In the Press

Rupert Isaacson talks to Theo Merz about his ongoing and extraordinary quest to help his autistic child

Most parents would be delighted to have a child who doesn’t like playing practical jokes. But when his son Rowan fooled him into thinking a toy rubber squid was a chicken nugget, it was one of the most significant – and happy – moments of Rupert Isaacson’s life.

Rowan is severely autistic, and specialists feared he would never be able to communicate properly. Now, thanks in part to a series of extraordinary journeys and experiences, Rowan is “healed” enough to write and present his own wildlife documentary, and look forward to a career.

The practical jokes were the result of an encounter with Harold, an Aboriginal healer in the Australian rainforest.

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Rowan Isaacson’s autism improved whenever he rode his horse Betsy, so his father turned it into a treatment.

The last time the world heard from Rupert Isaacson he had returned from Mongolia, having travelled there in 2007 with his wife Kristin and their five-year-old son Rowan. It wasn’t your typical family holiday: the Isaacsons spent four weeks journeying across the country, much of the time on horseback, seeking out shamans to treat Rowan for his autism.

Rowan arrived in Mongolia incontinent, prone to nerve-shredding tantrums that would last several hours and largely uncommunicative. He returned to the family home in Texas toilet-trained, suffering fewer tantrums, able to communicate spontaneously — and having made his first friend, the son of ...

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ROWAN ISAACSON's parents were told their son would never communicate – until a remarkable encounter proved the key to ending his silence.

Today 12-year-old Rowan Isaacson is confident enough to present a film on his web channel of a trip searching for bears in Transylvania with his author and film-maker father Rupert. 

That achievement is remarkable in itself but is more so if you learn that 10 years ago – when Rowan was diagnosed with autism – his parents were told to expect nothing from their non-speaking and socially isolated son. 

“Rowan is amazing,” says Rupert. “We were told he would not have much of a future. He is still very autistic. He always will be. But he is so functional now that he will be an autistic person with a career and a love life. We have proper conversations. I will never take any of that for granted.” 

For Rupert the first glimpse of possibilities came in 2004 when his son darted away on a walk near their Texas home, dashing into a field of horses. Rupert, a horse trainer, knew his small and unpredictable son was in danger but he was astonished to find him calmly being nuzzled by one of the biggest, habitually grumpiest mares. 

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The father who went to the ends of the earth to cure his autistic son: The strange and magical story of how a boy's demons were tamed by shamans from the Kalahari to the Aboriginal rainforest

  • Rupert Isaacson's son Rowan, now 12, has severe autism
  • The family travelled across the globe for 'treatment' for Rowan
  • They visited shamans in Africa and Mongolian healers - which worked

The Bushman healers of the Kalahari were dancing a slow, stamping dance, their leg rattles shaking in counter-rhythm to the hand clapping and chanting of the villagers, their voices booming softly like the song of ostriches heard deep in the night.

Kunta, the shaman, danced over to me. His hands touched my head with gentle, fragile movements. They travelled down the back of my head, on to the knobbly bit where the spine almost meets the skull – (Bushmen call it the nxau spot, where sickness is pulled from the body and healing is pushed in) – down my spine to my pelvis and back up again.

Almost immediately, a deep calm came over me.

The great outdoors: Rupert Isaacson and his son Rowan who was diagnosed with severe autism as a young boy, at New Trails, the family's centre for treating children with autism

Then his hands travelled to Rowan, my six-year-old son. Kunta went suddenly rigid, as if electrocuted.

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Horse Boy Method

Horse Boy Movie and Book


  • Horse Boy Movie Press Kit
  • Lee Grossman, Autism Society of America President and CEO -"The Horse Boy is a wonderful book that encourages families affected by autism to dare to dream of a better quality of life, even when things seem hopeless. We are thrilled to be working with Rupert and Little, Brown to help raise awareness of autism through this family's story, and we hope it will inspire other families to find their own children's unique paths to happiness."
  • Dr. Temple Grandin, author of the bestselling books Thinking in Pictures, My Life With Autism, and Animals in Translation“ This is a fascinating book. It is the tale of a family's journey to Mongolia with their five-year-old son who has autism. The family travels to the northern remote areas and lives with the nomads and herders away from the cities. I loved the descriptions of the nomad way of life, and that they were so accepting of a child with autism. Rowan loved baby animals and the people did not mind when he grabbed a baby goat and climbed into one of their beds with it. During the trip, Rowan developed improved language and behavior. He also had a magical connection with horses. There are many wonderful passages about Rowan’s exploits with a Mongolian horse named Blackie… This is a great book and everyone who is interested in autism, animals or different cultures should read it.
  • Oprah Magazine "Isaacson's expansive memoir traces his trip to the remote Mongolian steppe with his wife and autistic son, whose behavior begins to improve through encounters with horses, herders, and shamans. Candid and warm, Isaacson's narration feels like an epic tale told by an old friend."
  • A Gallop Toward Hope: One Family's Adventure in Fighting Autism -- New York Times
  • The Horse Boy - Austin Statesman
    Family's story of autism, shamans, trip in Mongolia becomes film, book.
  • Shamans and horses work magic on autistic Rowan - The Sunday Times
    Rupert Isaacson was almost at his wits' end over his son's demonic fits, but a riding trip in Mongolia to visit local healers brought an amazing change
  • Quest for a miracle cure - The Sunday Times
    These parents believe horses and shamans can unlock their son's autistic mind. This is their journey of discovery
  • How the Horse Boy conquered autism - The Telegraph
    In a captivating new book that's become a publishing sensation, a father tells the incredible story of how horses and shamans have helped to alleviate his son's autism. John Mitchinson joins the family on a magical journey.
  • Riding Out Of Autism's Darkness - CBS Evening News
    CBS Evening News: Family Brings Therapeutic Horseback Riding Program To Others After Own Global Quest To Connect With Son
  • Triumph of the human spirit
    Brutal emotional honesty keeps a father's desperate quest to help his autistic son just the right side of twee
  • The Horse Boy bringing equine therapy to help autistic children in Britain
  • Autistic Children Are Awesome, Many Have Hidden Talents And Have Shamanic Tendencies

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The Long Ride Home

The long awaited sequel of the Horse Boy.


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