The Horse Boy: A Father's Quest to Heal His Son

The Horse Boy: A Father's Quest to Heal His Son

4.2 71
by Rupert Isaacson

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When his son Rowan was diagnosed with autism, Rupert Isaacson was devastated, afraid he might never be able to communicate with his child. But when Isaacson, a lifelong horseman, rode their neighbor's horse with Rowan, Rowan improved immeasurably. He was struck with a crazy idea: why not take Rowan to Mongolia, the one place in the world where horses and shamanic


When his son Rowan was diagnosed with autism, Rupert Isaacson was devastated, afraid he might never be able to communicate with his child. But when Isaacson, a lifelong horseman, rode their neighbor's horse with Rowan, Rowan improved immeasurably. He was struck with a crazy idea: why not take Rowan to Mongolia, the one place in the world where horses and shamanic healing intersected?

THE HORSE BOY is the dramatic and heartwarming story of that impossible adventure. In Mongolia, the family found undreamed of landscapes and people, unbearable setbacks, and advances beyond their wildest dreams. This is a deeply moving, truly one-of-a-kind story--of a family willing to go to the ends of the earth to help their son, and of a boy learning to connect with the world for the first time.

Editorial Reviews

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As inspiring as the vast mountains of deepest Mongolia, The Horse Boy is the story of just how far a father will go to give his son a chance at a normal life. Isaacson, a travel writer, was dismayed to learn that his two-year-old son, Rowan, was autistic. Parenting a special-needs child was increasingly difficult, with Rowan's failure to interact and inability to toilet-train. Then one day, Rowan bolts toward the neighbor's horse pasture, and Isaacson chases him down - only to watch the mare, Betsy, become strangely submissive in Rowan's presence. Convinced that Rowan's bond with Betsy is meaningful, Isaacson plans a trip to Mongolia, where horses were first domesticated, and the home of present-day healers, or shamans.

What follows is an improbable journey to the farthest reaches of the earth. Accompanied by a camera crew and some local guides, the Isaacsons travel, first by car and then by horse, across rough, mountainous terrain. Isaacson frequently questions the sanity of what they're doing. Will they actually reach the shamans, and if they do, can they possibly heal his son?

Isaacon's writing style is simple, but with his keen eye, readers will feel that they're riding right alongside him, marveling at the ancient landscapes, the strange foods, and the exotic people. An account of an astonishing adventure, The Horse Boy is an unforgettable odyssey. (Summer 2009 Selection)
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.
Library Journal
Isaacson (The Healing Land) tells the absorbing, at turns heartwarming and heart-wrenching tale of his autistic son, Rowan, and how a family horseback-riding trip to Mongolia helped change all their lives. He expresses his son's vocalizations with kindness while also conveying the boy's frustration and confusion, and his travel-writing skills enhance the story of their adventure, which is not for the faint of heart. Music and sound recorded for the accompanying documentary, a 2009 Sundance Film Festival selection (, are incorporated into the title's sound design. For families with autistic children and those who enjoy biographies, travel narratives, and horse stories. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 1/8/09, and Audio News Briefs, LJ 3/15/09.—Ed.]—J. Sara Paulk, Fitzgerald-Ben Hill Cty. Lib., Fitzgerald, GA
Kirkus Reviews
CD 978-1-60024-542-8.A father goes to great and treacherous lengths to "cure" his autistic son..Texas-based travel writer Isaacson met wife Kristin while traveling through India on assignment. The birth of their son Rowan in 2001 joyfully coincided with their seven-year anniversary. It wasn't long, however, before Kristin, a child-development psychologist, recognized early deficiencies in Rowan, as well as intermittent tantrums and mood swings that quickly increased in severity and regularity. After Rowan was diagnosed with autism at two-and-a-half, both parents considered various behavioral interventions. Some promised a possible recovery while others—chemical detoxification, viral therapy, diet modification—seemed overly radical. Only rushed trips into the forest seemed to quell Rowan's rages, which by age three had become a daily occurrence. The boy had a one-time positive response to healers and shamans from a delegation of Kalahari Bushmen Isaacson knew from his years in Africa. Rowan also demonstrated an extraordinary connection with animals, specifically with Betsy, an aging mare who genuflected in uncharacteristic "voluntary obeisance" whenever she was in the boy's presence. In learning to ride Betsy, even Rowan's verbal skills improved. Putting all these pieces together, the author proposed to a reluctant Kristin that they backpack and ride horses across Mongolia, integrating Rowan with the faith and trance healers of the "horse people" who lived there. Together with their guide Tulga, the Isaacsons experienced unorthodox rituals, mineral springs and exotic edible delicacies (fermented mare's milk, bloody "boiled and quivering" sheep's lung). They navigated the hilly terrain ofthe Mongolian steppe and, after a grueling nine-hour ascent into the mountains of southern Siberia, met Ghoste, a powerful Siberian shaman. By this stage in his quest, however, Isaacson begins to sound like a dangerously focused extremist. His determination in seeking normalcy for his son was honorable, but the dangerous situations he was willing to put his family in to achieve this goal are disturbing..Breathtaking atmosphere, solid prose and stunning cultural observations can't obscure troubling parental desperation and skewed priorities..Agent: Elizabeth Sheinkman/Curtis Brown U.K.
Dr. Temple Grandin
"This is a story everyone needs to hear."

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What People are saying about this

Urrea Luis Alberto
"Rupert Isaacson has conjured a nonfiction journey that reads like an epic novel. It is a book of endless amazements. The world of Mongolian shamans, the details of adventuresome travel, the mysterious world of autism-all are amazing. Soon you realize that the world of horses is mysterious, too-and, yes, amazing. By the time you are in the grip of this book, you'll see love, marriage, and parenthood as realms of magic, profound power, and further amazements. The Horse Boy can change the way you see your life, and it's a terrifically good read at the same time. It feels like a classic."--(Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Hummingbird's Daughter and The Devil's Highway)

Meet the Author

Rupert Isaacson was born in London to a South African mother and a Zimbabwean father. Isaacson's first book, The Healing Land (Grove Press), was a 2004 New York Times Notable Book. He has travelled extensively in Africa, Asia, and North America for the British press and now lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Kristin, and their son, Rowan, aged 6.

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Horse Boy 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 71 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I Love This Book. There is a movie coming out too. If you are a horse lover or like reading about peoples lives I suggest you read this. It inspired me to ride horses and now I practically own a horse! If you read this book I hope you enjoy it.
Twink More than 1 year ago
I really enjoy a good biography or memoir and The Horse Boy did not disappoint. When Rupert and Kristin's son Rowan is diagnosed with autism, they try everything they can think of to help him. Nothing seems to be bringing their boy back to them. Until the day when Rowan runs into a neighbouring pasture at their home in Texas and straight at a horse named Betsy. Hot on his heels, Rupert is terrified that his son will be injured. Instead, the unexpected happens - Betsy puts her head down in submission to the boy . Rupert, a former professional horse trainer, encourages this interest. Father and son begin riding together. Rowan's behaviour is markedly changed during interaction with the horse. In addition to horse training, Rupert is "the founding director of the Indigenous Land Rights Fund, a non-profit organization that helps threatened and displaced indigenous tribes obtain tenure of their ancestral land." He has participated with the shamans of Botswana in healing ceremonies. (He's also an award winning author) Could these two seemingly disparate interests help his son? He believes that they can. Kristin, Rupert, Rowan and an entire film crew set off to Outer Mongolia and Siberia. Much of the journey will be on horseback to visit the shamans of these areas and see if they can help Rowan. And that's as much as I'm going to give you...... I listened to this in unabridged audio format. The reader was the author himself. And I don't think the story would have has as much impact for me if it been anyone else. Isaacson was born in England. I enjoyed his accent. His heartache, anguish and happiness are conveyed through his voice. Life with Rowan and all that goes with it is projected through his narrative. The screaming, the repetitiveness, the coping mechanisms employed by both Rowan his parents. The love for their child. I was so caught up in this story and the possibilities that were offered. The Horse Boy has been made into a film and is a Sundance 2009 selection and has won other awards as well. Definitely one I want to watch. The Isaacsons have started a foundation in Texas that pursues the horse/autism connection. This one goes on my best of 2009 list. Highly, recommended.
southerngirlinthewest More than 1 year ago
I had heard the author interviewed on NPR and was amazed by his story. If you love kids and horses you will be immediately entranced by this story. I was extremely touched by the father's love for his son and his openness in describing all of the struggles involved in fighting for some sense of normalcy in a family dealing with an autistic child. While his plan to visit Mongolia by horseback with his son at first seems outlandish, once you fully understand his motivation and genuineness you see why it was so important. He does an outstanding job of relating his wife's pain with the situation. Her willingness to try this plan for her son made my heart ache. I don't personally have an autistic child but I was interested to learn more about the struggle involved for these families. On a most basic level, this book is about two parents' love for their child - something we all understand and cherish!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My bff recomemded this book to me so i read it and almost immeadly i waas swept into the story of the boy and how th dad tried to help him. This is a amazing story!READ IT!!!
carrport More than 1 year ago
Wonderful story of an autistic child and his parents' search for a cure.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You hear people say "I'd go to the ends of the earth to help" but rarely do we do that to help another. In this book, the parents do travel to the far ends of the earth to help their young boy. Those, who are not acquainted with autism may find it difficult to understand why straight forward discipline isn't used to get the young man "straightened out". Those who know about autism will marvel at the patience and over the top effort that the parents use to help their son.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written and certainly an eye-opener about the struggles, patience and compassion of parents who deal on a daily basis with special needs children. Also a colorfully described "travelog" of Mongolia, where the family sought help for their son.
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Very moving and an eye opener
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DF48 More than 1 year ago
I was unable to put this book down. The author has given me a better understanding of what parents go through with autistic children. I loved reading about the family's adventure and quest for healing in Mongolia. Being a horse lover, I was fascinated. Winston Churhill's statement that, "The outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man" is very appropo. The shaman medicine is intriguing, and I think God works through this to heal (though some I didn't understand, such as the whipping). I learned an important lesson in the difference between being healed and being cured.
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donnareads911 More than 1 year ago
An autistic boy - his father - his mother - a horse. And how they found a cure. Sounds like a great premise. Although it is truly admirable as to what the father has done to find help for his son, it didn't grab me, either emotionally or psychologically. The story grew so pedantic with details, I lost interest. I continue to believe that animals, especially horses, can necessitate a cure. The author has great potential, though. Instead of plodding, let's just gallop a bit!
honesttoafault More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was well written; it held my interest and I felt it was completely believable. I work with both students with special needs in a school setting as well as in an equine therapy setting. Sometimes we have to think outside the box with unique kids. As for taking a young child into the wilderness I say go for it as long as your experienced and it sounds like his father knew what he was doing. People need to lighten up; the child benefited from this experience!
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