Farm Ireland

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Horse boy reaches to kids

The Horse Boy Foundation and the Horse Boy Method are the brainchild of Rupert Isaacson and grew out of his experience with his son Rowan's autism

In 2004, Rowan was diagnosed with autism. While he seemed unreachable, whenever his father took him into the woods behind their house, his tantrums and stimming (the term given to repetitive stereotypic behaviour) would relax. It seemed that contact with nature helped to calm Rowan's dysfunctions.


One day, Rowan ran away from his dad and into a herd of horses on the neighbour's land. Rupert, a lifelong horseman and former horse trainer, had been keeping his son away from horses because he believed he would be unsafe around them.

However, instead of trampling the squirming, babbling child lying on his back among them, the horses backed off gently. Then the boss of the herd, a mare called Betsy, came over, lowered her head in front of Rowan and began to lick and chew with her lips -- a sign of equine submission.

Rupert had never seen a horse voluntarily make this submissive gesture to a human before and it was clear to him that something was passing between the horse and the little boy.

Rupert talked to his neighbour Stafford, Betsy's owner, and for the next three years, the father and son rode every day through the woods and fields of Texas. As time went on, Rowan began to talk, to engage with his environment and other people.

In 2007, Rowan, his father and mother -- Kristin Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas -- took a journey across Mongolia on horseback, going from traditional healer to traditional healer, shaman to shaman, looking for healing.

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At the beginning of their trip, Rowan was still having tantrums, was not toilet trained and was cut off from other children. They came back with a child who no longer had tantrums, was toilet trained and was able to make friends.

On their return, Rupert wrote a book about his family's adventure, and also produced a film which documented the trip. Both are titled The Horse Boy.

Since then the Isaacson family started the Horse Boy Foundation to help make horses and nature available to other children, autistic or not, who might not otherwise have access to them.

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