Bob Seeney on Books

The Horse Boy — a Memoir of Healing

July, 2016

One of the reasons I enjoy reviewing books for 2e Newsletter is receiving the occasional email from readers. Sometimes, it’s simply to thank me for a review; sometimes, it’s a request for additional and similar books or resources; and almost always there’s a recommendation of a title that I might or should read. This issue’s book and review is a parent’s recommendation. This national bestseller is The Horse Boy: A Memoir of Healing (2009, Back Bay Books), by Rupert Isaacson.

The Horse Boy is Isaacson’s moving story of his search for healing — not cure — of his autistic son Rowan. The idea of healing rather than curing is a major emphasis throughout the book. Upon Rowan’s diagnosis of autism at age two, Isaacson and his wife, Kristin, a professor of psychology, began their search to help their son interact and relate to our world. This search led to traditional and non-traditional treatments and eventually took this close and loving family in search of a shaman of the Reindeer People in Outer Mongolia.

Their early path of frustration would be familiar to other parents of an autistic child: limited understanding of autism; limited resources; a lack of understanding of the condition, even by family and close friends (“You should just show more discipline!”); the embarrassment of public displays of uncontrollable behavior; and even the conflicting advice from professionals. Then an amazing thing happened: Rowan met Betsy, a neighbor’s horse, and a remarkable relationship quickly developed with amazing emotional and communication development. With Isaacson’s experience as a horse trainer, he was able to help Rowan interact with Betsy. While their regular rides brought amazing results, there always seemed to be a reversal; something would trigger Rowan’s neuropsychiatric behaviors.

After a positive experience with Native American healers and their recommendation to search out shamans, the idea of a trip to the shamans of Siberia and Outer Mongolia began to form. Isaacson wanted to take his son, the Horse Boy, to the birthplace of the modern horse and thus begins their adventure. Isaacson by profession is an author of travel books, and his story of their trip is beautifully and sometimes poetically written. His descriptive narrative alone is worth reading this moving saga. As I read, I was moved to awe, to tears, and to laughter. This is an extremely well written book.

The Horse Boy is not only Rowan’s and his family’s remarkable story, it’s also a wonderful travelog and guide. Beyond that, the book is a commentary on the environment and humanity’s often negative impact upon it; a depository of philosophy and spirituality; an argument for accepting things that our Western rational minds cannot understand; and finally a cry for understanding of the nature of autism. Isaacson shares this:

Healing is a very personal thing. Not everyone needs to get on a plane to Mongolia. But following a child’s interests, going with what motivates them, spending time in nature, and if possible working with animals — these things seem to help all children.” (Page 7 of The Reading Guide at the end of the book).

Near Austin, Texas, the Isaacsons have established The Horse Boy Foundation and the New Trails Center, which offers daily equine therapy. In addition, Horse Boy Camps have been established in the U. S., the U. K., Europe, and Australia. Rowan continues to improve and, at the time of the writing of the book, he was two academic years ahead of his age group and was socially interacting with his peers and friends.

I know of no better way to end this review than by again quoting the author:
So here is my prayer. For all of us who are involved with autism — whether it’s our children, our grandchildren, our nephews, our nieces, our siblings, the children of those close to us — I pray that this enigma we call autism will serve to bring us together, help us rediscover community, connect us close to love. Inspire us and surprise us with unexpected joy. That it will help to heal us (for, yes, we neurotypical people need healing, too). That it will bring out the best in our society, the best in us all.

I believe that a careful reading of this absolutely remarkable book, if we take it to heart, will do exactly that. I have already suggested this book to several parents and they all have responded positively. Highly, highly recommended.

Happy Reading!

[Editor’s Note: For more information on The Horse Boy and the author’s inspiration for writing it, see: A Gallop Toward Hope: One Family’s Adventure in Fighting Autism, and The Horse Boy movie trailer,].

Bob Seney

Professor Emeritus Bob Seney is retired from teaching in the Masters of Gifted Studies Program at Mississippi University for Women. At conferences, he often presents a session titled “What’s New in Young Adult Literature.” Reach him at

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