Roughly one out of every ninety children are born with autism. Approximately one percent of children in the United States, between the ages of 3 and 17, have an autism spectrum disorder. Between 1-1.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. These are staggering statistics, especially considering such a prevalent disorder receives less that 5% of private research funding of other less common disorders and diseases.

My intention for sharing these statistics is not to condemn anyone, but merely to point out the vastness of the population living with some form of autism. This is a disorder that is still relatively unknown to us in terms of it’s cause and ultimately it’s place within our society and humanity. Many cling to the idea that autism is strictly a bad thing, a disease, but many others remain open to the possibility that autism isn’t a disease so much as a different way of seeing the world that neuro-typical people do not yet fully understand.

THE HORSE BOY is an amazing documentary about that very differentiation. The film follows 4-year old Rowan Isaacson and his parents as they travel from the United States to Mongolia, seeking a cure for Rowan’s autism. Rowan’s father Rupert, a horse trainer by trade, realized one day that Rowan has an uncanny connection and way with animals, especially with horses. Rupert decides he wants to use this connection and take his family to the one place that horse-riding was born, which also happens to be the home of what are considered to be the most powerful Shamans in the world.

The Isaacson’s experience of raising a child with autism, with symptoms varying from tantrums to a complete resistance to potty train, has taken an emotional toll on their lives. Rupert feels that this adventure to Mongolia, undertaken in part by way of lengthy horse-back riding, will reveal some form of healing for Rowan and themselves. Rupert’s wife Kristin is a bit more skeptical of the outcome, but remains open to the possibilities and they both ultimately find themselves amazed at the results.

Without venturing into excessive detail of Rowan’s condition, the simple truth is that at his his rate of development, he would have difficulty living a “normal” life on his own in society. This, above all else, is what frightens Rowan’s parents and pushes them to follow this path of horses and Shamanic healing. The journey has it’s ups and downs. The film, directed, photographed and edited by first-timer Michel O. Scott, vividly captures both the intense joy and exhausting pain that they endure along the way.

THE HORSE BOY harnesses moments of intimacy with Rowan, both with his father and moments by himself that reveal a unique and fascinating human being in the process of discovering himself and the world around him. Rowan overcomes nearly all of the negative, debilitating effects of autism but also maintains and thrives on the positive aspects of seeing the world from a different perspective through autism. Whether this is the direct result of the Shamanic healing, Rupert and Kristin differ slightly in their opinions, but what they agree on is that the experience as a whole has been a blessing and they are grateful, regardless of the causation of his progress.

The film takes this very engaging and emotional story of human triumph and peppers it lightly with interview clips from various experts, including Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, anthropologist and researcher Roy Richard Gringer and Dr. Temple Grandin, who herself lives with autism. These scenes are minimal, but offer an enlightening educational support to the story as it unfolds. Footage shot by Michel Scott depicts Rowan’s unbelievable connection to animals as well as the immense beauty of the remote regions of Mongolia, which give an epic cinematic feel to the Isaacson’s jounrey.

Original music in THE HORSE BOY was composed by Lili Haydyn and Kim Carroll and, while pleasant enough, felt a tad too New Age. This was a concern because, while the subject matter may seem “New Age” on the surface, is really more about a father’s determined journey to make a better life for his son than it was a testament to any specific form of alternative or spiritual method of healing. Here is a man, a father so in love with his child that, no matter what the cost or outcome, was willing to leave no stone unturned in seeking the best life possible for his son and this in turn is what makes THE HORSE BOY a fantastic must-see documentary!

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars



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