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Review: The Horse Boy

March 26, 2009


When Rupert Isaacson and his wife Kristen Neff had a baby boy, they were ecstatic.  Things seemed to be going along fine until their son, Rowan, was about 2 years old.  Kristen is a professor of human development and she noticed that some things weren’t quite right.  She did some research and discovered that Rowan had all but one of the classic signs of autism.  Rupert and Kristen tried everything they could think of to reach their son  – from traditional treatments to new, untested ideas.  Nothing seemed to work – if anything, Rowan’s symptoms became worse and they found they couldn’t leave him with anyone else.  Rowan loves animals, though and the only thing that seemed to calm him down was being outside.

When Rowan and Rupert were walking one day, they ended up on a neighbor’s property and encountered his horses.  Rupert is an experienced horseman and noticed that the lead mare assumed a submissive stance around Rowan.  When Rupert told their neighbor, he immediately gave him the keys to his saddle room and told him to take Rowan to ride Betsy whenever he wanted.  Rupert and Rowan rode Betsy almost daily for three years and while Rowan was around the horse, he seemed to make progress.  This caused an idea to brew in Rupert’s mind – why not take Rowan on a horseback journey through Mongolia to visit shamans there?  Kristen resisted the idea at first, but finally went along.

So, in 2007, Rupert and Kristen took their 5 year old son, who was prone to tantrums, had poor language and social skills and wasn’t potty trained on the trip of a lifetime across Mongolia.  The Horse Boy: A Father’s Quest to Heal His Son by Rupert Isaacson is the story of their journey.

I listened to this audio book on a recent trip to my parents’.  It is read by the author and he does a fantastic job.  I’m not sure anyone else could imitate Rowan’s tones the way he does.  He is honest with his love and frustration and optimism.  This book chronicles the remarkable journey of hope the Isaacson’s took to try to benefit their son.  I found it to be inspirational – it gave me a greater understanding of the struggles that families of autistic children face and brought tears to my eyes.

The proceeds from this book have gone to create The Horse Boy Foundation – you can read about it here.

Review copy provided by Hachette Books.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. March 26, 2009 7:21 am

    Fascinating idea! I bet it was good to listen to that one, as opposed to reading it.

  2. March 26, 2009 8:50 am

    I think it’s so great that Rupert himself decided to do the reading. (= Sounds like a wonderful book.

  3. March 26, 2009 10:44 am

    Nice review. This sounds quite good.

  4. March 26, 2009 10:59 am

    Wanted to let you know that I have an award for you at my blog, Unmainstream Mom Reads if you want to go pick it up.

    Also, I am running 7 different book contests right now – you’ll find links on the righthand sidebar at the top 🙂

  5. March 26, 2009 11:44 am

    Wow – I bet this is an amazing story! I bet my sis-in-law would love it – she works with a therapeutic riding program for kids with special needs.

  6. March 26, 2009 11:50 am

    What made them decide to go to Mongolia? Very interesting sounding.

  7. March 26, 2009 12:10 pm

    Wow! Sounds like an amazing story! Great review!

  8. March 26, 2009 12:23 pm

    Sounds like a fantastic story. And I’m happy to hear that the audio was great too.

  9. March 26, 2009 2:23 pm

    I’m going to recommend this to my friend who has a daughter with autism. Sounds like a winner.

  10. March 26, 2009 4:25 pm

    I don’t actually know all that much about autism, and I’d like to do something to change that. Nick Hornby, who has an autistic son, recommended George and Sam by Charlotte Moore. I’ll have to see if I can find either that or The Horse Boy.

  11. March 26, 2009 7:09 pm

    You know, sometimes an audiobook has real advantages over the printed page and this sounds like one of those times. I bet the father brought a lot to that recording. Thanks for the review!

  12. March 26, 2009 8:20 pm

    This sounds like a very touching book addressing a growing problem. Good review Kathy.

  13. March 26, 2009 9:03 pm

    I just got the book to review in the mail last week and I”m very excited about it. I also recommend A Friend Like Henry by Nuala Gardiner on the subject of autism and animals….very powerful read.

  14. March 26, 2009 9:25 pm

    I have wanted to read this since I first saw it on Shelf Awareness and now I want to read it even more. Great review!

  15. March 26, 2009 9:46 pm

    This book sounds really interesting. Thanks for the review!

  16. March 26, 2009 10:24 pm

    Mongolia seems like a far leap from Rowan loving to ride horses, but I imagine that there’s more to that selection. Regardless, what incredible lengths to go to help your child! This really sounds like an interesting book. I’m curious to know whether the trip helped, but you were kind enough not to provide a spoiler in your review. I’ll be looking for this one.

  17. March 26, 2009 10:58 pm

    This sounds like a fascinating book. There is an epidemic of autism spectrum disorders and I am glad to see more books being written about this and reaching out into the world. I think that most everyone knows a family with a child touched by this. I think that reading books like these can help us understand and be more compassionate.

    BTW, I’ve given you an award. You can check out the details on my blog.

  18. March 27, 2009 10:45 am

    Wow – that’s certainly a leap of faith. Sounds like a fascinating story.

  19. March 27, 2009 2:01 pm

    You’ve been reading (or listening) to tons of good books lately. This one sounds worth checking out.


  20. March 27, 2009 5:54 pm

    I’ve been hearing about this book and it sounds fascinating. Autism is so difficult to live with – I can understand why families would look for different options to help deal with it.

  21. March 28, 2009 1:42 pm

    Thank you for the great review, Kathy. This sounds like an interesting one!

  22. March 29, 2009 8:29 pm

    Boo is on the autism spectrum (he has Aspergers) and I’m usually pretty up on my autism books, but didn’t know about this one. Hippotherapy (therapeutic horseback riding) can be very effective for many kids with autism and other disabilities. I’ll look for this book – thanks!

  23. August 11, 2009 6:23 pm

    Beautiful review!

    Rupert’s travels to Mongolia were documented in a soon to be released film titled “The Horse Boy.” You can find the trailer at, and you can find a list of where it is premiering in cities all over the United States at the top of the website.

    Also, you can follow us on Twitter at

    Thanks again!

  24. Kata permalink
    February 21, 2010 1:39 pm

    Here’s some shaman wisdom: enlightment: Wow, Another bull shit story about fake autism. If it’s not swimming with dolphins it’s riding horses to smoking weed to eating gluten free cookies. Oh yea, that’s the answer folks. No prob. Get educated please. Go to you tube and search under: ‘autism epidemic out of control” for a reality check on what’s going on with “autism” It’s a serious disorder and these fake new age cases are a slap in the face to all parents who are dealing with truly autistic children. When will the media ever get this right? They just don’t get real autism. They keep slobbering over these silly juvenile new age stories that have nothing to do with the realities of true autism.

  25. May 7, 2010 2:28 pm

    THE HORSE BOY, both the documentary and the book, are extremely inspirational – seeing the world through autism and how significantly interaction with horses has improved Rowan’s fits is something short of miraculous. If you liked the film, it is now out on DVD from Zeitgeist Films. If you didn’t get a chance to check it out, consider saving it to your Netflix or Blockbuster queue!

  26. October 1, 2010 1:34 pm

    Sounds like a great read, thanks for sharing.

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