Top critical review
Very interesting read, a great find
on 27 December 2015
The Horse Boy: The True Story of a Father's Miraculous Journey to Heal His Son by Rupert Isaacson
Kat's rating: 3 of 5 stars
I found this book when I was on holiday in Spain visiting my parents, I do not normally read Non-Fiction as I read to escape reality, and most NF tends to bore me - even Famous bios do.
But because this book is about Horses (I'm a mad horse lover) and its also about a parents struggle to help his autistic son, I thought well if I do not like it my sister would or my mum would too as they are both horse lovers and like to read non-fiction.
The Author Rupert Isaacson is a Travel writer, and the description of the areas visited are really good to give you a descriptive picture of these remote areas. Oh if I was a millionaire I would go ride in the wilderness of all continents!
The first part of the book describes of how Rupert and his wife Kristen dealt with the news that their son Rowan had autism, Rupert, a lifelong horseman, rode their neighbor's horse with Rowan, Rowan improved, and being a horse woman myself I know that contact with horses does have a calming and healing effect. Rupert having worked as a travel writer and having had contact with indigenous tribes who have healers or Shamans came up with the idea to take Rowan to Mongolia, the one place in the world where horses and shamanic healing still managed to exist... Although the beginning can seem to some slow, its not really, its laying the groundwork of why Rupert felt that the 'western approach' for dealing with Autism did not work for them.
I do feel the book is a bit one-sided, this is Rupert's account of his experiences, but as the book continues his travel writing comes into full effect as he describes the journey.
My conclusion after reading this book were that Kirsten was a trooper for dragging herself into the unknown when she was quite categorically not a horse person, Horses pick up on nervous riders, and riding on steep mountainsides must have been terrifying, I bet she was grateful when Rowan refused to ride and wanted to be in the 4x4! I would have loved to hear her perspective more in the book, but then again this is Rupert's account, and he is the writer.
And ok he was prepared to mortgage his life to do this quest, but lets face it with what he has previously done it was a fairly good chance that he would get funding to do this and the book was picked up, and of course when checking out the website it looks like the foundation and subsequent books are doing well and helping parents with Autism.
There is no cure for autism and Rupert is obviously dedicating his life to helping his son and other children learn to cope in our modern world which lets face it is very toxic for them and if you think about it everyone!
And since a year after this journey Rowan started to regress, and then Rupert took him on a journey to visit 3 different continents which has lead to a second book in this journey of The Long Ride Home I am interested in reading this book, but once again these journeys are to remote areas, away from the modern world, so I think that this will have as much to do with the progress of healing.
Being away from the stresses of the western world is good for every human being, lets face it who wants to go back to the 9-5 slog after being on holiday?
I also liked that Rupert gave a brief history of the Mongolian people's struggles and how it is amazing that their beliefs have survived after the Russians tried to wipe it out.
I was saddened to read how these Russian Cities are so waste strewn and toxic to one of the few untouched areas in the world. And this is one of the highlights to this book is that you not only get Rowan's and Rupert's journey but we get to see into a world that is a mystery to most of the western world.
I do think that a holistic approach is much better than the regimented approach to Autism, although I agree kids need boundaries and discipline I do not think causing a child pain in that process is ok. So I was happy that Rupert and Kirsten stopped the ABA treatment he was first subjected too, if you take the time to research on the foundations website here: https://horseboyworld.com/ you will see that they did indeed try this again, but with a more sympathetic instructor.
This book makes you think about what you would do if put in this situation ( and thank the [insert deity/religious belief here] that you are not) I fully believe that animals have a wonderful effect with people who are distressed, whether with Vets with PTSD or as here Kids with Autism.
What I believe is that the journey took Rowan away from the 'Western overloaded world' to a world where there were limited stimuli, lots of animals ( it wasn't just the horses Rowan connected with - he had 2 kid goats that were pets who he was very connected with, and did so with other baby animals, but Rupert being a horseman has taken the one he associates with as the main influence)
To me - when Rowan finally takes a dump without the god awful panic he has dealt with since his parents refused to put nappies on was because everyone else was 'showing him' in a way where it was fun... and no one would take offence, in the wilderness, it's perfectly ok to drop and squat and have a dump then wash yourself in a river ( just don't go drinking downstream straight away)
The other thing is - most parents with autistic children will never have the funds to go 'off the grid' in such a fantastical way, and if the shaman's had done such fantastic work why is it that the foundation works with animals rather than the shamanistic approach.
I was a bit disappointed with the ending of the book, It was a bit of a let down when we get to the encounter with Ghoste the Reindeer Shaman after the first detailed encounter with the other shamans at the start of the journey in Mongolia, but every reader will take their own view on this book, I was glad that Rupert managed to keep this book on the fence as much as one can, he has one passage that I highlighted which was this...
"... what was this thing, or this non-thing, that people called shamanism, anyway? This thing that defied all rational explanation, could not be justified or defended by logic? Was it fantasy? Was making this journey a mere indulgence of fantasy? Certainly it defied all my Western conditioning, yet here I was. And why, I wondered as the van bumped down the steep forest track, do we in the West make such a cult of rationality, or science, that we previously applied to religion? All that cannot be explained by the rational is cast out as heresy. Yet so much of our lives is governed by things we cannot hope to quantify in rational or scientific terms. Like love, for instance. Everybody experiences it, craves it, requires it for his or her very existence, knows it's there. But no one can explain it, break it down into physics and chemistry.
Then again, if we aren't sceptical, we become the prey of charlatans and snake-oil salesmen, priests and dictators. We know from bitter experience that if something is outside our realm of knowledge, we are right to mistrust it, or at least withhold our judgement until experience has shown us whether we can trust it.
We are left stumbling through the grey fog of experience, which teaches us that while some things can be readily explained, some things cannot. That is how life is."
I think that the people who will consider reading this book will have an affinity with either subjects - Horses/Autism and it is a deeply moving, account of a family willing to go to the ends of the earth to help their son, and of a boy learning to connect with the world for the first time.
I am glad that I found this book, as its been a very interesting read that I have enjoyed and will remember for a long time.
It also made me realise that in the end we only get one life.... we need to live it to the best of our abilities and not regret taking that journey