So after all my horse/even non-horse friends telling me to watch this documentary I finally did a couple nights ago. (Yay for finals procrastination and netflix!) If you haven't seen it/read the book the story is about a family, whose only child, Rowan, is autistic. Along with being non-verbal, he suffers inconsolable tantrums, incontinence and doesn't show interest in making friends. However, Rowan has a keen sense and relationship for animals, horses in particular. His father, a journalist, grew up riding, and is also very interested in shamanism in relation to healing - these two loves give birth to the idea for the documentary. Basically, the family embarks on an epic adventure to Mongolia where they proceed to visit shamans and sacred areas on horseback.
It was a pretty emotional story. Rowan initially refuses to get on the horses, and instead focuses on the van as his area of safety. This is especially problematic as the last leg of the trip, to visit the historic reindeer herders, is only passable on horseback. His shamanic experiences seem traumatizing, coupled with them making him drink vodka, his mother washing herself "down there" with vodka (on camera...), and then his parents being whipped repeatedly. The whole thing seems absurd and unbelievable... how is this suppose to help Rowan's autism?
His father begins to ask the same question, and my heart completely broke for him. I've heard that the rate of parents of autistic children who end up divorcing is exceptionally high, due to the massive amounts of stress caused by the illness for all involved. There are quite a few scenes of him just completely breaking down over the whole situation, and questioning who he is as a father. It's very compelling, and beyond the absurdity of where they are, and what they are doing, there is a very real story and a face to families who have autistic children.
Eventually, Rowan begins to ride and seems happy, they make it to the reindeer herders who agree to perform a shamanistic ritual to rid him completely of the evil spirit of his maniac depressive great-grandmother they believe to be harbouring him. In the end, the experience seems like a good one for Rowan - he builds and develops a bond and friendship with the interpreters son, and after the ritual he begins to get over his incontinence, as well as playing with other children, and being more verbal.
The horse side of the story is pretty insane. When they first arrive they are told the horses have been ridden for 3 days to prepare them for "western riders" aka... they were broke 3 days previous. There's a scene where one of their film crew gets bucked off by a bucksin, who then proceeds to run into the Mongolia sunset... seriously. haha The father touts Rowan around on the front of what appears to be a wintec synthetic western saddle, while at first his mother can't stand more than 30 minutes on horseback. The poor woman... she is definitely the skeptic of the couple, and not a horsewoman, and also ends up getting kicked pretty badly by one of the horses. Just not her trip I guess. The Mongolian horses are of ancient, ancient descent, and they sort of look like wild mangy ponies, of all colours.
Overall, I really enjoyed "The Horse Boy", I thought it was a really interesting look into a parent's struggle and triumphs, and love, for a child who has autism. Rowan's bond with horses is fascinating, time and time again horses are used as tools for therapy, communication, bonding, etc. They really are amazing animals. Everyday I work at my camp I feel blessed to experience children around horses, there is something just different about how children interact with horses, to me, it is completely sacred.
I tried to look into how Rowan is doing now, it appears the family has started a treatment program working with horses and children with autism, and there is a blog of Rowan updates. However, I couldn't find any information on whether of not they believe the shamanistic rituals actually helped Rowan in the end.
If you haven't seen it - definitely check it out!