On Tuesday, May 11, The Horse Boy airs nationally 10pm EDT on the PBS series Independent Lens.
The Horse Boy is a film about a dad (Rupert Isaacson) and a mom (Kristin Neff ) who are trying to do what hundreds of thousands of families in America do every day – search for a way to reach their child with autism. Only, we don’t look so good doing it and we usually stay pretty close to home.
Rupert is a past professional horse trainer, writer and journalist as well as a human rights advocate for tribal peoples. Rupert’s wife and Rowan’s mother, Kristin, is a tenured professor of psychology, and has been a practicing Buddhist for more than 10 years. She is well known for her researches into the Buddhist concept of self-compassion and its correlation with positive mental health. When Rupert witnessed the amazing way in which their son Rowan, who had autism, connected with their horses in Texas, they started to wonder if there was a place on earth that combined healing and horses. They discovered that the nomadic horse life is still lived by most of the people Mongolia, and it is also the one country where shamanism–healing at its most raw and direct–is the state religion. So off they went.
All right, so maybe we all can’t grab our kids with autism and take off for Monglolia and ride horses and experience ritual healings with the reindeer people. I know my area’s Regional Center isn’t going to pay for it and neither is the school district. However, the point of the movie is best highlighted by Michel Orion Scott (director and cinematographer) of “The Horse Boy” when he is asked what he thinks ‘healed’ or helped Rowan. His answer:
“I don’t know … but what I do know is that, if there was one thing it could be contributed to, without a doubt, it is that the parents took that extra step to follow their child into the unknown. To allow themselves to trust the love they have for their son and to do whatever it took to find a way into his life.”
It’s a good reminder, as parents to follow your instincts, observe and listen to your child. Cheesy as it may sound, follow your heart. It’s sound advice. Though Rowan, Rupert and Kristin are in Mongolia, they encounter the same trails and tribulations that most parents with autism do. We hear Rupert exclaim,
“Sometimes it is like he (Rowan) is leaping forward and sometimes it is like he is totally regressing.”
Who can’t relate to that? What parent doesn’t feel that anguish every time there is a ‘setback’? Your child or teen goes back to some disruptive or unhappy behavior, and you are filled with the double anguish of not being able to figure out how to make him feel better, and the fear that it may not be just a temporary regression.
With all the ups and downs we parents of children with autism have to face, it’s nice to see inspirational movies such as this one from time to time. The scenery is beautiful and it’s a pleasure to watch a movie about autism that doesn’t take place in a classroom. It’s also good to know that Rupert and Kristin have used the profits from the book The Horse Boy to found the nonprofit Horse Boy Foundation, which offers the chance to ride and benefit from close contact with horses, other animals, and nature. They welcome families to spend time there.
My favorite line in the movie is when Rupert says:
“We’re gonna climb up 12,000 feet to perform 4 hour healing rituals with shamans, isn’t that what all families do?”
Rupert was being sarcastic, but the answer is, “Yes.” Yes, it is what all of us parents do. We get up and we climb mountains every day, in order to help our children. Sometimes the shamans are helpful, and sometimes they are not, and often it is hard to tell the difference. Watch this film, and you’ll be inspired to continue climbing those mountains. You know it’s worth every step.