Elevate Difference

The Horse Boy

The Horse Boy is an emotionally stirring, thought-provoking examination of autism and its effects on familial life. Based on the autobiographical book of the same name, this powerful documentary examines the life of Rowan, the autistic child of journalist and horse trainer Rupert Isaacson and his wife, psychology professor Kristin Neff. The film documents Isaacson and Neff’s struggle to understand autism and bring comfort to their son.

Rowan suffers from severe tantrums, but his anxieties seem to disappear when he approaches horses. After countless Western treatments fail to ease Rowan’s symptoms, Isaacson decides to seek Eastern therapies. Isaacson and his wife travel with Rowan into the heart of Mongolia on horseback, seeking the spiritual aid of shamans. The film is, as Isaacson himself says, “a story about how, as a family, we did something crazy…in search of a miracle.”

The Horse Boy follows the family’s journey through the steppes of Mongolia. Their hope is that shaman’s can help heal Rowan—not to ‘cure’ his autism, but to ease his painful and dysfunctional behaviors. At its most basic level, The Horse Boy is about understanding autism, but the film is really about the bond between parent and child. The success of the film (and the power of the couples love for their son) is that the spectator understands why Isaacson and Neff are willing to be whipped by a shaman during a ceremony merely for the hope of bringing comfort to their son. The love they have for their child is evident in every frame of this film.

The Horse Boy offers no solutions or answers, but it does offer hope. Rowan’s transformation during this trip is powerful and real—he returns to the States a happier, calmer child. Whatever the cause of Rowan’s healing, it is clear that he has found some element of peace during the trip. The Horse Boy suggests there is hope of understanding autism and providing healing to autistic children.

Written by: Joanna Chlebus, June 2nd 2010