rupert isaacson
the horse boy, mongolia, &
the lord of the rings

Aired December 1, 2017

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In April 2004, Rupert Isaacson’s son, Rowan, was diagnosed with autism. At first, Rowan seemed unreachable; then one day, when walking in the woods, Rowan spotted his neighbor’s horse herd and ran in among them. Rupert’s heart froze – as a lifelong horseman and former professional trainer, he’d been keeping his son away from horses for fear he’d get hurt.

That day, however, Rupert witnessed something extraordinary – instead of trampling the squirming, babbling, three-year-old child, lying on his back among their hooves… the herd gently backed off. Then the alpha mare came over and lowered her head to Rowan, licking and chewing with her lips (a sign of equine submission). It was clear to Rupert that something very significant was happening between his son and the mare.

Most importantly, it became evident to Rupert that autism was not a problem to fix, but a gateway to adventure. He also realized that the standard approach of teaching autists “normal” behaviors completely missed their gifts and often stifled their intellect and sense of wonder.

It was in this spirit of adventure and exploration that Rupert and Rowan’s mother, University of Texas professor of psychology, Kristin Neff, decided to immerse themselves in a centuries-old horse culture:  Mongolia.  Journeying cross-country on horseback, they went from traditional healer to traditional healer, shaman to shaman, looking for healing. The family took this trip with an almost six-year-old child who was having tantrums, wasn’t toilet trained, and was cut off from other children… and they returned with a child who longer had tantrums, was toilet trained, and was able to make friends.

Rupert’s subsequent book, The Horse Boy, became a highly regarded film of the same name, and has led to the creation of The Horse Boy Foundation… in turn, helping more than 25,000 families in 20 countries weekly. Now, the Horse Boy Method and Movement Method are regarded by many neuro-scientists worldwide as representing the cutting edge in both brain development and education. As well, the family's story has been optioned by the executive producer of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy.