Saturday, June 20, 2009

Book Review: The Horse Boy

The Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson is the true story of an amazing journey taken by a father, mother, and their autistic son in search of some healing. Rupert Isaacson, a human rights activist and lifelong horseman who was born in London to a South African mother and a Zimbabwean father, is no stranger to what is available in this world. While living in Austin, Texas, he convinced his wife to travel through Mongolia to meet a variety of Shamans who might be able to unlock the mystery of autism and help their son in some way.

The majority of the journey involved alternating between riding in a van, riding on horseback, and walking with tour guides and translators. Every step of the way was a roller coaster of man vs. nature, joy vs. disappointment. The bravery of this family is what strikes me most. It's too easy to lock yourself in your home when you have an autistic child prone to deafening tantrums, violence, and incontinence. Yet these parents not only took their son Rowan out into the world, but they took him into the wilderness where there were no conveniences nor comforts other than one another.

Rowan met a variety of healers along the way. Isaacson says that Rowan's very first healer was a neighbor's horse named Betsy. I believe that Rowan's very first healers were his mother and father. Though they felt frustrated over setbacks, their unrelenting efforts to help their son despite him fighting back, are admirable and worthy of acknowledgment.

Rowan's affinity for animals is an endearing part of the book. Horses respect the boy and tolerate him wiggling and screaming on their backs. It's as if they understand him and want to protect him. Other animals, such as goats and reindeer, were happy distractions for him.

The Shamans performed interesting ceremonies, and leave you wondering - is this really going to work? You will have to read the book if you want the answer. It is well worth it. Both the writing and the story are superb. The best part of it is that proceeds from the book go to support The Horse Boy Foundation, which helps special needs children find healing through horses. You can also find additional photographs and the trailer to the movie that was filmed along the journey at The Horse Boy Movie website.

Of all the striking moments within the story, the one that sticks with me the most is at the very end when they are on the last leg of their journey. You as the reader are engrossed in the magical world of Shamanism, and then Rupert is approached by a tourist who is angry about the commotion that Rowan is making. Despite being a psychologist, the tourist does not recognize that Rowan is autistic. He mistakes him for being just an unruly little boy whose parents spoil him and can't control him. You realize what a letdown it must be for these parents to have to come into contact with "the civilized world" after this journey into the wilderness where people accept their son's behaviors with a smile and support the parents in finding relief.

This particular tourist still insisted that Rowan be removed from the vicinity after finding out that he's autistic. The man was more concerned about getting his peace and quiet while on vacation, something I often have to fight for myself. However, when you realize that there are parents of autistic children who rarely get a moment of peace and quiet, yet who still love their children enough to travel to the end of the world in search of a solution, you can't help but feel a little pampered by your own circumstances.

Another aspect of the book that I enjoyed was the trust that these riders put in the horses they rode. The journey was not without spills, kicks, and runaway horses, yet everyone made it in once piece. We are all familiar with broken bones if we own horses, so we can't help buy worry that someone would get seriously hurt and be miles upon miles away from the nearest doctor and modern medical facility. In the case of this journey, the water proved to be more of a threat than the sometimes not-so-well-trained horses. If you like trail riding, this is the trail ride of the century.

8 comments:

Kate said...

Thanks for the review - I'll have to check it out!

AareneX said...

What a lovely book review--thanks!

fernvalley01 said...

Sounds like a great read ,I will have to wait to read it till I am feeling a little better ,These days ,way too emotional.

KD said...

I picked this book up and set it back down when I was last book shopping. I'll probably go pick it back up again after reading your review and checking out the website.

Katharine Swan said...

What a great, thorough book review! I had no interest in the book before, but now I think it's made it to the top of my list. In other words, you wrote an awesome review. :o)

As promised, I'm thinking of you this weekend. >>>squeezes eyes shut and thinks hard<<<

Sending you strength!

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

"He mistakes him for being just an unruly little boy whose parents spoil him and can't control him. You realize what a letdown it must be for these parents to have to come into contact with "the civilized world" after this journey into the wilderness where people accept their son's behaviors with a smile and support the parents in finding relief.

This particular tourist still insisted that Rowan be removed from the vicinity after finding out that he's autistic."


OH! I SO can relate to those situations. Happens to us quite often. And I try to remind myself, that I don't owe anyone an explanation or that I have to make excuses for my daughter. She is...who she is, and we just take each day as it comes and each situation as a fleeting moment.

Thanks for the terrific and thoughtful review, NM. Sounds like a fascinating read.

~Lisa

Katharine Swan said...

Lisa, I'll BET you can relate! I imagine that happens quite often. I don't understand how the psychologist wouldn't know, but then again I suppose he probably doesn't have much experience comparing the way normal kids versus autistic kids behave outside of his office. Doctor-patient interactions are very different, I'm sure. Also he might not have been that kind of psychologist...

But still, I can imagine how offensive it would be that even someone who should know better could be so insensitive!

Fantastyk Voyager said...

I've read about this book a LOT. It sounds terrific.