Case Studies

Aurora (pictured) has been coming out for playdates on a weekly basis for over a year now. When she first started coming she loved nothing more than to ride at the canter as much as we would let her. She spent hours in the saddle with various back-riders playing tag, hide and seek and red light/green light. Then suddenly about six months ago she stopped cold turkey and since then has not been interested in the horses for anything more than feeding them the occasional carrot. She has spent her sessions playing with the small animals and has enjoyed a variety of other activities which have included painting the goats, trick training the pigs and creating art with the rats. This of course is no problem. When children come to Horse Boy they are never forced to ride and interact with the horses. Her parents have been supportive of this telling me on numerous occasions that she is so happy out here that even if she never rides again they will keep bringing her.

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For the year that we have known her we have seen many changes in Aurora. She has really come out of her shell and developed into a very independent little girl. She doesn’t want to be pushed on a swing, helped to climb a ladder or lifted onto a horse. We think this in part explains why she stopped wanting to ride or do sensory work on the horses and preferred to be with the small animals where she could be in control and needed limited help.

About a month ago the Horse Boy team attended a clinic and demo with Linda Tellington-Jones, the inventor of the revolutionary TTouch Method. The TTouches (or trust touches) are a collection of easy to replicate circular touches, lifts and slides done with the hands and fingertips over various parts of the horse's body to enhance trust, release tension, overcome habitual holding patterns that lead to resistance, and open new possibilities for learning and cooperation. They also improve flexibility, and can help with health conditions. We have been implementing what we learnt from Linda with all of our horses (and dogs, pigs, goats, rabbits etc.) and have been seeing some really remarkable results. Linda was kind enough to spend a day with us at New Trails and after observing a playdate talked us through how we might use her method with the kids.

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Aurora, sprang immediately to mind, so on her next session, when she came over to feed Breac (our dutch warmblood paint) a carrot, we asked her if she would mind helping us to help Breac to relax. The idea of helping us got her attention and after Josh showed her a few of the basic touches she spent the next 30 minutes with Breac doing them all over. She even decided to get up on her back so she could reach her neck and asked us to help her get on so she could help Breac. At the end of the session Aurora put a blanket on Breac and told us to take her to bed. It was a truly beautiful moment for everyone involved.

Ever (aged 3) has been attending Horse Boy playdates for the past three months with his Mom and Dad and 2 year old sister Maebe. They are a lovely, close knit family who in their application form stated that they were looking for something the whole family could do together. Something they rarely get the chance to do because of Ever’s rigorous playdate schedule.

And that was exactly what they found. The family loves coming out and spending time together exploring the woods or playing with our animals. The kids thrive in the pressure free environment and the parents love spending time with them and the other families that join them. But, although Ever was happy to feed the horse an apple or play chase with it on the ground what he really didn’t want to do was ride.

Whenever his parents asked him whether he wanted to get up on the horse he said no and then went straight back to whatever it was he was doing, whether it was playing in the gravel or collecting apples (his passion in life) in the woods. And this, of course, is fine by us. At Horse Boy we never put any pressure on a child to ride or do anything else that they are resistant towards. Instead we trust that the kids will come to the horses in their own time and that if they don’t there is still huge benefit from being out in nature away from the sensory triggers they are bombarded with in their everyday life.


However this morning at Ever’s 10th session his Mom took me aside and asked whether we would be willing to try just lifting him up there and see what happened. I said yes as long as they understood that if he still said no we would take him straight down and not repeat the exercise.

And so when the time came that it seemed right to try that was exactly what we did. As soon as he got up there and the horse moved underneath him Ever began to smile. And as he pretended to chase his parents from the back of the horse he began to laugh. Soon he was giving us clear directions on where he wanted to ride too and when we finally managed to get him off again he was so proud of his achievement. And we were proud of him. Believe him he wasn’t the only one with a smile on his face for the rest of the day.



Tyler is a four year old boy who came to his first playdate in August and has been coming on a weekly basis ever since. In her initial email to us his Mom, Emily, wrote the following:

My son has autism and we are having a really hard time ‘breaking through’.  He is 3 ½ and he doesn’t speak.  We have tried all sorts of therapies, in home and in a center and he has a really rough time connecting and we haven’t made much progress in about a year and a half.  She suggested I reach out to you … can you help?

At his very first session Tyler was only interested in books in the house but his mom Emily was stunned because she said he usually tantrummed in the afternoon. Every afternoon. He didn't here. In fact Emily said that her husband had said he thought it was a terrible idea to bring him out here at this time of day.

The next sessions Tyler spent the majority of his time dropping stones into a bucket of water. He was not that interested in interacting with our staff members and volunteers and only touched the horse, Betsy, once. When it was time to leave he was very distressed which his Mom told us was a common reaction to transitions.

Over the weeks Tyler began to interact with us more but still showed little interest in the horse, preferring to explore the woods on foot or splash around in muddy puddles. It took until his sixth session for him to even touch the horse again and we were all thrilled when he did. He was also still becoming very distressed when it was time to leave.

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Moses is a young adult on the spectrum who has been coming to us every Saturday morning for the past three months. He was introduced to us by a family member in a last ditch attempt to get him to abandon his computer for a few hours every week and interact with the outside world. Moses is one of the first members of a relatively new program we now offer called ‘The School for Gentlemen.’ This program is aimed at helping teenagers and young adults on the spectrum transition into adult life by teaching them what we call ‘university level’ perspective taking. Topics covered include how to deal with the opposite sex, how to be interested in others and how to dance the complex dance of relationships and career outside of the family. And so far it seems to be working. According to Moses’s Dad since starting this program he is turning a corner and at places where he was previously not welcome due to his energy and behavior he is now a person others are looking forward to have as part of their group.

As well as helping with chores (such as trail clearing and animal feeding) and learning social skills Moses has also been volunteering at a playdate with one of our families who has a much younger child on the autism spectrum.

Here is what they have to say about him and his participation in their playdate:

Moses is a great addition to our family playdates at Horse Boy!  My “typical” boys in particular love seeing him when we visit.  He is a talented builder and has lots of expertise with LEGOs, which is the most favorite topic of my 5 year old.  He is a bona fide computer guru and can talk to my 8 year old about seemingly any video game in existence (along with tips and tricks!).  The boys also love playing water wars, sword fights, games of catch, and lots of other made-up-on-the-fly games with Moses.  He is up for anything, always patient with them and always kind.  The presence of “big kid” Moses means that while their brother is enjoying horse time and between their own turns on the horse, the boys will always be happy and entertained.’

Watch this space for updates on how Moses, and the other members of The School for Gentleman are doing. And if you are interested in this program for your own child then please contact


Studies have shown that having a child with autism in the family can have a significantly negative impact on parental and sibling psychological well-being as well as family functioning in general.

In recent years clinicians have begun to advocate the use of family based, as opposed to child based, interventions for children with autism and other developmental disabilities.

This is in part because factors such as social support and non-conflicting sibling relationships can serve as protective factors for the parents and siblings of children with autism.

Additionally studies have also shown that high levels of parental stress and anxiety as well as intense feelings of isolation and loneliness will not only cause intense psychological distress to the parents of children with ASD but will also negatively impact the child themselves.

For this reason one of Horse Boy Method’s most unique and powerful features is its focus on serving the whole family.

We have found time after time that if you take care of the siblings and parents of a child with autism as well as the child themselves then the impact we can have on a families’ life can be significant. Below is an example of one such family.

The Autisitc Son

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Marie (not her real name) has been participating in Horse Boy activities for the past 2 ½ years. She is 7 years old and was when she came to us diagnosed with PDD-NOS and selective mutism.

The PDD-NOS diagnosis has since been taken away.


Marie's first encounters at New Trails

When in 2009 Marie first started coming out she was a very different child to the one she is today.

At this early stage she rarely made eye contact and would not engage when spoken too, she would also self-stimulate by sucking on her cloth elephant George or tensing her body into a stiff legs/back body posture and would avoid all body contact with anyone except her father whose shoulders she would want to sit on all the time.

In addition Marie spent the majority of her time in a parallel existence watching from afar rather than interacting with the other children or volunteers.

She also suffered from regular and long lasting meltdowns.

Because of her anxieties she also did not – at this stage - interact with the horses much, instead preferring to play with the smaller animals like the goats, rabbit and guinea pigs.

However her father reported to us that when she went home she would draw and talk about the horses, naming them all and following what was happening to them. An integral part of The Horse Boy Method is that we always go at the child's pace and never push them to ride until they are ready but instead have the horses in the background for when the child is ready. We were therefore happy to let Marie come to the horses in her own time.


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The Long Ride Home

The long awaited sequel of the Horse Boy.


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