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INDEPENDENT LENS: The Horse Boy

Airs Sunday, May 16, 2010 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Rowan (left) and Rupert Isaacson riding horses at home in Texas.

Rupert Isaacson, Rowan Isaacson and Ghoste in Mongolia.
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Above: Rupert Isaacson, Rowan Isaacson and Ghoste in Mongolia.

How far would you travel to heal someone you love? 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 a desperate attempt to treat his condition with shamanic healing.

A complex condition that can dramatically affect social interaction and communication skills, autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability today. After two-year-old Rowan Isaacson was diagnosed with autism, he ceased speaking, retreated into himself for hours at a time, and often screamed inconsolably for no apparent reason.

Rupert Isaacson, a writer and former horse trainer, and his wife Kristin Neff, a psychology professor, sought the best possible medical care for their son. But traditional therapies had little effect.

Rowan Isaacson gives the horse a kiss on the nose.
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Above: Rowan Isaacson gives the horse a kiss on the nose.

Then they discovered that Rowan has a profound affinity for animals, particularly horses. When Rupert began to ride with Rowan every day, Rowan began to talk again and engage with the outside world. Was there a place on the planet that combined horses and healing? There was — Mongolia, the country where the horse was first domesticated, and where shamanism is the state religion. What if we were to take Rowan there, thought Rupert, and ride on horseback from shaman to shaman? What would happen?

“The Horse Boy” is a magical expedition from the wild open steppe to the sacred Lake Sharga. As the family sets off on a quest for a possible cure, Rupert and Kristin find their son is accepted — even treasured — for his differences.

By telling one family’s extraordinary story, the film gives a voice to the thousands of families who are living with autism every day. As Rupert and Kristin struggle to make sense of their child’s autism, and find healing for him and themselves in this unlikeliest of places, Rowan makes dramatic leaps forward, astonishing both his parents and himself.

Video

Trailer: Independent Lens: The Horse Boy

Above: How far would you travel to heal someone you love? For one Texas couple, it means a spiritual journey halfway around the world to Mongolia. When their son is diagnosed with autism, they seek the best treatments but nothing works Until they discover their son's connection to horses and the effect it has on him. Part travel adventure and shamanic quest, this is the story of how one family found a gateway into understanding their son's life.

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