 years had passed, I would no longer break down into fits of tears upon losing to my Dad in foosball (yes, 10 years later my Dad could still beat me in foosball). However, I still found it difficult to accept my defeats—there seemed to be no gain in losing.

Then, I was introduced to The Art of Learning. I was fascinated to discover how a defeat could be used as a positive learning experience. Prior to delving into The Art of Learning, my ego had a tendency to block the potential usefulness of losing. While I had understood that losing isn’t always a negative occurrence and tends to be a part of life, I wouldn’t let myself truly recognize and, even more important, utilize the full constructive power of loss.

Today, I still aim to win but the vital information that I now carry, stemming from The Art of Learning, helps me understand that it is more than acceptable to lose and that loss can even be a crucially helpful tool. While I am not perfect at it, I now strive to constantly invest in my losses.

My ego no longer forbids me to look back at and analyze my defeats. Confronting my defeats has morphed into an exercise that allows me to uncover my weaknesses and consequently develop them into strengths. The Art of Learning has illustrated a way in which I am able to embrace my losses and turn them around so that they become personal victories. I now pride myself on losing to win.


As the mother of two boys at the beginning of their educational journey, reading Josh’s book couldn’t have been more timely for me. One thing I’ve learned in the last few years is how different my children are when it comes to learning styles. My younger son just turned five and is in a Pre-K program. He’ssibling-rivalry-boyswildly imaginative, bright, independent and headstrong. He’s a rule breaker. My older child is almost seven and in first grade and couldn’t be more different. He’s the scientist who relies only on fact and has little room for make believe. He doesn’t like confrontation or getting in trouble and has a hard time entertaining himself. He is a gifted learner, which we identified very early in his life. Add to this a recent diagnosis of Sensory Processing Disorder and we’ve got a complicated kid on our hands. How would he fare in the public school system? If I was struggling with just two different learning styles at home, how does a teacher accommodate 25 different learning styles in the classroom?

While trying to accommodate their different learning styles will be an ongoing challenge for me, a universal concept that I picked up on a few years ago, and that was reinforced to me in Josh’s book, is the idea that we should not praise results but rather the effort put forth to obtain those results. This makes complete sense to me and, as easy as it sounds, I don’t think I was using this concept when praising my kids. When I really started listening, I heard myself saying how smart they were or how cute they looked. Things, by the way, that they have no control over. My intentions were good, of course, but I came to realize that I was praising talents and abilities that they were born with and not the effort they put forth in using those gifts to accomplish a task. The words we use now “I’m so proud of how hard you tried”, “I love how much effort you put into that project”, are not only better for my kids to hear, but more accurate. I would prefer that they try something harder and only fair marginally well, rather than doing something easy that doesn’t take effort and pass with flying colors.

pitch-praise_3747537_arThis concept of rewarding effort over ability works for any learning style; for challenged learners, gifted learners, adult learners. It’s true for all of us and the sooner these messages are reinforced the sooner we will realize our full potential for who we are supposed to be and not who we are in relation to others.  If my child is putting forth his best effort and still getting average grades, isn’t there something wrong with that? Isn’t the system flawed when my child studies hard, puts forth the effort, does his best and gets a “C”, versus a child to whom the answers come easily, needs to put forth no effort and gets an “A”? Neither child in this scenario is receiving the right message. Either you’re working hard to fail or doing little to succeed.

I believe my children are at a critical stage where their learning habits are being developed, their ideas about what it means to succeed are being molded, and their image of themselves as learners are being formed. While major changes in the public school system may be too tall of an order, adjusting our thinking as parents, teachers and educators may get us a little closer to redefining success for our children.

Sperrang Middle School

ST. LOUIS, MO- The Sperreng Middle School individualizes education and supports highly gifted students through the middle school years.   Educator Kimberly Crank had her incoming 8th grade students read and annotate The Art of Learning over the 2011 summer.  She then taught the book during the first 3-5 weeks in the fall and had her students write a paper on the chapter of their choice incorporating quotations and personal opinions.  She said she is using Josh’s ideas to inspire the students to help them reflect on their own learning styles and to learn to write effectively.

BRIAN CLARKE-Share Your Story

Nothing is impossible

The Art of Learning (TAOL) spoke to me about potential. The ideas in TAOL transformed my journey as a musician because I was able to live with a new understanding of my potential and how it would be realized.  No matter how difficult a certain piece of music is, it can be mastered. The Art Of Learning teaches us that practically nothing is impossible.  Dive in and trust the process.

Working deeper, not wider

For a musician there are many small technical adjustments and segments of motion that make up even the simplest of skills.  Strumming an open string chord on the guitar can sound beautiful and complex or it can sound very one-dimensional.

It’s the same chord but there are many degrees of expression available. Understanding how a deeply refined skill in one area will accelerate my pursuit in others I was very content to focus for hours on the way I played a single major scale in one octave.

MusicianEach note possessed infinite degrees of nuance.  As a new depth in my playing began to emerge during my performances I became even more enthusiastic about Josh’s ideas.  Ron Carter is a world-class bassist.  He is a teacher as well.  A fellow musician from St. Louis was able to secure an hour of Ron’s time and went to New York for his bass lesson with the great master. All they did for over an hour was play a Bb major scale, with Ron exhorting the student to immerse himself ever deeper into each note’s potential for expression. This tells us clearly that the great masters understand the meaning of small circles; this is how mastery is to be pursued and attained.

Success is inevitable

Free from the disabling concept that some people are born with talent and others are not, we learn from Josh how to give ourselves the chance toclimb mountain succeed.  Are we willing to step into that process and give our body and mind the opportunity to excel?  If not, that is ok too. Just as long as we know it’s our choice.  We can climb the mountain if we are willing to. I take this very personally and I understand my prospects going forward are very much in my hands.  This alone, is a tremendously powerful revelation.  Champions are made when no one is watching.

It’s up 2 U

Possibly the most promising gift from Josh’s message is a broad and sweeping comprehension that this Art Of Learning applies to all of our human endeavors.  Maybe it’s a complicated foreign language you may wish to learn, or possibly you are intimidated by math.

canvasIt could even be a journey of personal healing.  TAOL teaches us to view any challenge as a grand set of small skills.  Over time and with focus they are threaded together seamlessly and mastery is ours.  Life is our adventure, our canvas to paint and to experience.  No one else that I know of has articulated the visceral truth of our potential as thoughtfully and clearly as Josh.  And come to think of it, is that any surprise?  I think Josh would be the first to say, “Why not you?”

Thank you, Josh.  All the best,

Brian Clarke

Kirkwood, MO


J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College

HENRICO, VA – J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College provides access to education that lays the groundwork for employment and career advancement while preparing students for successful transfer to colleges and universities. With an emphasis on personal enrichment and lifelong learning, Sargeant Reynolds helps to build a skilled workforce ready to contribute to regional economic development. Roberta Johnson, the Tutor Training/Best Practices Research/English Discipline Coordinator,  is using The Art of Learning and the companion Teacher’s Guide to work with peer tutors and give them insight into the learning process and how best to maximize their pedagogical impact within their community.  She says, “I   use The Art of Learning principles in tutor workshops with a focus on helping tutors with reflection and mindfulness as they relate to learning so they can share these strategies with their tutees.”