The Horse Boy

A Father\’s Quest to Heal His Son
by Rupert Isaacson

I first found out about this book from Stuff As Dreams Are Made On. I\’ve always been interested in reading about autism, and of course I love books about animals. So I was eager to pick this one up, especially after reading Wolf Totem, which is also set in Mongolia. Whereas Wolf Totem was all about the warlike side of Mongolian culture, and its interaction with wolves and other wildlife, The Horse Boy is a story of healing, about a people who embrace Buddhism and shamanism.

It began when Isaacson learned that his son Rowan was autistic. They tried many traditional therapies and diet changes; nothing seemed to help. At five years old Rowan failed to interact with other children, threw enormous temper tantrums, could barely communicate and was not toilet trained. His behavior was becoming harder and harder for his parents to manage. Then Isaacson took Rowan along to a convention of traditional healers from native tribes around the world, which he attended in capacity as a journalist. He was surprised and delighted to see Rowan\’s behavior improve at the convention. Later he found that Rowan, fascinated by all animals, seemed to have a special connection with a neighbor\’s horse- his temper tantrums dissipated and his communication improved while on horseback. He wondered if some kind of therapy involving horses and faith healing could help his son, and came up with a plan to take Rowan across Mongolia on horseback, to seek healing from their shamans.

It is an incredible journey to read about. The family traveled over vast stretches of steppes, treacherous bogs and mountain passes, pausing to visit sacred lakes, streams, and shamans along the way. The trip was fraught with difficulties, not the least that Rowan often refused to get on a horse at all, and threw screaming tantrums at transition points. And by the end of it all, although their son was still very much autistic, he had made incredible strides, including making friends with other children for the first time in his life.

It\’s amazing what this family went through to try and help their son. At the same time, it was often a dull read for me. There\’s nothing spectacular about the writing or descriptions. The story seemed to focus more on the parents\’ frustrations and difficulties, especially when things did not go the way they had envisioned, than on Rowan himself, or his relationship with the horses, which was what I had looked forward to reading about. It\’s a painfully honest story, one that still leaves me feeling skeptical: was Rowan really healed by the shaman\’s rituals? was he responding positively to being in nature and around animals? or were his improvements something that would have occurred anyways, whether in Outer Mongolia or at home? No one can say. While I greatly admire the family for the incredible lengths they went to (upon returning home Isaacson also established an equestrian therapy program for autistic children) the book itself was just not very engaging for me.

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                    357 pages, 2009

More opinions at:
Bermudaonion\’s Weblog
Age 30+ A Lifetime of Books

4 Responses

  1. I listened to the audio version of this book and really liked it. I felt for Rupert and Kristen and fell in love with the little Mongolian boy who befriended Rowan. Sorry you didn't enjoy the book as much as I did.

  2. I wonder if the reason you disliked this book where others liked it is a matter of point-of-view. Perhaps (and I hope I don't sound rude… that's hardly my intention) you looked at it more from the novel-style angle. For instance, you say that you remain sceptical regarding certain points. It's a sentiment that mirrors plot hole frustration, yet it cannot be so because the book is non-fiction. (This theory is, of course, speculation, and is therefore most likely false.)Obviously it's all right if the book wasn't engaging for you. As interesting as the premise sounds, this doesn't actually seem like the type of book for me either (I'm quite particular about my memoirs…). Great review – it's always fun to spark pointless conversations, no?

  3. Bermudaonion- I wonder if I'd like the documentary (or audio book) better. I've watched the film trailers and actually felt very moved- but somehow the book did not have the same effect on me.Biblibio- You have a good point. I often feel frustrated with unanswered questions/outcomes in memoirs, probably because I'm so used to reading novels and of course nothing is tied up so neatly in real life! It's not fair of me to expect nonfiction to be the same, but at a gut level it's hard not to read them with similar expectations sometimes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

DISCLAIMER:

All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

SUBSCRIBE VIA EMAIL:

Subscribe to my blog:

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

VIEW MY PERSONAL COLLECTION:

TRADE BOOKS WITH ME ON:

ARCHIVES: 

2023
January 2023 (26)
2022
January 2022 (12)February 2022 (7)March 2022 (13)April 2022 (16)May 2022 (13)June 2022 (21)July 2022 (15)August 2022 (27)September 2022 (10)October 2022 (17)November 2022 (16)December 2022 (23)
2021
January 2021 (14)February 2021 (13)March 2021 (14)April 2021 (7)May 2021 (10)June 2021 (5)July 2021 (10)August 2021 (27)September 2021 (16)October 2021 (11)November 2021 (14)December 2021 (12)
2020
January 2020 (14)February 2020 (6)March 2020 (10)April 2020 (1)May 2020 (10)June 2020 (15)July 2020 (13)August 2020 (26)September 2020 (10)October 2020 (9)November 2020 (16)December 2020 (22)
2019
January 2019 (12)February 2019 (9)March 2019 (5)April 2019 (10)May 2019 (9)June 2019 (6)July 2019 (18)August 2019 (13)September 2019 (13)October 2019 (7)November 2019 (5)December 2019 (18)
2018
January 2018 (17)February 2018 (18)March 2018 (9)April 2018 (9)May 2018 (6)June 2018 (21)July 2018 (12)August 2018 (7)September 2018 (13)October 2018 (15)November 2018 (10)December 2018 (13)
2017
January 2017 (19)February 2017 (12)March 2017 (7)April 2017 (4)May 2017 (5)June 2017 (8)July 2017 (13)August 2017 (17)September 2017 (12)October 2017 (15)November 2017 (14)December 2017 (11)
2016
January 2016 (5)February 2016 (14)March 2016 (5)April 2016 (6)May 2016 (14)June 2016 (12)July 2016 (11)August 2016 (11)September 2016 (11)October 2016 (9)November 2016 (1)December 2016 (3)
2015
January 2015 (9)February 2015 (9)March 2015 (11)April 2015 (10)May 2015 (10)June 2015 (2)July 2015 (12)August 2015 (13)September 2015 (16)October 2015 (13)November 2015 (10)December 2015 (14)
2014
January 2014 (14)February 2014 (11)March 2014 (5)April 2014 (15)May 2014 (12)June 2014 (17)July 2014 (22)August 2014 (19)September 2014 (10)October 2014 (19)November 2014 (14)December 2014 (14)
2013
January 2013 (25)February 2013 (28)March 2013 (18)April 2013 (21)May 2013 (12)June 2013 (7)July 2013 (13)August 2013 (25)September 2013 (24)October 2013 (17)November 2013 (18)December 2013 (20)
2012
January 2012 (21)February 2012 (19)March 2012 (9)April 2012 (23)May 2012 (31)June 2012 (21)July 2012 (19)August 2012 (16)September 2012 (4)October 2012 (2)November 2012 (7)December 2012 (19)
2011
January 2011 (26)February 2011 (22)March 2011 (18)April 2011 (11)May 2011 (6)June 2011 (7)July 2011 (10)August 2011 (9)September 2011 (14)October 2011 (13)November 2011 (15)December 2011 (22)
2010
January 2010 (27)February 2010 (19)March 2010 (20)April 2010 (24)May 2010 (22)June 2010 (24)July 2010 (31)August 2010 (17)September 2010 (18)October 2010 (11)November 2010 (13)December 2010 (19)
2009
January 2009 (23)February 2009 (26)March 2009 (32)April 2009 (22)May 2009 (18)June 2009 (26)July 2009 (34)August 2009 (31)September 2009 (30)October 2009 (23)November 2009 (26)December 2009 (18)
2008
January 2008 (35)February 2008 (26)March 2008 (33)April 2008 (15)May 2008 (29)June 2008 (29)July 2008 (29)August 2008 (34)September 2008 (29)October 2008 (27)November 2008 (27)December 2008 (24)
2007
August 2007 (12)September 2007 (28)October 2007 (27)November 2007 (28)December 2007 (14)
2006
2005
2004
2003
2002
2001
2000
1999
1998
1997
1996
1995
1994
1993
1992
1991
1990
1989
1988
1987
1986
1985
1984
1983
1982
1981
1980
1979
1978
1977
1976
1975
1974
1973
1972
1971
1970
1969
1968
1967
1966
1965
1964
1963
1962
1961
1960
1959
1958
1957
1956
1955
1954
1953
1952
1951
1950