The Horse Boy
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An intensely personal yet epic spiritual journey, The Horse Boy follows one Texas couple and their autistic son as they trek on horseback through Outer Mongolia in an attempt to find healing for him. When two-year-old Rowan was diagnosed with autism, Rupert Isaacson, a writer and former horse trainer, and his wife Kristin Neff, a psychology professor, sought the best possible medical care, but traditional therapies had little effect. Then they discovered that Rowan has a profound affinity for animals particularly horses and the family set off on a quest that would change their lives forever.
Directed by Michel Orion Scott, The Horse Boy is part travel adventure, part insight into shamanic healing and part intimate look at the autistic mind. In telling one family's extraordinary story, the film gives voice to the thousands who display amazing courage and creativity everyday in the battle against this mysterious and heartbreaking epidemic. The filmic companion to Isaacson's best-selling book of the same name, and a festival favorite, this ravishing documentary odyssey gives insight into how, in life's darkest moments, one can find the gateway to joy and wonder.
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES INCLUDE:
- 16:9 anamorphic transfer, enhanced for widescreen TVs
- 25 minutes of additional interviews with autism experts, including Simon Baron-Cohen and animal behavior expert Dr. Temple Grandin (subject of an upcoming HBO biopic starring Claire Danes)
- Behind-the-scenes and outtake footage of the Isaacsons' Mongolian journey
- Theatrical trailer
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hearing impaired
An extraordinary journey of the heart and spirit, and a stirring testament to parenthood. --Gary Goldstein, Los Angeles Times
A lyrical and stirring meditation on the mystery of autism. --Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly
A deeply personal, highly subjective and inarguably thought-provoking story of one family's quest for a certain kind of peace. --Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times
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That said – my one criticism is that The Horse Boy attempts to find that swelling, feel-good, happy ending. That seemed to miss what was so obvious about this journey and documentary otherwise.
And otherwise, it is a fair representation of parenting on the spectrum. There comes a time when parents are at a critical point and they simply make a commitment to do anything for the child they love. The Isaacson's head to outer Mongolia, to seek shaman and in search for happier times. Not only do we hear the shaman diagnosis, but also half a dozen Western experts – all appropriately echoing along the journey as they seek someone, anyone, who can help them help them help their son. Inevitably, nothing goes as predicted. No one expert's opinion seems right or wrong. There is no "cure." And Horse Boy is not bonding with the horses. But he does bond in a way that is transformative.
The one accepting child, the new friendship, the one thing that obviously made a world of difference was the hero moment that seemed worthy of swelling music. Everything else, was appropriately sparce, plain, lacking horse-sense and just a bit wacky. But I liked it.
note: I read the book before seeing the movie – book is my preference. I am also the parent of a child with autism.
Prior to starting a family, Rupert Isaacson and his wife Kristin Neff had traveled extensively. They were delighted to settle down and welcomed Rowan into the world. Isaacson was a former horse trainer and Kristin was a Psychology Professor. At age two, Rowan is diagnosed with autism. Rupert and Kristin sought out every avenue they could to try to help Rowan. He demonstrated rages that could last for hours, slept very little and did not respond to any of the therapies they could find. Rupert's experinces prior to Rowan's birth had given him a broad wealth of knowledge. He knew that animals could be comforting to children with disabilities and got Rowan on a horse. At first it was difficult but eventually Rowan was calmed by riding. Riding became one of the only times Rowan seemed truly calm and at ease within himself.
Rupert was desperate to help his son and brought up the idea to Kristin of taking Rowan to the shamans in Mongolia. He believed that the shamans held healing powers that could help his son and his autism. So, as a family, they set out to ride horses through Mongolia to visit various shamans in seach of a cure for Rowan.
The trip proves to be very difficult for Rowan who likes his stability and predictable life. The van that they use for part of the travel becomes Rowan's "home away from home" and he refuses to ride the horses. It is only when they are to go to the last shaman that they must ride the horse and Rupert works with Rowan until they can ride. The ultimate outcome of the trip is not what the parents were hoping for although there were some positive changes in Rowan. During the trip he is toilet trained, gains more language and becomes more social with other children.
I think the film has several aspects that are important to take into consideration:
1. Parents want to help their child with autism and may often "try" things that most other people consider outrageous or ineffective. If you are not in the position of a parent with an autistic child, it is difficult to say what you would do. Many of the therapies that are considered as alternative or not backed by medical professionals may be considered as "out there or just plain crazy." However, the parent of a child with autism knows there is no magic pill or therapy that will cure their child so they try whatever is at their disposal to try to help their child.
2. Since this is a documentary, the footage of Rowan and his tantrums is real. For many of the staff that I had view the video, it was the first time they saw a child at home and realized that the tantrums we see at school are the same at home. For others, it was the first time they saw a full blown tantrum and were stunned at what the parents had to do to keep Rowan safe while he tantrumed.
3. The use of animals, especially horses, has been a long time therapy for people with disabilities. Seeing Rowan happy, smiling and calm riding the horse was very heart warming.
I think the video was well done and very informative to anyone watching. The parents were honest in their portrayal of their son and the trials and tribulations they went through on a daily basis with him. The choice to go to the shamans is one that I had never heard before but with a very strong spiritual belief, I think it was something they believed in and thought it was worth a try. I did feel it was a very big trip to take with a child who demonstrated such behavioral issues and that these parents were very brave. At times my heart went out to them and I expected them to just turn back and go home. Rupert and Kristin showed unbelievable strength, dedication and caring for a little boy who just could not understand or interact with the world around him.
I would recommend this video to anyone interested in children with autism!!
Maureen Ryan, Principal