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The Horse Boy: A Father's Quest to Heal His Son Hardcover – April 14, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 118 customer reviews

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Amazon Exclusive: Temple Grandin Reviews The Horse Boy:  A Father's Quest to Heal His Son

Drawing from her own experience with autism and her distinguished career as an animal scientist, Temple Grandin has provided readers with extraordinary insight into how animals think, act, and feel. Her books include The Way I See It, and the national bestsellers, Thinking in Pictures, Animals in Translation, and Animals Make Us Human. We were eager to hear what Grandin thought about Rupert Isaacson and his family's quest to go to the ends of the earth to help their son. Read her exclusive Amazon guest review to find out.

This is a fascinating book. It is the tale of a family's journey to Mongolia with their five-year-old son who has autism. The family travels to the northern remote areas and lives with the nomads and herders away from the cities. I loved the descriptions of the nomad way of life, and that they were so accepting of a child with autism. Rowan loved baby animals and the people did not mind when he grabbed a baby goat and climbed into one of their beds with it. During the trip, Rowan developed improved language and behavior. He also had a magical connection with horses. There are many wonderful passages about Rowan’s exploits with a Mongolian horse named Blackie.

Rupert Isaacson was surprised at how accommodating the Mongolian people were. They tolerated Rowan's pushing, yelping, and joyful rushing about. At the end of the book the family get a rude awakening when a German tourist who was a psychologist disapproved of bringing a child with autism to a national park to view wild horses. I was interviewed by Rupert Isaacson before he wrote his book and we discussed perhaps the shamans and the healers in some traditional cultures had autistic traits. Their rituals with rhythmic chanting and repetitive movements have similarities to autistic "stims." When I was little, I went into a calm trance-like state when I rocked and dribbled sand through my hands.

Children with autism need to be exposed to lots of interesting things and new experiences in order to develop. One of the reasons the trip to Mongolia was so beneficial was that Rowan could explore lots of fascinating things such as horses, streams, plants, and animals in an environment that was QUIET. The Mongolian pastureland was a quiet environment free of the things that overload the sensory system of a child with autism. There were no florescent lights or constant noise and echoes. Some individuals with autism see the flicker of florescent lights which is like being in a disco with strobe lights. When I was a child, loud sounds hurt my ears.

Parents and teachers can duplicate the benefits of this trip without having to travel. Horseback riding is a great activity. Many parents have told me that their child spoke his/her first words on a horse. Activities that combine both rhythm and balancing such as horseback riding, sitting on a ball, or swinging help stabilize a disordered sensory system. There are lots of places you can take a child to explore nature such as parks, brooks or a field with tall grass. Children with autism need to be shown interesting things and encouraged to do new things. Everywhere Rowan went he was asked questions and encouraged to talk about the things he was looking at. You need to find QUIET, interesting places away from crowds of people, florescent lights, traffic, and noise, where you can engage the child and keep him tuned in. This is a great book and everyone who is interested in autism, animals or different cultures should read it. --Temple Grandin

From Publishers Weekly

In this intense, polished account, the Austin, Tex., parents of an autistic boy trek to the Mongolian steppes to consult shamans in a last-ditch effort to alter his unraveling behavior. Author Isaacson (The Healing Land) and his wife, Kristin, a psychology professor, were told that the developmental delays of their young son, Rowan, were caused by autism. Floored, the parents scrambled to find therapy, which was costly and seemed punitive, when Isaacson, an experienced rider and trainer of horses from his youth in England, hoisted Rowan up in the saddle with him and took therapeutic rides on Betsy, the neighbor's horse. The repetitive rocking and balance stimulation boosted Rowan's language ability; inspired by the results, as well as encouraged by such experts as Temple Grandin and Isaacson's own experience working with African shamans, Isaacson hit on the self-described crazy idea of taking Rowan to the original horse people, the Mongolians, and find shamans who could help heal their son. The family went in July, accompanied conveniently by a film crew and van, which five-year-old Rowan often refused to leave, and over several rugged weeks rode up mountains, forded rivers and camped, while enduring strange shamanic ceremonies. Isaacson records heartening improvement in Rowan's firestormlike tantrums and incontinence, as he taps into an ancient, valuable form of spirit healing. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

The Healing Power of Mongolian Steppes
Read an excerpt from Rupert Isaacson's The Horse Boy [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (April 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316008230
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316008235
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #676,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
If you had a child who needed your help with a critical problem like autism, where would you turn after you had been to all the doctors, all the clinics, and all the psychologists? Would you pace around your own dusty Texas backyard, and then turn to your neighbor's Quarter horse mare, to see if she might be able to help? Horses helped you when you were a child, didn't they? And if she did help him...then what? Would you stop there?

Or would you go to the ends of the equine earth to try to help your child? If a little bit of horse is good, would a lot of horse be better? Would you set aside all the cultural and belief systems you hold and look for help in a place so strange and foreign that only the smell of the horses was familiar?

If you did those things, it would sound and look like the story and photos in this important new book, the true story of a family on the run toward hope, because they already know it is futile to stand still. "It's important to do something," the experts tell them. But no one expected a young family to "do" an adventure like this.

THE HORSE BOY weaves together autism, adventure and equine threads into one lovely braided mane of a tale that is not a how-to, not a guide and certainly not a declaration of a cure found for autism. It is simply the narrative of going after hope and finding bits along the way, like you'd find tufts of fur on a fence where a horse has rubbed his shedding coat at winter's end: Signs of better, lighter times to come.

Read this book to catch the contagion of hope, to feel the rhythm of horses moving under you across the Asian Steppes; to taste the highs and lows of living with autism, both for the child and for the parent; to marvel at the wisdom and yet sometimes callous nature of the revered shamanistic wise men of the nomadic tribes of Mongolia; and to most of all remember that we don't all live in the same world, but that any world usually looks better from the back of a horse.
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Format: Hardcover
I just finished The Horse Boy and recommend it highly. It's beautifully-written, honest, and in places very funny. As the mother of a 23-year-old son with moderate to severe autism, I didn't close the book and make plane reservations for Mongolia. My husband and I will never take our son to visit Shamans, anywhere, as a matter of fact, but that doesn't mean we don't agree with the theme of the book. Rupert Isaacson's story encourages families to keep living, even when faced with the challenges of autism. That's certainly a message I can agree with, having lived with autism for 20 years. While The Horse Boy describes a life-changing adventure, it doesn't claim that the trip cured Rowan's autism. But Rowan improved in a couple key areas while they were away and the journey changed their whole family. They all came home happier and stronger and closer to one another--and, in turn, better able to face autism without letting it get them down.
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Format: Hardcover
When Rupert Isaacson and his wife Kristen Neff had a baby boy, they were ecstatic. Things seemed to be going along fine until their son, Rowan, was about 2 years old. Kristen is a professor of human development and she noticed that some things weren't quite right. She did some research and discovered that Rowan had all but one of the classic signs of autism. Rupert and Kristen tried everything they could think of to reach their son - from traditional treatments to new, untested ideas. Nothing seemed to work - if anything, Rowan's symptoms became worse and they found they couldn't leave him with anyone else. Rowan loves animals, though and the only thing that seemed to calm him down was being outside.

When Rowan and Rupert were walking one day, they ended up on a neighbor's property and encountered his horses. Rupert is an experienced horseman and noticed that the lead mare assumed a submissive stance around Rowan. When Rupert told their neighbor, he immediately gave him the keys to his saddle room and told him to take Rowan to ride Betsy whenever he wanted. Rupert and Rowan rode Betsy almost daily for three years and while Rowan was around the horse, he seemed to make progress. This caused an idea to brew in Rupert's mind - why not take Rowan on a horseback journey through Mongolia to visit shamans there? Kristen resisted the idea at first, but finally went along.

So, in 2007, Rupert and Kristen took their 5 year old son, who was prone to tantrums, had poor language and social skills and wasn't potty trained on the trip of a lifetime across Mongolia. The Horse Boy: A Father's Quest to Heal His Son by Rupert Isaacson is the story of their journey.

I listened to this audio book on a recent trip to my parents'.
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Format: Hardcover
A travel writer with a penchant for political advocacy and a tolerant, soul searching wife venture to the untamed landscape of Outer Mongolia with their five year old son whose behaviors would sap the loving intentions of any parent. The objective was to find the Shamans who could heal their son, an exploit that entailed meeting the chairman of the Shaman's Association of Mongolia, ceremonies where they were spat on with vodka, lashed with rawhide followed by jumping as the ground beneath their feet was whipped, consuming half-cooked, bloody animal organs and traveling to the far north by horse to find the Shaman living amongst the reindeer people.

Descriptions of exotic cultures and Rupert Isaacson's humor (i.e. "Code Brown" for poopy pants) make this an enjoyable book to read. In addition, the meaning behind such an odyssey with filmmaker friends, translator Tulga and numerous guides and horses to carry equipment, supplies and Rowan's dietary staple of bacon beckons profound questions. Can the shamans heal Rowan of tantrums, incontinence and social isolation; to stride one leg into the world of friends, play, asking questions and self- control?

Did this trip cure Rowan or at least reduce the symptoms of autism? A simple yes or no will not suffice. All of the sensory stimulation that Rowan experienced both on the neighbor's horse, Betsy and horses on their Asian journey contributed to normalizing a nervous system set on high alert. The up and down, forward and sudden halt, side to side movements wile riding organize the brain, making a child more available for learning.
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